The Mini brand is a strange old thing to observe as a petrolhead. It’s safe to say many of us are keen on the core hatchback models, particularly the hotter ones like the JCW. But the weird niches like the Paceman, Clubman and the soon-to-be-deceased Coupe and Roadster? Thanks but no thanks.
Despite that, when Mini unveiled the pretty Superleggera concept - built by Milanese coachbuilder Touring Superleggera - most of us at CT towers gave a nod of approval. A compact roadster with great handling and sexy styling? We’ve got time for that. It turns out that Mini is keen too, as a production version featuring similar styling is on the way. And it’s intended as a rival to the Mazda MX-5. Oh yes.
Speaking to Autocar, Mini boss Peter Schwarzenbauer said: "We are now working hard to get it on the street. It’s an economically challenging project and there is no firm decision, but we have a lot of people here that are fighting for it.”
So it’s not definite, but it’s certainly sounding very promising. It will be a very different kettle of fish to the MX-5, though. It’s anticipated that the lower-powered models - which will almost certainly feature BMW’s 1.5-litre turbocharged three-pot - are going to be front-wheel drive. It won’t be the first front-driving car to take on the RWD MX-5; Fiat’s pretty Barchetta did that during its two production runs between 1995 and 2005.
Interestingly, a four-wheel drive hybrid option is also likely, which would see the 1.5-litre petrol engine powering the front wheels, and an electric motor powering the rear boots. It’s a setup already used in BMW’s prototype 2-series Active Tourer hybrid, and is best thought of as the i8’s hybrid setup but backwards and with a transverse engine mounting. It’s a pokey system too, with a total of 216bhp and 209lb ft available in the AT, and perhaps a little more once it makes its way into the production Superleggera.
There’s no need to worry that this’ll be a repeat of the current Mini Roadster, either. When asked by Autocar if the production Superlegerra is essentially a replacement for that car, Schwarzenbauer replied “They don’t compare. The Superleggera is a serious sports car.”
Should all this go ahead, we can expect a production Superleggera on the roads by 2019.