Mini has proven that zesty cars with proper design can make a killing. Why not do it again?
Mini doesn’t exactly make boring cars. Small and light is always in vogue, and if the design happens to be cutesy enough to invoke images of twenty-somethings on a top-down road trip with smiling faces framed by Ray-Bans, then more power to Mini’s marketing department. BMW’s subsidiary took things a step further by creating the Mini Superleggera Vision. Like its name implies, the two-door concept was a cocktail with one part small British roadster and one part Italian coachbuilding design might.
Not only does the word “Superleggera” serve to give credit to Italian coachbuilder Touring Superleggera, but the word itself means “super light” in Italian. Fans raved, the automotive community promised consumer dollars to reward Mini for its creation, and BMW enthusiasts celebrated the fact that the Bavarian automaker was finally going back to making light cars that looked great and drove wonderfully. In typical automaker fashion, Mini went back and forth on its word to build the car as it consulted with accountants and marketing gurus, but it now seems as if the materialization of the Superleggera is on hold in favor of an ugly sedan that Mini thinks will bring in some extra cash. As far as business goes, we think this is a terrible idea.
This isn’t just an enthusiast speaking about the emotional appeal of a two-door roadster over four-door real world practicality; Mini has the opportunity to turn this car into a profit machine. All it needs is a solid investment to make the Superleggera’s platform malleable. The reason is based on the car’s two main selling points: looks and size. The design of the car looks great. If there’s one thing Italians consistently get right on a car, it’s the design, and this Mini has looks that will make wallets groan and customers swoon. Modern interpretations of sports cars have abrupt angles, gaping holes, and furrowed headlamps to make them look angry. What results is an infantile, trying-too-hard look that echoes Velcro Hulk figurines stuck to light-up sneakers.
Meanwhile, the Mini Superleggera keeps things simple with a classic and iconic look, like a reincarnation of the Jaguar E-Type. A properly done chassis by BMW could give the Superleggera the ammo it needs to fight the Mazda MX-5 Miata while a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder could supply the gunpowder with about 200 horsepower of grunt. BMW could go as far as to supply the Mini with a light inline-six if horsepower figures in the neighborhood of the 300s are needed, although the bean counters would probably ax this idea in order to preserve sales of the M2. Regardless, the zippy and fun Superleggera would help to preserve Mini's playful image, one that is steadily being eroded by its bigger cars.
Depending on the balls that BMW has, it could extend the car and give it a solid roof to create a four-door Grand Coupe. And why not? The Germans are doing it with every other two-door and Mini doesn’t exactly have a history of sticking to its two-door guns. Going down the sedan/coupe route and adding the electric motors as Mini had initially planned for the car would open new doors. With a low price, a plug-in hybrid or even an electric Superleggera could give the Model 3 some solid competition despite its reduced practicality. As Mini has shown us before, emotion and retro design can trump reliability, practicality, and logic to create moneymaking cars that look great and are fun to drive. Please Mini, make it happen.