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Mini fleet not so small anymore

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird: Mini expands their lineup, for better and for worse I'm rather fond of the Mini Cooper S.

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird: Mini expands their lineup, for better and for worse

I'm rather fond of the Mini Cooper S.

Yes, it costs a ridiculous amount of money for such a tiny tyke, but there are plenty of bells and whistles to be had, and it's not like there's anything else out there on the market that's such a blend of go-kart handling and weird retro-cuteness. Not, that is, until the Fiat 500 Abarth comes along.

As pointed out many times before, just selling Coopers doesn't make you a full-line car company. Thus we have various Mini models ranging from the sublime (the Mini Roadster) to the ridiculous (Mini Cooper Coupe). Now, two more are joining the Lilliputian stables.

First up, you should be able to buy a Mini Cooper ClubVan by this August. Well, I say "you" but I really mean "you-ropeans" as the little van will only be available in Europe to start. Based on the Clubman, the tiny delivery van makes perfect sense, blending moderate capacity with enough style to be a rolling advertisement.

And now for something completely different: they're also going to make a coupe version of the Countryman crossover. I suppose the case could be made that the twodoor Range Rover Evoque invites competition, but a less-practical version of the Countryman (which only has four seats anyway) seems a bit silly.

Bowler puts on a Land Rover

For those of you who are unaware, a company called Bowler has been using Land Rover products to produce the sort of off-road excellence truly befitting the brand, and they've been doing it for years. Now, the unofficial partnership has officially tied the knot.

Think of Bowler as Land Rover's version of Ford's SVT team, builder of the F150-base SVT Raptor. Bowlers are even more hardcore desert-racers, capable of absorbing abuse that'd strand a regular Land Rover.

Somewhere along the way, Land Rover went from being a purveyor of off-road vehicles that were a bit agricultural to a seller of luxury items - this partnership brings things back a little, and might even result in specialized packaging for future Land Rover products. Until then, Bowlers will proudly wear the Land Rover badge on their back bumper.

Mazda debuts MX5 GT Concept

Perhaps buoyed by the sales success of their Skyactivbranded technologies, Mazda has been coming out with concepts, one after another. Better yet, most of these concepts are cars they're actually considering building.

This latest is simply a tuned-up version of the MX-5, with carbon-fibre aerodynamics, a stiffer suspension, Recaro seats and a bump in power to 205 horsepower. Mazda's launching the car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the U.K., and is looking for consumer feedback.

Personally, I love the idea of a sportier-trim MX-5 to sit side-by-side with their more luxury-optioned, hard-top equipped GT. Still, if I was clamouring for Mazda to build a specialty MX-5, it'd be the supercharged, 240 h.p., Lotusbattling version they released earlier this year.

F1 boss faces bribery charges

Bernie Ecclestone is the CEO of Formula One and, many believe, the second coming of Machiavelli. He always looks annoyed, like Andy Warhol crossed with Oscar the Grouch, and what dastardly machinations go on behind those round spectacles are anyone's guess.

As far as the German courts are concerned, they're guessing bribery was involved. Specifically, Bernie's alleged to have paid a German banker $44 million to keep certain reports out of the hands of U.K. tax inspectors. $44 million? Come now, why not simply pay those taxes?

Well, because they would have amounted to $3.14 billion, according to previous testimony from Ecclestone himself. If charged and convicted, the F1 head could face up to 10 years in prison.

Of course, it should be noted that the German banker is under investigation himself, and only testified as a means to reduce his sentence. Still, it would appear that Ecclestone is in some serious hot water this time around.

Toyota: C'est magnifique!

Last week, I was wondering if French cars would ever make their way to our shores. This week, I'm happy to report that they will, though not in the way originally anticipated.

With the Yen climbing sky-high, Japanese manufacturers are scrambling to send production overseas to keep costs down. That means more Hondas built in Canada, more Nissans built in Mexico, and more Toyotas built in - France?

It's true (or vrai, if you prefer), Toyota already builds the European version of the Yaris in France, and will now be producing North American variants there for export to Canada and the U.S.

In these days of globalization, does it really matter where your car is built? Just because the robot that welds on the doors is wearing a beret and a jaunty scarf doesn't mean that your Yaris will be imbued with Gallic charm . . . or does it?

Watch this space for all the week's best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to