MINI

Friday Photo – Frankfurt 2015 Gallery

This year’s Frankfurt Motor Show proved to be fairly impressive, with a host of big names revealing new products and concepts. Incredibly, this even included cars that hadn’t been previewed in a press release weeks beforehand! Who knew that was still possible? We’ve picked out some of the notable cars making an appearance in Germany. 

2015 Frankfurt

ESM actually spent the first Frankfurt press day helping out the good people at Motoring Research with their live blog. We heartily recommend you go and read it, especially for the Periscope video action from Andrew and Gav. Trust us, you’ll find yourself longing for a special edition Suzuki Jimny or at least learning where not to leave you bag on a motor show stand.

Possibly the biggest talking point of the whole Frankfurt show was the Bentley Bentayga SUV. Promising to be more luxurious than a Range Rover, but with epic performance from a W12 engine, it’s a pretty big deal. To some it’s a step too far for the Bentley brand, and the styling is also equally divisive. However, ESM is pretty sold on it – especially in orange. The Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo is just as mental in real life as in the initial photos – a definite showstopper. Oh, and yes that is a tent on the back of the Citroen Cactus M.

We’d already seen PR photos of the Ferrari 488 Spider, but it’s seemingly even more impressive in the metal. Some even going so far as to say it’s better looking than the GTB coupé. The Hyundai stand was one of contrasts, with the Korean company pushing its new “N” performance sub-brand with the rather mental 2025 Gran Turismo concept, alongside the Santa Fe and i20 Active. Jaguar’s F-Pace stole the pre-show excitement with a Guinness World Record-breaking launch event, whilst the MotoGP-engined Honda 2&4 concept proved to be a winner.

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2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed – Moving Motor Show Gallery

ESM has been to the Goodwood Festival of Speed before – the last time back in 2012 – but this year was a little different. 

2015 Goodwood Festival of SpeedIt started with a letter from the Earl of March inviting ESM to the Festival of Speed as a fully fledged member of the media. It ended with driving almost 700 miles in 30 hours in order to spend just one day there but, when the Earl of March invites you, it’d be rude not to make an appearance.

2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Esso liveried retro Toyota GT86 was our favourite

In Festival of Speed tradition, we’ve broken the galleries down into batches. This first one covers the cars of the Moving Motor Show, while the second and third will include the iconic racers and findings from around the festival respectively. The Moving Motor Show has become a big part of the Festival of Speed, giving the public the change to pilot a wide range of cars up the famous hill climb course. So from the meagre, to the mighty, all the below could be driven.

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SMMT Test Day 2015 – One day, Twelve cars [Part 2/3]

Round two of our SMMT 2015 mega-test continues, with a further batch of four cars. By mid-morning had we picked any more winners from the 170 on offer? Part one can be found here, if you need to read that first.

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As a way to build up an appetite for lunch, two performance Renaults and a new MINI aren’t a bad workout. A soft-top Audi TT added an alternative slant on things.

Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy
2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 001
Some cars come with a large amount of hype surrounding them, and a Renaultsport product has to carry the substantial weight of expectation from motoring journalists on those French shoulders. Quite simply, the 275 Trophy cashed in over every single cheque written by it, to the point of ridiculousness.

2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 002
It probably helped that the guy from Renault made sure to put it ‘into Sport mode’ before we’d even left the steering pad. Even after the WRX STI, it became clear very quickly just how special the 275 Trophy is, with the Millbrook hill route suiting it perfectly.

The handling was as direct and precise as you could wish for in a sub-£30k hot-hatch, with such feel that you could really push the 275 Trophy with confidence. Renaultsport is keen to attract the track-day market, and there was no doubt this car would make an excellent ‘arrive-and-drive’ option.

However, the best bit had to be the Akrapovič titanium exhaust system, with a lovely bass note topped by pops and crackles on the overrun. With 271bhp, acceleration was suitably strong and the six-speed manual gearbox tight and precise.

2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 003

Carbon fibre exhaust tip!

It’s worth noting that, bucket seats and Alcantara steering wheel aside, the interior is nothing special. But such is the depth of talent in the 275 Trophy that this can be overlooked. In short, we didn’t want to give it back, and are still quietly pining for it right now.

ESM Rating 9.5/10
Stats: £28,930, 2.0-litre I4 turbo, 271bhp/273lb-ft torque, 0-62mph 5.8 secs, 159mph top speed

Renault Mégane Sport Tourer GT 220
2015 Renault Mégane Sport Tourer GT 220 001

Up until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know this car existed. Yet, weirdly, it’s been on the Renault fleet for a while. Given the rising popularity for fast estates, the Sport Tourer GT 220 could be a real contender. (more…)

MINI Superleggera™ Vision – Details and Photos

German manufacturer turns to an Italian coach builder to produce attractive version of a British car. Despite sounding like the start to some complicated joke, it’s real and the MINI Superleggera™ Vision is the end result.

2014 MINI Superleggera™ Vision 001

We haven’t necessarily been the kindest critics to MINI’s latest styling direction – well, evolution of the same style, rather than ‘direction’ is probably more accurate. But semantics aside, we described the Clubman Concept from the Geneva Motorshow as looking like “a giant Wels Catfish” and we’ve struggled with the array of grilles and intakes fitted to the new regular MINI hatchback.

2014 MINI Superleggera™ Vision 002

We’re fairly confident it’s nothing to do with what we’ve said, but MINI has turned to Italian coach builders Touring Superleggera to build them a beautiful concept car. The result is the Superleggera™ Vision you see here, that was unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este this weekend. Held in beautiful Italian scenery next to Lake Como, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este event has taken place since 1929 to celebrate the most elegant and stylish cars and motorbikes made.

2014 MINI Superleggera™ Vision 008

Along with the 50 historic cars, ranging from the 1920s to 1980s, (more…)

2014 BMW / MINI April Fool’s Day Special – The Force Injection Booster and Cooper T

Like clockwork, BMW’s PR Department rolled out another almost believable product as part of its annual April Fools’ Day gag. This year, it’s the turn of the “Force Injection Booster” system. Full advert text below:

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BMW looks set to change the face of motoring with the introduction of a patented artificial G-force technology. (more…)

Uncle Steve Writes – Part 3 of 4 – MINI Cooper SD

In the penultimate part of the 4 part series, ESM’s Uncle Steve covers his most recent car purchase.

So, as previously mentioned, the Leon FR TDI has gone, arriving in its place is a MINI Cooper SD hatchback. Again purchased from our tame motor trader, Cooper MINI Durham. So let’s get right down to the specs:

  • MINI Cooper SD Hatchback
  • Lightning blue with contrasting black roof and mirror caps
  • Chili pack
  • Media pack
  • Sun protection glass
  • Anthracite roof lining
  • Chrome line interior
  • Chrome line exterior
  • Piano black interior trim
  • Heated front screen
  • Park distance control (more…)

Uncle Steve Writes – Part 2 of 4 – MINI Countryman Cooper D ALL4

In the second part of his tetralogy, Uncle Steve tells us all about the MINI Countryman Cooper D ALL4 – is this the longest car name in the world? Maybe, but it’s also the name of the car purchased by the fiancé of Uncle Steve.

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Back in October last year, we were looking for a car to replace Amy’s Leon FR TDI. Given recent winters we wanted something that would enable us to get out and about if the bad weather returned, but also something that was fun to drive and reasonably economical. Following a visit to several dealerships the MINI found its way straight to the top of my list given the attentiveness I received from the MINI dealership we visited. In fact, given the poor performance of the other dealerships, had they simply waved hello they’d probably have still been top of my list, this was the woeful customer service delivered by SEAT, VW and Audi and all on the same day! (more…)

ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #5

I realise that calling this series of posts a “predicament” is somewhat of a dramatisation. Like having to decide on whether to pick a Cheryl Cole or Megan Fox calendar for the ESM office, this is a nice first world problem to have to deal with. But at the same time it is hardly like I’m sat here deliberating over whether to buy a Bugatti Veyron or a Pagani Huarya; everything is relative.

At the end of the previous instalment, I’d been left mulling the prospect of a MINI Cooper Coupe that I had to order within the next 48 hours to get the deal I wanted. In addition, I was also awaiting a telephone call from the Head of Business at Tyneside Audi. These two tales are entwined and interlinked, but lets deal with them one at a time.

The MINI Coupe Situation

One of the biggest problems I had with placing an order for the Coupe was the fact I hadn’t driven one. Stratstone MINI Tyneside couldn’t say when they might have one available, so the only real option would be to order blind and hope I liked it. The monthly payment was also £20 more than where I wanted it to be; this was the reason I’d walked from the showroom.

Lee, the friendly MINI sale exec, came back to me with a solution. He’d slash £21 a month off the payments, and let me drive a Cooper Coupe belonging to his (female) friend. I’d have to do this on a Wednesday evening after work, and then sign up there and then to get the order placed in time. The more I mulled this over, the more I got cold feet and given the money and length of time involved, this was not a good thing to have.

As a result, I ended it with Lee. I explained it wasn’t him, it was me, and that I just couldn’t make that level of commitment right now. This drew a line in the sand for the MINI buying experience, for now. I have to commend Stratstone that despite some initial problems, they were good to deal with. In future I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to buying a car from them, but just not right now. Ultimately, this led to…

The Audi A1 Situation

When I had walked out of the MINI dealership earlier in the week after the price was too high, my first point of call had been to head over to Tyneside Audi. Regular readers may remember the harsh criticism ESM gave this dealership for ignoring me and ESM’s mate Steve, and choosing to speak to a man in jean shorts instead. At the time, I tweeted North East Audi (part of the Benfield behemoth) who run the four Audi Centres in the Tyne & Wear/Teesside areas, and their response was apologetic. In addition, they also admitted they were reviewing weekend staffing numbers “to enable all customers to have a great experience”. As such, expectations were high that there would not be a repeat of last time. Oh, I was wrong.

Whereas on the previous visit the showroom had been quite busy, on this occasion it was virtually empty. ESM’s better half and I spent a good 5-10 minutes checking out the A1 on offer; opening the boot, sitting inside, wandering around it and generally talking quite loudly. But nobody approached. We then wandered up and down the showroom a bit more, looking at the RS3 and R8 Spyder models on offer. Again, salespeople were not forthcoming. After one last look at the A1, and a rather loud exclamation from ESM’s other half, we left. This time we hadn’t even been dissed instead of someone in cut-off denim shorts; we’d just been plain ignored.

Naturally there was no other course of action; I went straight to Twitter. Surprisingly, I got a fairly instantaneous response (perhaps I should have tweeted from within the showroom) apologising, saying there were no excuses and that if I sent them a Direct Message I would get a call from their Head of Business on Monday. Having previously said there were no second chances in this game, I deliberated before sending off my number and awaiting a call.

Monday dawned, and I did indeed get a call from Thomas, Head of Business at Tyneside Audi. He apologised profusely, and explained that they had seriously been undertaking a review of customer numbers vs staffing requirements at the dealership. This was the reason for the “kid in the bomber jacket” (as described by ESM’s other half) being by the front door of the showroom. I explained that being ignored twice was insulting, and that it made it appear that I was not the kind of person whom they wished to sell an Audi to; despite me having previously owned one.

Thomas then asked what car I had been interested in, and wondered if there was anything they could do to try to get me to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves. It was at this point that the idea of a “lifestyle test drive” of an A1 was mooted. This would give me the chance to have the car for 24 hours, rather than the regular 10-minutes round the industrial estate test. He took my details and said he would get one of their sales executives to contact me to make arrangements.

By the time the salesman, Peter, called the test drive was now being discussed as for “a few days”. That would clearly give me a superb opportunity to try out the baby Audi, and help allay any “cold feet syndrome” that I had with the MINI; should the car be good enough that is. There was only one snag; Tyneside Audi didn’t have a 1.4 TFSI (the model I’m interested in) available. Clearly I have a habit of wanting cars that nobody else seems to buy! Peter explained that they may have to order one in via Audi UK (at cost to the dealership) in order to get me one, but this was something they were willing to do.

Overall, I have to admit Tyneside Audi are doing all the right things, and making all the right noises, to try to get me back as a potential customer. Thankfully, this has all been done without the need for me to resort to wearing cut-off denim shorts. As soon as the A1 lands, hopefully this week, expect it to grace these very pages. And Twitter, and probably Instagram as well.

At this point it might be worth noting that ESM’s Mate Steve reckons that the Audi A1 is “a girl’s car”. What this is based on, I’m not so sure, but it is a view he maintains. Funnily enough, it is not one he applied to either a MINI Coupe or Hatchback, which would often be considered more feminine in my opinion. So, in the spirit of democracy, the next post is also going to include a poll to decide if Steve is right, or wrong.

So, in some respects, the predicament has become simpler. The MINI has very much gone out the window, and the Audi A1 emerges as the challenger to win my heart and wallet. ESM is still undecided on the Cheryl Cole vs Megan Fox situation though. Any help much appreciated!

ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #4

So after weighing up the benefits and pitfalls of PCP car financing, I managed to come to the conclusion that if it enables me to get a better, newer car (tailored to my specification), then it is probably a necessary evil.

Having been tempted by the seemingly generous offers available from MINI, it seemed sensible to begin my foray into new car purchasing there. Naturally, by ‘there’ I mean an online configurator for the MINI Cooper Hatchback, which has prices starting at a reasonable £14,900.00. However, the MINI selling model has been built on the old BMW “making the buyer tick a load of option boxes, to get stuff most cars come with as standard” system. This keeps the base price competitively low, and allows MINI to make a sizeable mark-up on options which the vast majority of competitors would throw in for free.

For instance, white indicator lenses are a £60.00 option on the Cooper. I personally struggle to think of any modern supermini which still comes with retro orange side repeaters. In addition, I very much doubt they really cost £60 to swap on the production line, but that’s how MINI makes its money. To try to “simplify” things, there is also a range of option packs available which combine the more popular (read that as necessary) choices into one bundle. This does save money, but does result in huge jumps in the asking price. Take the hatchback pictured below for instance:

Just a regular Cooper hatchback, nothing to see here folks.

Starting at £14,900, by picking the Chilli Pack and a smattering of other relatively sane items, I ended up with an on-the-road price of £17,845.00, adding around a 1/5th of the original amount. Cheap, this is not.

But it is another MINI variant that has really caught me eye; the Coupe. Having spent time looking a John Cooper Works version in my local MINI dealership, the idea of a two-seater, three-box coupe became quite appealing. The pop-up rear spoiler and standard fit sport button may have helped also… As a result, I found myself in a situation of getting a Sales Executive and Stratstone Tyneside to spec up a Cooper Coupe, which looked something like this:

Undecided on those sport stripes? Yeah, me too.

Obviously, it does look a bit like someone has sat on the back-end of the hatchback model, but I’m genuinely taken with the styling. Perhaps the most important factor is that it isn’t a regular MINI hatch like everyone else seems to have.

There are a couple of issues with trying to buy a Cooper Coupe though. Firstly, nobody appears to have one to test-drive. Clearly I’m not going to buy a car without driving it; especially not for the sums of money involved here. According to Lee, my friendly Sales Executive, he had no idea when they would have a Cooper Coupe available to test. The closest thing possible would be to drive the hatchback, which does share a lot of the mechanicals with the two-seater, to try to gauge whether or not I liked it.

This was how I came to find myself sitting in traffic around the Silverlink in North Tyneside, yesterday afternoon, behind the wheel of a white Cooper hatchback. Nose-to-tail congestion isn’t the best way to get a feel for how a car handles, nor is it fair to the powertrain to subject it to the demands of three people on board; the additional weight naturally blunting the performance. By the same breath, there was nothing inherently wrong with the hatch, and I would imagine the Coupe to feel a little more light-footed and sprightly. So we turned to talking finances; and failed.

For the specification of 1.6 Cooper Coupe shown above, MINI were asking £18,670.00. A chunky price jump over the similarly equipped hatchback, but such is the price of having a button to make the rear spoiler pop-up on demand! I’d set the budget for what I wanted to pay each month, what deposit I would make and what I wanted for the Polo in part-exchange. The end result was a monthly payment £20 above my target.

Due to the relative new-ness of the Coupe, discounts are apparently not really meant to exist. In addition, the generous dealer-deposit contribution that the MINI finance calculator had shown online, seemingly disappeared within the confines of the dealership. Add to this the pressure of, needing to order within the next 48 hours to “secure a delivery date before the end of the year to use this finance offer” meant that I walked. Yes, the current offer will expire on the 31st of December, just like the SCS sofa sale is always due to end; just before the next one starts.

So this weekend has solved some elements of my predicament, in that I’m seemingly happy to commit to buying a new car through PCP. But added more problems in trying to pick between the relative mundanity of a Cooper hatchback, or the potentially unaffordable (but pop-up spoilered cool-ness) of the Coupe. There also emerged a third option, this:

Audi A1 1.4 TFSi Sport

But that is for another chapter in this saga, and once I’ve had the chance to speak with the “Head of Business” at Silverlink Audi…

ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #3

The rather stylish looking MINI of Chicago dealership.

So after all the hours spent researching cars that would fit into the £8k used budget, ESM’s mate Steve threw a spanner in the works. As you’ll discover later this week, he’s just got a cracking deal on a brand new MINI Countryman for his better half. Given the state of the economy, car dealers are not having the best of times. Consequentially, there are good deals to be found out there if you know where to look and are willing to bargain hard.

But could a brand new car really be cheaper than a second-hand one? Well, yes. Potentially. Having mulled over the previous shortlist, I’d pretty much settled on a used MINI Cooper; hopefully with air-conditioning and a 3-spoke steering wheel.

To buy one of the used cars I’d been eyeing up on AutoTrader, I’d need a loan. The banks are not really up for lending anything to anyone at the moment, still reeling from the fallout of breaking the economy back in 2008. So interest rates are high, even if you can convince your “account executive” to unlock the doors to the vault. Over the course of a three-year borrowing period, the amount I’d need would cost in the region of £170 per month. That would secure a decent used MINI Cooper, probably on an 08 plate, with around 35,000 miles on the clock.

Having considered this, I travelled over to the MINI website, and checked out their current finance offers. Traditionally I’ve always been against buying a car on finance. My mantra was always from the “if you can’t afford to buy it, then you can’t have it” school of thought. Buying a car on a PCP or hire purchase deal means it isn’t really yours; the finance company is the legal owner until you make that last payment. But then look at the house I purport to “own”. A substantial chunk still belongs to my mortgage company; it’s certainly more theirs than it is mine.

Trying to keep my new open-mindedness in sight, I clicked and slider-ed my way through the MINI finance options. On a Mini Select deal, I could trade in the Polo and run a brand new Cooper hatchback for £160 per month over the next three years. Which is less than buying a used one. So was Steve actually right? Quite possibly, and then some.

It also struck me that there is more than just the hard finance aspect to consider. A new MINI would have a “tlc” pack; ergo, no servicing costs for those 36 months. It’ll also not need an MOT for 3 years; £120 saved even if the used car passed without issue every time. Oh, and let’s not forget the warranty and roadside assistance the new model would have those for – yeah, you’ve guessed it – 3 years. Realistically, buying a fresh out the packet model could save me hundreds of pounds compared to an unreliable used car.

This really had me thinking. Could I finally, for the first time in 11 years of motoring, actually consider using an online car configurator for real to spec the car I could actually buy? And, on top of that, let me justify it to myself financially?! Well yes, quite. Even ESM’s Father, the font of car-buying knowledge did not immediately counsel against such an idea. This had blown my mind just a little, and tipped all my car-buying research and knowledge on its head. The used car was always meant to be the cheaper option compared to new; not the other way round.

There had to be a catch though, surely? I guess the catch with any of the Personal Contract Purchase  type schemes are these:

  • The final “balloon” payment is the elephant in the room. Whilst it makes your monthly payments cheaper than hire purchase (or a loan), the final payment hangs over your deal until the end. You could always pay it off and keep the car, but who realistically has several thousand pounds just sitting waiting? Alternatively you can hand the car back and clear your debit, but this leaves you with nothing of value; by contrast, at least with a loan against a used car you have the intrinsic worth of the car left at the end (whatever it may amount to).
  • There is also the option to trade in your current PCP’d car against another one from the same manufacturer. With MINI this would also allow you to cash in against a BMW, but it still limits your choice of options. The world is not your oyster; unless it’s stamped Bayerisch Motor Werken.
  • In addition, for me, there’s still the niggling doubt over who the car belongs to. Legally it’s the finance company, even if you’re the one specifying it, driving it, washing it, fuelling it, taxing it and insuring it.
  • Finally, there’s the risk of “something going wrong” which means you can’t make your monthly payments. With a used car loan you can simply sell the car and use the cash to clear the debt. A car on finance adds many further layers of risk and penalty.

So the question is relatively simple. Do you a) take a loan on a used car, being able to have the greater security of owning it out right, but at the same time knowing it may cost more financially and isn’t exactly what you’d want? Or b) go for the finance option; design a car exactly to your taste but in the knowledge it doesn’t quite belong to you, and could leave you with nothing, even if it costs less per month?

It’s a tough call, especially for someone who likes to play it safe when it comes to money (to the point where people presume I’m of Hebrew descent) most of the time. The thought of being the first person to drive a car is alluring; knowing somebody else hasn’t abused it, spilt coffee in it (or worse), and that every option was picked by you personally. But this is countered by that inherent financial risk; the car you specced might end up being taken off you.

This predicament started with weighing up the used car options. It’s now a whole lot more complex…