MINI (all caps required): the name itself inherently limits the brand. A large MINI would be oxymoronic. It would not be seen as a MINI. But most car buyers need something larger and more functional than the Cooper. And, while MINI might be less intent on world domination than VW, it would still like to grow. What to do, what to do? When word leaked that MINI was working on a crossover, the brand’s fans feared for the worst.
It’s been over a quarter-century, so perhaps my memory grows hazy. But I recall enjoying the small, light subcompacts of the mid-1980s tremendously. They didn’t have much power. Power wasn’t a requirement, just a willingness to rev and to be tossed sideways through curves. I’ve spent the years since trying to recapture that experience. And failing. Too much mass. Too much tire. Even too much refinement. But FIAT’s not famed for refinement. And, at 2,363 pounds, the reborn 500 (pronounced “cinquecento”) is a quarter-ton lighter than today’s compacts. So perhaps my search is over?
Have you ever been made an offer you couldn’t refuse? You never know when it might happen, so a little practice can’t hurt. Here’s the scenario: thanks to one of my old friends from New Jersey who has an amazing collection of Louisville Sluggers, 200 thousand dollars has been allocated to TTAC’s writers. $20,000 each. You’re welcome.
There is one catch.
The writers at TTAC have to buy a new car. That’s right. One new car (no BOGO free deals for a leftover Aveo). It can be anything they like. Hyundai, Toyota, Chevy… Jaguar? Fat chance! These fellows can go a little over the $20k mark on the MSRP. But the real world price before tax, title, bullshit fees etc. has to be no more than $20k.
So what car will they get? Will they follow the bleating herd of Billy Joel fans and buy something more milquetoast than a Milan? Perhaps a beige Camcord with an off-creme interior? Or maybe a Jetta that’s been as thoroughly decontented as Christina Aguilera’s last album? Or will it be something a bit more in your face? Like a… well… let me get to that later. I have to go move some mink coats. Just remember, when you’re taking favors from guys in a certain line of work, every decision has consequences…
There it was: a honk, a pair of grins and waves from two middle aged women in a MINI Cooper. It was time to find out whether these MINI fans approve of my epic (patent pending) Mehta parking lot swagger, or if the allure of the John Cooper Works MINI had reduced them to smiles. After all, the JCW is more than just a serious piece of hot-hatch kit, it’s wake-up call for the non-believer: spend some time in this car and you’ll have no choice but to learn just how crazy people are about their MINIs. And in this cult of the cutesy and subcompact, the John Cooper Works is king. But does any of this actually justify parting with $33,000 for a tiny, front-drive car?
I snapped this shot of an Austin Mini (technically a Morris 850) and a Buick Electra 225 parked side-by-side in an Alameda, California parking lot before I left the West Coast, and every time I look at it I wonder: would I rather have an early Mini or a Malaise Era Electra? I can’t decide!
Though not technically a new debut at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the “Prius C” concept was probably the most interesting vehicle Toyota showed at Cobo Hall this year. If nothing else, it certainly shows the promise of an expanded Prius brand far better than the “Prius V.” And if there’s a single market where this “baby Prius” can give Toyota’s eco-brand spin-off a boost it would be Europe, where small, efficient cars rule. But, it seems, this is not to be. Autocar reports
The strength of the Japanese yen seems almost certain to keep a production version of Toyota’s near-80mpg hybrid supermini based on the Prius C Concept hatch out of Europe.
On the surface, GM had a fairly passable 2010, as the newly-public automaker posted a 21.3% volume increase for its four core brands. In contrast to Toyota’s humbly grateful tone, GM’s VP of US Sales Don Johnson sounded a distinctly triumphal note, arguing
Our sales this year reflect the impact of GM’s new business model. The consistency of results that we achieved demonstrates the focus on our brands, dealers and customers, and how we compete aggressively for every sale, every day.
And on a superficial level, the argument certainly seems to ring true, as Buick (+51.9%), Cadillac (+34.7%), and GMC (+31.7%) were the three most-improved brands in the business last year in terms of volume. GM also delivered more vehicles than any other automaker last year, with 2,215,227 vehicles sold. Great success, end of story… right?
TTAC Commentator TrailerTrash writes:
It’s coming. My next car has been determined to be a hatch AND a stick. And here is the problem…my wife does not want a stick again. The Ozark hills require a little room for error at hill stopping. She has promised to consider one, IF it has the clutch feel that is not as brutal as out last (Cherokee).I have narrowed it down to a few cars. My choices show the need for speed…
The relationship between automakers and automotive journalists can be extremely difficult, as automakers often hold access to cars hostage based on a journalist’s coverage of them. If, as an automotive journalist, you like every car you drive, the world is your oyster. Automakers invite you to every launch, PR guys gaze longingly into your eyes, and all is right with the world. If, on the other hand, you write negatively about a car, you can find yourself watching the gravy train pull out of the station without you… or, as it turns out, you could even be sued. At least in Italy.
Carscoop reports that Fiat is suing the Italian TV show AnnoZero for “defamatory” remarks about the Alfa Romeo MiTo Quadrifoglio, after the program asserted “the overall technical inferiority of the Alfa Romeo MiTo” in comparison to the MINI Cooper S and Citroen DS3 THP. The details of the case are sketchy, but you can find Fiat’s press release on the matter after the jump.
Every year, Ward’s names their “10 Best Engines” in a press release dripping with hyperbole and breathless praise. I’m often a bit mystified by their choices — the fragile, sludgy 1.8T VW? The 3.8L Nissan VR, which according to a race-engine-building friend of mine occasionally shows up with the shims on backwards, and which bore-walks under boost? The Cadillac Northstar V8??? — but the nice people at Ward’s have somehow figured out a way to make a buck creating the list and we shouldn’t begrudge them that.
Click the jump for the Ten Best Engines — and a special TTAC Bonus, the Three Worst Sentences Of The Press Release.
The new CR reliability reports are out, along with their projected reliability for 2011-model-year automobiles. Some of the results won’t be news to most of you: the Big Three from Japan are all near the top, Ford’s ahead of the other domestics, and the Koreans are climbing the charts.
If, on the other hand, you’re choosing between a Porsche and an Audi, you might want to take a moment to hear CR’s opinions…
Too many Cubside Classics shot, not enough time to write about them extensively. So we’ll call it CC Jr.: heavy on the pics, light on the text.
The great import boom of the fifties involved everything from Europe; from Abarth to Zagato. And the Big Three got in on the act too, selling their European subsidiaries’ wares. The Opel Rekord sold particularly well, and they used to be easy to find, in California, anyway. And English Fords were mainly the smaller Anglia and the later Cortinas. But here’s a rare bird, a Consul, looking very much like a scaled down ’55 Ford.
I sit here in China, where supposedly the police is glued with one ear to my door and has directional microphones beamed at my windows. Looking and listening to America, I can only shake my head. No authorities needed. We are self-policing. Where did the great times of the 70’s and 80’s go? Where is true freedom of speech hiding? Pretty much nothing can be said and done anymore for fear of insulting someone, somewhere, somehow. The other day, we showed two car ads, made for network TV, and all hell broke loose. “Too racy!” “I will get in trouble with HR when I watch TTAC during work!” “Sexist!”
Chevrolet just revealed its latest offering. It’s the all new Chevrolet Montana. It has changed a lot. The last Montana had as its underpinnings the Corsa II platform. Now, it will use the new Onyx platform, which is based on the Corsa I platform (according to Brazilian car mag Auto Esporte’s ). Two steps forward, one step back? Maybe that’s why GM is being coy (or realistic) and is estimating that this trucklet will increase its sales by just 15 percent. This won’t do it a whole lot of good, because this means it’ll just hang on to third place (according to the print version of the Brazilian newspaper Estado de Minas car supplement) .
Anarchy in the TTAC! It turns out that Michael Karesh and I both got invited to short-lead Scion tC press events. His review is found here and nicely covers things like the sound system, recent sales numbers, and the American economy. It’s so comprehensive that I didn’t feel the need to attend my press preview.
I did, however, feel the need to pay my bookie, so I am dutifully submitting this piece to offset a small amount of my personal debt. If you are not in the mood to read two reviews of this car, I have helpfully summarized my review in one sentence, posted “before the jump” for your convenience:
Given sufficient velocity and violence of application, it is possible to set the brakes on fire.
The look on my passenger’s face says it all. I’ve just late-braked a fully-prepped BMW M3 on Hoosier race tires and we are about to straight-line the infamous “Climbing Esses” at VIR. At well over one hundred and twenty miles per hour. Listen to the photo. Put your ear up to it. You can hear my passenger, a student of mine who wanted to see “the fast way around”, gritting her teeth. You can hear the 6.1-liter HEMI catapulting us down the track at full throttle, a Sprint Cup racer stuffed beneath a Deep Sea Blue bonnet. And, if you listen very carefully, I think you can hear Sara Watkins, who is to me what Mike Rowe is to “The Booth Babe”, singing “Lord Won’t You Help Me.”
The boss man emeritus, one R. Farago, reviewed the 300C SRT-8 more than five years ago. Has the car changed? Not much. So why review it again? It’s simple. The fact that Robert’s article has a whopping three comments means you probably didn’t see it. And, of course, as the self-appointed bad guy in TTAC’s pro-wrestling pantheon, it seemed appropriate that I would use the big Chrysler to ruin the day of some club racers. Here’s how it went.
How does a brand built on small, fun, efficient city cars build up to its inevitable first-ever SUV? Apparently the answer is very little. MINI’s seems to be aiming its forthcoming Countryman squarely at current MINI owners, with the first US market ads portraying the Countryman as little more than a MINI Cooper with four doors and All-Wheel-Drive (as opposed to Subaru-style outdoor lifestyle marketing). In other words, it’s not so much a Countryman as a city hipster with a flair for rural evangelism. But are four doors, AWD and a “sliding center rail” enough to bring new buyers into the fold? There’s almost no doubt that the Countryman will be a hot fashion item for a while, but the world’s first Austrian-built MINI is going to face high prices, weak power in the base spec (1.6 liters moving over 3k lbs), and intra-brand anti-SUV snobbery. On the plus side, it’s apparently very hip.
TTAC reader JeremyR writes:
My trusty 20-plus-year-old Accord is getting a bit long in the tooth, and I’m starting to think about a replacement. While the car will be used primarily for commuting, I’d like to maximize the “fun to drive” quotient while respecting some other requirements:
* must have a manual transmission
* must be reasonably efficient (30mpg+ highway)
* must be reliable (though I don’t mind occasionally getting dirt under my fingernails doing some maintenance)
* must be able to seat four in reasonable comfort (the back seat should be adequate to transport two adults across town)
* should be a five-door hatch (but other configurations will be considered)
* should be under $10K (USD)
Having some time on my hands, I ventured out again into cardealershipland. Wanted to get my hands on the mini mites that inhabit many an urban Brazilian cowboy’s dream. You know, the call of the sertão (that’s what you think we call the pampas.) In the left corner, all the way from Italy, but made in Brazil, the long-time favorite and market leader Fiat Strada Adventure Locker. In the right corner, the Teutonic tiny titan, the all new VW Saveiro Cross. As the long names suggest, these are the top of the line offerings from each maker. Both offer cheaper, less equipped versions for the daily grind and/or work routine. So hold your cavalos, vaqueiro, I mean, hold your horses, cowboy! Which one comes out on top?
It might be hard to live down to that exact headline billing. And this Mini-based Wildgoose RV is certainly bigger than the human-powered RV we covered here. But of you’ve ever been around an original Mini, you’ll be able to appreciate the scale of this rig.
John Steel, 42. Resident Nurburgring hotlapper, amateur race driver and menace of all slow moving objects. On weekends, he likes thrashing his Porsche 997 Mark II GT3-RS around the local track. Karen Levy, 25. Professional mall stormer, party queen and dedicated student. Enjoys a fine café-latte by the Mediterranean Sea and the gentle spring breeze while driving her Fiat 500C.
Two people, two separate sides of the automotive equilibrium. This time, driving around the peaceful and slow moving streets of southern Tel Aviv, amongst buzzing restaurants and overcrowded coffee shops, I get to explore the latter. Meet the Fiat 500C: the open-air sibling of the 500 retro car, and an inevitable win of form over function.
That Bible of the intelligencia, Consumer Reports, has released its 2010 Annual Auto Issue, and once again, denizens of Cambridge, Austin, Berkeley, Eugene, and their sister university towns all over the land are parsing its pages, seeking cars that will maximize their utility. Or maybe I’m projecting. Anyway, with apologies to Michael Karesh and True Delta, here’s a summary of the work of the wonks from Yonkers and East Haddam.
Subminiature, or „kei“ cars ( from kei-jidosha – subcompact cars) have been a Japanese phenomenon. At one time, their combined share was 1/3 of Japan’s market. Unlike anime and Pokemon, the 660 cc vehicles never much made it beyond Japan’s shores. And recently, the sales of the pocket monsters on wheels had been flagging. Last February, the little critters had recorded their first rise rise after 15 months of going down – by a hair of 0.7 percent.
According to today’s Nikkei [sub], “improvements in hybrid and electric technology are dulling the fuel-efficiency edge that minivehicles have long had over larger cars. To maintain their advantage, makers of minis are putting their autos on diets, shaving weight wherever they can to eke out better gas mileage.”
For a reviewer, getting handed a car with delivery miles on the odometer is an instant promotion to tribal shaman. You’re given a quick pat on the back before being shoved into a hut with the village’s prettiest virgin. Needless to say, this privilege comes with the sacred duty of keeping the virgin in tip-top shape, otherwise your term as high-muck-a-much will be pretty short-lived. Unfortunately for my political aspirations, the Mazda2 loves being ridden hard. It squeals through corners, snarling like a dog in heat. There’s a lot more fun to be had here than the tiny 185/55R15 Dunlop Sports suggest.
Today’s tester is a Red Alfa Romeo. So I really shouldn’t be telling you how its name is derived from the cities of Milano and Torino. I shouldn’t be revealing that it’s based on the Fiat Punto and I really needn’t elaborate about its underhood gadgetry, because in days of yore, “Red” was all you needed to know about an Alfa Romeo. On the other hand, to paraphrase Dylan, things have changed.
BMW is playing some PR roulette at the DC Auto Show [via Autoblog Green] with a “study” ostensibly proving that people who lease an electric MINI are “delighted” with the car. As if self-selection weren’t already an issue in a study of people who voluntarily spend $850 per month on a small hatchback, the 57 respondents (out of 450 MINI E guinea pigs) were (you guessed it) self-selected. Why the University of California Davis allows its name to appear on this blatant PR fabrication is difficult to fathom. Especially considering the MINI E rollout was a disaster, the product was compromised, and there are plenty of MINI E critics out there.
Retro cars sell on looks. Take the Chrysler PT Cruiser as an example – automotive perfection it wasn’t, and yet it sold like iPods on a Black Friday. Others, like the Mini Cooper, proved that retro cars can look like the past and drive like the present. But worth driving or not, almost every retro car introduced over the last few years has been a marketing sensation, bringing easy revenue and much-needed customers into an otherwise dull product line, and reviving deserted showrooms. No surprise, then, that upon reviewing the stellar sales of the Ford Mustang, Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen New Beetle, Fiat’s chiefs in Torino decided that it was time to launch a true Italian vendetta. It didn’t take long to find inspiration: the instant choice was the Fiat 500.
Honda’s half-hearted approach to hybrids is about to be shaken up, possibly leading to the development of a hybrid system that goes beyond Honda’s traditional integrated motor assist (IMA) system. Automotive News [sub] reports that Honda CEO, Takanobu Ito has told his Research and Development staff to develop a hybrid which beats the Toyota Prius in fuel economy. Or else. This development probably has something to do the failure of the Honda Insight (Prius sales in 2009 were 139,682. Insight sales for the same period: 20,572); as Honda Executive VP, John Mendel said “Are we happy with how sales are going? No, we’re not happy.” Mr Ito made it clear that Honda’s hybrid line up is a top priority. “We want to develop and expand our hybrids,” said Ito. “We made some major sacrifices to shift people and resources to do that.”
Semantics! What do you call the Flex? Ford thinks the mini-van label is taboo. So is a FWD Flex more of a CUV than an AWD Sienna? What’s the Mazda CX 9? I happen to think the Journey is a replacement for the discontinued short-wheelbase Caravan. Does it really matter? Chrysler is still dominant, especially when the Journey is included. The Odyssey is the bestselling single nameplate, but obviously the Chrysler twins have it beat. But the Chrysler off-shoot VW Routan is croaking. And the Flex is not exactly flexing any serious sales muscle. And I included the Mazda CX 7 here to confuse you further because I forgot it with the CUVs. Rather than argue about it, let’s just come up with a new name for the whole category that included CUVs and MPVs. Chart follows:
Kelley Blue Book has released its annual resale value data, and according to the WSJ, Toyota, Honda and BMW remain the top brands in five-year residual value. Still, Toyota’s average residual value dropped from 42.7 percent to 38.8 percent, while Honda fell from 44.5 percent to 38 percent. Those drops mirror an industry-wide decline in residual values, which had hovered around 35 percent for some time, but have fallen to about 32.6 percent for 2010 models. But American brands have bucked that trend:
KBB estimates Ford’s 2010 models will keep 32.4% of their value after five years. That’s an improvement—for 2009, KBB put the residual value of Ford’s models at 31.7%. Likewise, GM’s 2010 five-year residual value is 31.3%, up from 29.5% a year earlier. Chrysler’s figures are 29.5% for 2010 models, compared with 29% for 2009 models.
KBB’s top ten models for five-year residual value after the jump.
If you are a daily reader of the Nikkei, as we are in the Schmitto-san household, you can sometimes lose your confidence in Japanese precision and accuracy.
Yesterday, we quoted the Nikkei as saying that “sales of new cars and trucks rose 36 percent year on year to 293,410 units in November, marking the fourth straight month of increase, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said Tuesday. Passenger car sales surged 43.8 percent to 268,450 units.”
Today, we read in the Nikkei that “new-vehicle sales increased 18.3 percent to 436,535 units in November for a third straight year-on-year gain, according to industry data released Tuesday.”
How often does a truly revolutionary car appear? Let’s disqualify uranium powered flying cars on the cover of Popular Science and other quirky eccentrics from consideration, but focus on mass production cars that profoundly and permanently changed the autosphere. Narrow the field further to the small-size end of the US market post WWII, and the number of candidates is all of…two. The VW Beetle completely turned the US car market (and careless drivers) on its head, both in its technical specifications and in creating a mass small-car market. The Beetle had a brilliant twenty-year run, and just as it was running out of compression, it handed the baton to that other revolutionary, the Honda Civic.
What’s happened to MINI’s advertising? The car company that defined clever TV commercials, highly effective viral marketing and rockin’ real-world signage has dropped their cute ’n‘ quirky post-modern arched eyebrow cock-a-snook-at-SUVs play up the handling and performance in a “less is more” kinda way branding message—most recently exemplified by their MINI Cabrio campaign. Now MINI’s going for simple shock tactics. Note to BMW: a brand is a terrible thing to waste. Note to MINI girls: fuck you, too. [Thanks to Seth L for the link.]
Nothing like a well-run long-distance fuel economy comparison to cut through the hype and exaggerations. Edmunds took the 2010 Prius, 2010 Insight, 2009 Jetta TDI, 2010 Fusion Hybrid, and a 2009 Mini Cooper on a carefully-controlled outing from L.A. to Las Vegas and back, including back roads with steep grades through Death Valley one way; 200 miles of tedious city driving in Sin City; and I-15 back to L.A. The results shouldn’t be very controversial, since they’re reasonably close to EPA numbers. But TDI fanatics swear the EPA tests undercount diesels. Not according to this test. Here’s the skinny:
Yoga teacher and ForbesAutos refugee Matthew De Paula has brought his zen insights and love of top ten lists to MSN Autos. Given the popularity of the genre (which we now usurp in the name of truth, justice and the American way), Bill Gates’ Boyz must be happy enough with the result—although Matt makes a few choices that will surely give pistonheads pause. We report, you deride. Well, we do too, but I’m sure you catch my drift.
1. Ford Fusion — I’m not saying De Paula is a Detroit apologist, but if ever a qualifier seemed po-faced, well, here it is: “The Ford Fusion doesn’t just hold its own against competitors, it beats them in some ways: The least expensive 4-cylinder Fusion is as fuel efficient on the highway (34 mpg) as the pricier Toyota Camry hybrid.” And that’s it: the only way mentioned. Oh wait. “The updated 2010 Fusion uses higher-quality materials, has better fit and finish, and a quieter ride than the model it replaces.” Don’t you just love it when relative excellence means relative to itself? Me neither.
In my many years as a ghostwriter for a leading exec of Volkswagen, there was one joke that was always shot down. Early VW navigation systems gave you the voice prompt “die Route wird berechnet.” Which translates to “the route is being calculated.” It could also be understood as “I’ll charge you for the whip.” My one-liner that a new VW comes with a factory-standard dominatrix was always suppressed. I wonder why.
I was reminded of my dark past when I opened Automobilwoche [sub] today, only to read that BMW intends to turn their Minis into a gabfest on wheels. Carrying the moniker “mission control,” electronics will listen to the traffic on the car’s CAN bus, and then the gizmo will drown you with clever remarks.
Out of adversity arises creativity. Alec Issigonis’ brilliant Mini was conceived in the depths of the oil import embargo brought on by the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. Just like our energy crises gave birth to the Chevette and the Cavalier. Ok, no more GM references. This is the Mini’s fiftieth birthday, and it deserves our undivided adulation. Well, at least from a safe distance, anyway.
Kijk op: http://www.dewaarheidachtermini.nl/ – De Vereniging Verontwaardigde MINI Rijders onthulde op 22 april de waarheid achter MINI. Deze licht ontvlambare Amerikaanse advocaat ziet een rechtzaak tegen MINI wel zitten! Bekijk zijn commercial op http:www.dewaarheidachtermini.nl
When the new MINI was born, someone in BMW’s marketing department decided to make it a caps lock affair. As I opined at thetruthaboutgrammar.com, MINI was a stupid, artsy, doomed, graphical mandate. Yes, it differentiated the Bimmer-derived MINI from the much-beloved BMC rust-bucket, Mini. But no one other than designer glasses-wearing car execs gave a damn, really. The MINI sold, and sold well, for reasons entirely unrelated to typography (one presumes). Und now we have the battery-operated MINI, which gives Munich’s marketing mavens a chance to redeem themselves. I mean, eMINI is an Apple-scented slam dunk, a move that would easily justify the original, bone-headed, all-caps affectation. But noooooo. BMW goes for MINI E. How long, pray tell. does one hold the “eee” sound at the end? Anyone remember The Man With Two Brains? Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr. MINI E is like that. Only not so funny.
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- Kat Laneaux Wonder if they will be able to be hacked into (the license plates) and then you get pulled over for invalid license plates or better yet, someone steal your car and transpose numbers to show that they are the owners. Just a food for thought.
- Tassos Government cheese for millionaires, while idiot Joe biden adds trillions to the debt.What a country (IT ONCE WAS!)
- Tassos screw the fat cat incompetents. Let them rot. No deal.
- MaintenanceCosts I think if there's one thing we can be sure of given Toyota's recent decisions it's that the strongest version of the next Camry will be a hybrid. Sadly, the buttery V6 is toast.A Camry with the Highlander/Sienna PSD powertrain would be basically competitive in the sedan market, with the slow death of V6 and big-turbo options. But for whatever reason it seems like that powertrain is capacity challenged. Not sure why, as there's nothing exotic in it.A Camry with the Hybrid Max powertrain would be bonkers, easily the fastest thing in segment. It would likewise be easy to build; again, there's nothing exotic in the Hybrid Max powertrain. (And Hybrid Max products don't seem to be all that constrained, so far.)
- Analoggrotto The readers of TTAC deserve better than a bunch of Kia shills posing as journalists.