New baby, Mini more to come

The Mini just got longer, lux­u­ri­ous and all-wheel drive. And that’s not the end of it, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

SOME­WHERE in­side this mod­i­fied Mini is a new all­wheel-drive wagon. It’s the next stretch on the born-again Bri­tish baby as BMW Group looks to ex­tend the reach of the Mini be­yond to­day’s ba­sic hatch, stretched Club­man and the forth­com­ing sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Cabrio.

Any­one who ex­pected Mini to pump out an­other high-rider SUV will get a shock from the Cross­over Con­cept, which makes its global de­but at the Paris Mo­tor Show next month.

For a start, it is more like a street crawler than a bush basher. It is loaded with lux­u­ries. And it sits sur­pris­ingly close to the ground.

Look closer and you see ev­ery­thing from a five-door body with a hinged door on one side and a slider on the other, and even a fuel filler that has been repo­si­tioned to the right-hand side — a short­com­ing on the Club­man, which has its ex­tra back door out in the traf­fic in Aus­tralia.

But Aus­tralian Mini boss Justin Ho­ce­var says there is much more.

‘‘It’s a com­pletely new plat­form. It will be a be­spoke plat­form, not sourced from any other BMW group prod­uct,’’ he says.

‘‘They are de­vel­op­ing a new plat­form for the Mini fam­ily, so where they go with that is to be de­ter­mined. There are fairly am­bi­tious growth plans for the Mini brand go­ing for­ward.’’

The ar­rival of the Cross­over Con­cept is not a sur­prise, even if the fancy fin­ish­ing is a shock. And it’s likely there will be at least a cou­ple more — Mini did four takes on the Club­man for var­i­ous mo­tor shows — be­fore the pro­duc­tion car.

‘‘We said more than 12 months ago that we would be looking to in­tro­duce an­other model vari­ant. This con­cept is in line with that di­rec­tion. This con­cept ve­hi­cle is an early it­er­a­tion to test the mar­ket. They are gun­ning for a launch in 2010 to 2011,’’ Ho­ce­var says.

The all-wheel-drive Mini wagon will fol­low the Cabrio, which will reap­pear in the range next year and close the gap be­tween Europe and Aus­tralia.

‘‘With the Cabrio we’ll align our pro­duc­tion with Europe and the only dif­fer­ence then will be the ship­ping times. So we’ll be only about a month be­hind them on pro­duc­tion, with a three to four-month gap for ship­ping,’’ he says.

He says the forth­com­ing SUV — though Mini will have an­other tag— is part of a plan to lure more mid­dleaged buy­ers.

‘‘I think we have an av­er­age age of 42, but we don’t have many 42 year-olds in our owner group. We have a spike of younger peo­ple, then a gap when they have other pri­or­i­ties, be­fore an­other group of older buy­ers,’’ he says.

‘‘We’d like to keep more peo­ple in the fam­ily and at­tract more peo­ple to the brand.’’

The de­tail on the Cross­over Con­cept in­cludes the first Mini body longer than 4m, though still only 1.6m high, as well as a fold­ing roof cover and a trans­port case to fit on to the out­side of the rear door.

Mini vari­a­tions: the Mini Cross­over Con­cept has a five-door body with a hinged door on one side and a slider on the other.

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