Mini Is (Maybe) Bringing Back the British Roadster, Baby!
When the Mini Superleggera Vision concept was shown last summer, it was met with nearly universal praise. While it was clearly still a Mini, the Superleggera was also gorgeous and looked like a logical extension of the Mini brand. Like many concept cars though, its odds of actually making it into production seemed low at the time. Unlike many concepts, however, it would appear that the Superleggera concept is not destined to be remembered as a fond “what if?” Instead, Car Magazine is reporting that it’s headed to production in early 2018.
For Mini as a brand, this would mean finally having its first sports car in the lineup and a move towards a more focused lineup. While the Mini Roadster and Coupe have been on sale for a while, they’ve failed to connect with buyers and aren’t selling well. Part of the problem there is that the differences between those models and the regular Mini Cooper Hardtop are purely aesthetic. Without major suspension or engine differences, the reduced practicality makes for a hard sell.
The Superleggera will have to fit on the same platform that the rest of the lineup is built on, but it’s a car that was designed from the beginning to be a unique sports car. The concept was a hybrid that used electric motors to drive the front wheels and an engine to drive the rear wheels, but that setup likely won’t make it to production. While the most likely option, especially for the base model, is front-wheel-drive, the platform can accommodate Mini’s all-wheel-drive system, which could be an option as well. Mini promised that the character and charisma of the concept will be retained though, so no matter how it’s powered, expect it to be incredibly fun to drive.
For the automotive industry as a whole though, it would perhaps be even bigger news. A production version of the Superleggera is expected to be sold in the U.S. too, and that means that the British roadster could finally be returning to America’s shores. Yes, there are British sports cars for sale here that offer convertible options, but they’re all high end luxury cars. The classic British roadster from the likes of Triumph and MG, on the other hand, has traditionally been more affordable and less exotic than, say, the Jaguar F-Type convertible.
The Mini Superleggera would also make for interesting competition with the Mazda Miata, especially with a redesigned fourth generation Miata about to go on sale. After all, despite being from Japan, the Miata is the car that perfected the British roadster. Mazda took all of the best qualities of cars like the MGB and then built a car that was made to Japanese standards of quality. As a result, the original Miata was all of the affordable, lightweight fun that British roadsters promised but without the reliability and electrical issues that British roadsters delivered.
Since its introduction in 1989, the Miata has had the affordable, lightweight sportscar market almost entirely to itself. Other automakers have tried, but every attempt has ultimately fallen short. The closest that another manufacturer has come would be the Scion FR-S and its twin, the Subaru BRZ. They’re incredibly light and nimble, with a focus more on handling than acceleration. They’re also incredibly affordable too, with a base model starting at just barely over $25,000. Neither offers a convertible version though.
Even though it’s unlikely to be rear-wheel-drive, the Mini Superleggera will be coming to a market that is used to tiny, two-seat, sports cars being Japanese. Will the looks and the performance of the Mini be enough to win over drivers? Mini certainly shocked the market back in 2001 when it introduced its little hatchback to America. The small British hatchback has proven to be both cool and popular, but now Mini has the opportunity to do it again and make the small British sports car cool and popular again as well.
After all, why let the Japanese play by themselves in a segment that historically has belonged to the British? This is a segment that Mini is perfect for, and if the roll out is done right, it could quickly become a serious player. There is, however, the fear that the push for broader appeal could lead to a car that looks good but still drives the same as every other Mini. Even if it wouldn’t drive quite like a true sports car, the Mini Superleggera still looks amazing, and it’s hard to imagine it not selling well based on looks alone. Come 2018, this could be just the shot in the arm that Mini needs.
Production might not be as clear cut as Car Magazine makes it sound though. According to Automotive News, Peter Schwarzenbauer, a BMW board member at the head of Mini, said, “I cannot confirm that it has been approved yet.” While it’s not an outright denial of the Superleggera going into production, it does make you wonder. While the original report may have been wrong, I choose to believe that Mini is just waiting for the right time to make an official announcement.
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