Marque will be a niche product, not 'cheap transportation'; it will also be significantly larger
Mini to make return in July Mini Cooper S

THE Mini, that ubiquitous zippy icon of the swinging sixties, will be back in Singapore in July. But those who remember it as an affordable runabout and are expecting the new car to be just that may be disappointed.

The two are as different as coffee and tar.

If you don't already know, the new Mini is made by Germany's BMW. It will be retailed here by BMW agent Performance Motors, which is redeveloping its showroom in Alexandra Road to, among other things, accommodate the latest addition to the family.

The redevelopment, which includes expanding the showroom and reception area as well improving customer access from the time they drive into the premises, will cost $1.8 million. Part of the budget will go to refurbishing another showroom at Sime Darby Centre in Bukit Timah Road. Performance Motors is part of Sime Singapore, the recently delisted arm of Malaysian group Sime Darby.

Performance Motors managing director Marc Singleton said the Mini will have a separate area in the new Alexandra Road showroom when work is completed "in four to five months' time".

The launch, meanwhile, will take place at another location in late July.

Mr Singleton said the new Mini won't be the mass-market, "cheap transportation" that its predecessor had built its reputation on.

"It will be a niche product," he said, adding that it would have "sensible potential" as far as sales numbers were concerned.

He said a pre-launch event in Hong Kong in March was indicative of the Mini's popularity. In the first weekend of that event, 250 orders were collected for the compact two-door, he said, although the response may not be similar in Singapore.

Asked how it would compare with Volkswagen's new Beetle, another revived product, the managing director said: "They're both trendy. But the Mini is sporty."

In fact, the upscale Cooper S will have a 1.6-litre supercharged engine that produces in excess of 160 horsepower. Available only with a manual transmission, it will be priced on the high side of $130,000 here.

The Mini Cooper will have a 1.6-litre 16-valve engine mated to either a manual or automatic gearbox. It will cost between $125,000 and $130,000.

The prices put the new car, made in Oxford, England, in the same bracket as a sizeably larger car like the Nissan Cefiro - an executive-class product with a two-litre six-cylinder engine. The former Mini was among the least expensive machines available, costing less than $4,000 apiece in the early 1960s.

The new car is also significantly larger, measuring almost half a metre longer tip to tip. It will be better equipped, having at least four airbags, and larger wheels. But it will still handle "like a go-kart".

The first one goes on sale on July 7 in the UK, and BMW expects to sell 100,000 units worldwide a year.