It was 20 years ago when the new and improved MINI was presented to the public for the first time ever at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris. As the successor to the classic and iconic Mini, a car that ended production just a few days after the unveiling, the second generation vehicle managed to revolutionize the small car segment while still paying tribute to its roots.
"The MINI was the first premium vehicle in this class. Its modern concept has promoted continuous advanced development to the present day, encompassing driving fun, efficiency, comfort, safety, connectivity and not least model diversity," said MINI in a press release.
A quick look through an early example of the MINI Cooper provides a unique opportunity to have a firsthand view on the character exhibited by the second generation MINI. This particular vehicle rolled off the assembly line in October 2001, six months after production had been launched at MINI's plant in Oxford. Two decades and three owners later, the car now clocks at 175,000 kms. And, much like every MINI, it was given a nickname: Sunny, due to its bright yellow body paint. In the first year of sales for the modern MINI in Germany, only one in every fifteen vehicles left the factory in this color. The combination with a roof and door mirror caps finished in Black was even rarer.
MINI designers wanted to revolutionize an icon but still keep the design elements that made the car unique. Styling details like the short overhangs, round headlamps and hexagonal radiator grille were carried through, as well as the unique "small but weirdly spacious" cabin still offers space for four people and their luggage, providing an efficient travelling experience and generating enthusiasm with its distinct driving characteristics not achieved by any other model in its class. For the new MINI, contemporary aspirations for comfort and maximum safety standards were also taken into account.
"In autumn of 1997, selected journalists were permitted to take their first look at the MINI 2000 study. This generated the MINI fever. The relaunch of the brand and the imminent presentation of the series vehicle were the subjects of intense debate particularly online," says MINI. "In parallel to the world premiere in Paris, national and international MINI websites were launched and more than 100,000 prospective customers interested in the MINI had soon already registered."
The second generation MINI captivated drivers around the world with its compact styling, unique performance, and agile handling. Right until today, “Sunny” leaves absolutely no doubt that the MINI has been designed for athletic driving and extreme cornering. The 115 hp engine powering the MINI Cooper also provides surprising acceleration capacity. Some 20 years ago, the car also impressed John Cooper – the sports car designer who had previously paved the way for the classic Mini to conquer race tracks by storm. “The MINI Cooper puts a smile on your face,” he commented after his first test drive in the MINI vehicle named after him.
Right from the start, a wide range of options were provided for customers to be able to completely personalize the MINI of their dreams. The premium look within the interior was achieved by a wide range of features including seats and upholstery, interior trims and steering wheels in many versions, alongside modern safety equipment options such as automatic climate control, heated seats, a panoramic sunroof and navigation. The original MINI accessories program included auxiliary headlamps, white taillights, an aerodynamic package, an array of roof trims, and even a car phone.
In 2003, a diesel engine variant was integrated into the second generation of the MINI, and the convertible MINI Cabrio followed in the next year. The model diversity expanded further for the third generation that was launched in 2006, when the MINI Clubman, MINI Coupé and MINI Roadster joined the range. Not long after this, MINI succeeded in entering the premium compact segment with the MINI Countryman and the new MINI Clubman: two cars that recreate that go-kart feeling on a whole other level.
The premium interior also demonstrates the integration of key design features in the second generation of the MINI. “Sunny” expresses its individual style most notably with the large speedometer in the center of the instrument panel, a styling cue that is still echoed today with the circular infotainment system on modern MINIs.
Over the period of two decades, the MINI has become noticeably more mature but its distinct fun-loving character and personality still remains inimitable. And the fresh color shade that suits “Sunny” so perfectly is now acting as a very special beacon for the future, as yellow color accents characterize the MINI Cooper SE, which marks the next evolutionary stage of the original as the first all-electric powered model of the brand.
Photo/s from MINI