Break out the bubbly! The new Maxi is with us…
It was only ever a matter of time before the former Mini would transmogrify into the Maxi, suggests Iain P W Robertson, especially as the German car company (BMW) that owns the brand also owns the all model names.
There is a word in street parlance that I believe applies to BMW’s latest iteration of the much-abused Mini soubriquet. It is ‘PHAT’. Trust me, this Mini is the phattest of them all. Yet, equally, the word ‘fat’ might also apply but not in as complimentary a manner as that warranted by the street slang.
You see, the comic-book model that is said to embody all Teutonic forms of innate security, safety and automotive nous is no less a jest than I am. Being a gentleman of a certain age, I have allowed my girth to develop around me, in the process trapping what is the fertile mind and active body of a 23 year old. Despite the fact that I brush my hair frequently, what remains is scarcely worth the treatment these days.
So it is with the vehicle masquerading as a five-door ‘mini’, when its girth is actually greater than that of the former Austin Maxi that preceded it by around four-and-a-half decades. My mum used to own a Maxi. I actually thought, at the time, that it was a remarkable car. I still do. However, the passage of time and the genuine lack of examples on our roads have highlighted that ‘fings’ were not really all that good in the era of ‘Red Robbo’ (no relation!) and State-ownership of the carmaker.
However, the Maxi was something of an innovator, in the way that its predecessor, the Austin A40, introduced ‘hatchback’ (although nobody ever actually admitted it) into our automotive language. The Maxi’s front and rear seats could fold flat to create an almost ‘practical’ double-bed, which was not of much benefit, as you would have to unload the boot and two, or three, back seat passengers, to leave them outside to nocturnal nature’s worst influences, while you and your partner slept in moderate comfort within the spacious interior.
It was a surprisingly roomy machine, as were the larger ‘land-crab’ Austin/Morris 1800 and the smaller Austin/Morris 1100/1300 models of the same period. Styled by Alex Issigonis and suspended by Dr Moulton, it is unsurprising to me that BLMC (as it was) led the world in marketing terms, as well as the UK sales charts. However, as with ALL products of that era, they were designed and developed only to the point of the next daft thought that entered the company’s corporate mind. Longevity was never part of the mix, neither was proper technical development.
The cars fell apart. The Maxi’s ponderous gearshift quality (sometimes by rod selection, also by cables) felt more like a porridge ‘spurtle’ (a Highland wooden stick used specifically for the stirring of Scot’s oats just prior to them being spooned into the lead-lined scullery drawer…and you wondered why most Scottish schoolchildren from the late-1800s to the late-1980s were so mentally deranged). More gearboxes were wrecked by wrongful ratio selection than BLMC and its dealers had parts in their stores.
Anyway, enough of original, long-forgotten Maxi and onto the new Maxi.
BMW ‘stole’ the remnants of the West Midlands motor industry from the British government of the day, carried out its hateful asset-stripping exercise and set about protecting voraciously those brand names it kept on its books. While it has refused resolutely to use the name ‘Maxi’, I do believe that the five-door ‘Mini’ warrants it.
Although capturing the zeitgeist was always on the Munich firm’s agenda, the Mini name has been applied to such a wilful marketing mix of obscure and obtuse models that I am left wondering how far BMW is prepared to go, to wrangle the next few shekels from its ardent (and confused) customer base. The prospect of living with a comic-book car that is semi-attractive (in three-door form alone) is not really on my bucket-list and my Skoda Shitty-go is actually a darned sight roomier. However, I can understand equally why some former Mini-ists might like to subscribe to the production, while the detractors love the original British Mini, loathe the Germanic version and wish ill on its Teutonic copyists…who were almost too willing to hang a sword of Damacles above the heads of some Chinese car designers that dared to copy the BMW X5 and call it their own!
As long as your children are short in the leg and your ‘fifth passenger’ is as skinny as a Borzoi, the rear seat of the new Maxi will suffice. Front seat occupants are typically well-served by the Maxi. The ludicrous large diameter speedometer is now the preserve of the sat-nav and computer screen, the speedo now consigned to one of the pods ahead of the driver. Although the Maxi’s boot is now a whopping 278-litres in capacity, the original Maxi would have left it behind by a considerable margin and you need not even contemplate taking the family on a road trip, without sending on the luggage ahead, which is a wonderfully nostalgic gesture from the Germans to us.
Naturally, mostly to justify the sky-high price tags that will accompany the new models (not in terms of list price but, rather, the list of majorly and minorly expensive options that customers will be encouraged to select from), the Maxi is packed with BMW-esque technology. I shall not go through the list, which is several pages in length, but includes chassis and body tweaks, as well as equipment and detailing hikes that will keep buyers on the never-never for absolute yonks.
The engines are mostly all-new. They develop more punch. Some are cleaner. Some are greener. All are front-wheel-drive (although an All-4 version could be along shortly) and will be used in the next small Beemer, now that the company has performed its about-swerve and delivered the crushing blow that rear-wheel-drive is not the only drive-train solution.
Built at Plant Oxford (for the meantime), prices commence at a stripped-back £15,900, although £30k will not be out of the ballpark, once the salesperson sees the colour of your flexible friend.
Conclusion: The BMW Mini is undoubtedly popular in world terms. The car has made its mark since its year-2000 launch and, although sales might have plateaued in some markets, it is attractive enough to allow further growth in others. However, unless you recognise that the Mini is no longer (ahem) ‘mini’, then the joke is definitely on you.