Thursday, August 27, 2009

BMW expands Mini lineup with two-seat coupe, roadster models


Mini is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its original model by confirming plans for a new compact performance-oriented coupe.


The two-seater, revealed 50 years to the day after the premiere of the first Mini back in 1959, will make its public debut at the upcoming Frankfurt motor show. At the show, the BMW-owned carmaker also will unveil a similarly styled two-seat roadster, which sources say will head into production as part of a strategy aimed at further raising the appeal of the wildly popular and iconic small car.


Confirmation of the coupe and roadster pairing comes less than a year after Mini revealed that it would build a new four-wheel-drive SUV in the mold of its high-riding Crossman concept. Together, this trio of new models will double the number of Mini derivatives on sale within the next three years--a move that analysts say will help boost the company's worldwide sales above 400,000 annually, despite increased competition in the form of the upcoming Audi A1, the Citro├źn DS3 (both Frankfurt debuts) and the recently introduced Alfa Romeo MiTo.


Although it is described as a concept and the official line is that no decision on production has yet been made, the Mini Coupe to be revealed in Frankfurt is no mere fantasy destined to be toned down in appearance and mechanical makeup before it reaches dealerships. High-ranking Mini insiders revealed to AutoWeek that the production version due out in 2011 will be a virtual carbon copy both in looks and in the hardware that lurks beneath.


The Coupe was styled by a team working under Mini design boss Gert Hildebrand. He has retained the retro appearance of existing Cooper models while infusing an added dash of sportiness in the heavily angled windshield, the low roofline and the dedicated trunk lid. The result is a less boxy car than the Cooper. With a height of just 53.4 inches, it's also a lot lower. Traditional touches include blackened pillars to give the coupe the same floating roof design found on other Minis.


Inside, the Coupe swaps the four-seat layout of the Cooper for a simple two-seat arrangement, with the space in back used to extend trunk capacity. While the concept car boasts a luxurious leather-lined interior, production versions of the Coupe will come with the same materials and trims used on existing Mini models.


Under its steel skin, the Coupe uses the same front-wheel-drive platform, as well as the aluminum-intensive MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspension and electro-hydraulic steering system from existing versions of the Mini. All of that hints at typical agile-driving characteristics and firm ride qualities for the production car, which is expected to be priced at about $36,000 when North American sales begin in 2012.


In keeping with the performance slant evident in its exterior styling, Mini has endowed its Frankfurt concept with the same turbocharged 1.6-liter, 208-hp, 206-lb-ft four-cylinder gasoline engine used in the Cooper S John Cooper Works model.


Nothing is official yet, but expect the top-of-the-line Mini Coupe to hit 60 mph in less than 7.0 seconds and to reach a top speed of about 150 mph. Production versions of the new car should also be available with the less powerful 172-hp turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine from the Cooper S, according to Mini sources.

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