Introduced in 1959, the original Mini, designed by a team of engineers led by Alec Issigonis, remains one of a handful of revolutionary innovations still evident in today's modern automobile. From its transverse engine to its front-wheel drive layout, the intent was to create the maximum amount of usable inside room within a compact, easy-to-park footprint. It was also designed to be economical to manufacture, offering Brits an affordable step-up from their motorbikes and 3-wheelers. And the manufacturers of Mini, Austin and Morris, succeeded brilliantly, albeit not in the U.S., where intermittent importation in the early '60s was dealt a death blow by U.S. safety and emission regs, beginning in 1968.
Fast forward to BMW's reintroduction of the brand in 2001. While still produced in England, today's lineup owes almost nothing to the Austin-based original beyond its profile. While the original was almost elfin in size and character, the current Mini comes closer to the physical size of a Chevy Sonic or Ford's Fiesta, and is larger still if you consider the Countryman crossover. With a heavy emphasis on personalization, along with a bias toward 'cute' that for some can seem almost too cute, the Mini hardtop is the brand's least expensive and most popular, while any John Cooper Works derivative is easily the most fun. And like its BMW sibling, Mini's can get significantly more expensive when you start to check the option boxes. A JCW convertible or Countryman can easily run upwards of $35K; big money for a small footprint.
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