The original BMC Mini designed by Alec Issigonis was an absolute triumph of design and, arguably, set the template for the most common automotive layout used today: the transverse-engine, FWD layout. When BMW bought the rights to the Mini brand around 2000, it set out to make a modern version of this very influential car. And while BMW did a pretty good job of it, I think it can be argued that Daihatsu did it better.
Of course, only BMW had the right to officially call its car a Mini. But the rules are a bit looser when it comes to using design cues from a car, and it’s very, very clear that the car Daihatsu was looking at when designing the Mira Gino (known as the Trevis in export markets) was the Mini.
I specifically want to focus on the second-gen Mira Gino/Trevis, built in 2004 - 09. The original Mira Gino, built in 1999 to 2004 was based more on the classic Mini design, while the second-gen one seems to have been clearly influenced by BMW’s modern take on the Mini.
Now, I’m not saying this car is particularly original — it’s absolutely cribbing from old-school and newer-school Mini designs pretty shamelessly — but I do think that it fits the fundamental goals of the original Mini better than the one BMW built.
I guess what I’m saying is that if you exhumed and re-animated Alec Issigonis and asked him to pick which car was the most worthy successor to his original, I think he’d pick the Daihatsu.
The reason is pretty simple: Issigonis’ real achievement on the original Mini was the incredible packaging — so much room inside for so little size outside. While BMW’s reborn Mini was still a small car, it just wasn’t the marvel that the original was. But the Daihatsu comes pretty damn close, and even manages to add an extra pair of doors, something I think old Alec would have really respected.
Let’s just look at the lengths of the two cars, for example:
Even though it’s nearly 10 inches shorter, the Daihatsu manages to have a better ratio of usable to unusable space (based on the length of the car) and even has a larger trunk volume. And, again, an extra pair of doors.
Sure, with only a 989cc three-cylinder making about 58 horsepower, it’s got less power than the first-gen new Mini, with (in early Euro-spec form) a 90 HP 1.6-liter engine. But it weighs a good bit less and really isn’t all that slow, with a top speed of just under 100 and a 0-62 mph time of 12.2 seconds.
That 1.6 Mini gets to the same speed in 10.9 seconds and tops out a 106. It’s quicker, sure, but not that much quicker. And unsurprisingly, the Daihatsu gets much better gas mileage than the Mini, by over 10 mpg more in city and highway. That Mini was rated at 35 mpg combined, and the Tevis was rated at 49 mpg.
My point is that both of these cars can really be thought of as reborn original Minis. BMW’s had the legal rights to that claim, but that’s also very clearly what Daihatsu was shooting for.
And even if Daihatsu is technically the knockoff, I just think that if we really consider what the original goals for the Mini were — good, shockingly roomy, efficient and fun transportation for four in the smallest possible package — the Daihatsu would have to take it. Plus, the Daihatsu actually is literally mini, more so than BMW’s design, especially true for current Minis.
I suspect that the BMW Mini handles much better and is probably more fun on a racetrack. While racing is certainly part of the Mini’s heritage, that’s not enough to sway me. This is one of those rare cases where one company did a version of another’s car better. I can’t even say “better than the original,” because BMW wasn’t the original, either, but I think you get what I mean.
Are there any other cases like this? Where a company builds an obvious derivative/clone of another maker’s car and it turns out better? I can’t think of another right now, but I bet there are examples. Maybe a Previa over a Vanagon? I’m not sure.