The allure of being different

A rear only a mother could love...

Sometimes standing out from the crowd isn’t the right plan of action. While making an impression on the general public is generally the goal of any automaker’s design team when launching a new car, there are limits I think we need to address for future models.

I think it’s a bit of a catch 22, actually. Us auto journos are constantly complaining about mundane, hum-drum, “normal” models being released by bigwig companies (*cough*Toyota/Honda*cough*); while companies like Nissan, MINI and Land Rover push the envelope on design and we complain about that too.

There’s just no pleasing us, apparently.

Last week, the brand new 2012 MINI Cooper S Coupe showed up at my office — while I’d just started my maternity leave. With a slumbering 4-day-old baby at home, I hopped in my WRX and made my way to the office (to say hi to colleagues, of course…).After making the rounds and freaking out all the boys in the office with my labour stories, I made my way down to the parking lot to get acquainted with the MINI Cooper S Coupe.

Here’s the deal: It’s a MINI. And we all know how I feel about MINIs — so right there, it’s a winner. I took it out for a spin and let me tell you, it drives just like a MINI should and was a blast. I did, however, feel slightly claustrophobic with the lower roofline. And the blind spots are quite astonishing for a MINI.

The need to make this one “different” from the rest of the MINI lineup has kind of tarnished the glowing love I have for the brand.

Now, pick your jaw up off the keyboard; I didn’t say I didn’t like the MINI Cooper S Coupe, I simply said something was off.

And it goes back to this need to be different in the industry. MINI has a good thing going for it. The Cooper hatch is a fab little car, there’s very little (if anything) wrong with it. When they released the Clubman, it was to answer a need for more space. When they released the Countryman, it was to answer a need for space and an AWD platform.

Now with the release of the Coupe they’ve answered a need… for a car that drives pretty much the same as the hatch, has room for two only and sports a roof that looks like a backwards baseball cap.

Because clearly there are a ton of customers who asked for that specifically.

MINI wants to reinvent itself to keep its line fresh and appealing to the market, particularly new buyers. However, a car like the MINI doesn’t need to do that to stay relevant. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Yup, that's the rear roofline...

And MINI aren’t the only ones to embark on this radical design journey. Take the Nissan Juke for example (what WERE they thinking?) or even the Range Rover EVOQUE, both of which shocked the general public and auto journalists the world over for their outside-the-box looks.

So, is the need to be different pushing automakers in a direction that’s too far removed from anything the public actually wants? Or are they going to change the face of the automobile for good and change the definition of “well-designed?”

Drive on,
– M.

~ by drivingmsmiranda on December 8, 2011.

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