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It catches your eye and makes your head turn for a double take. It has thousands of rabid fans all over the world. It's appeared in movies from The Italian Job to the latest Austin Powers installment. It's the MINI.

Originally designed in 1959 by Sir Alec Issigonis for the now defunct British Motor Corp., the MINI car was on the brink of extinction until BMW acquired the brand in the mid-1990s and breathed new life into it. With its compact design and fun look, the MINI had been a hit in Europe for decades, and in 1999 it was voted European Car of the Century by a panel of more than 130 international journalists. Now, for the first time since 1968, the fabled icon is for sale on this side of the pond. And if a 12-month waiting list is any indication, it's already a hit.

"We are really introducing to America the concept that quality is not always a straight-line function of size," says Michael McHale, MINI communications manager. "The car does appeal through its 'emotional' look but also through the rational appeal of its high-class engineering."

The Cooper S is the MINI's top-line model. At 163 horsepower, this small car can pack a punch with its 16-valve, 1.6-liter engine and optional CVT automatic transmission. It has good pickup and handling, hugging curves easily with no fear of tipping.

Its diminutive size can be deceiving. A person of up to 6 feet 7 inches can easily drive the Cooper S with some headroom to spare, giving the illusion that it's a larger car (the MINI is only 12 feet long). The interior is very European in design and feel. The only drawback: there is very little trunk space (enough for those golf clubs, however).

Consumers of all ages are clamoring for the MINI. "The market is anyone or everyone. Buyers tend to be urbanites who could often afford something bigger but just don't need it," says McHale.

At a base price of $19,850, buyers have many options to choose from, including CD changers, pin-striped detailing, on-board navigation system, and even roofs decorated with flag motifs. All prices include destination delivery and a BMW warranty. Only 20,000 will be created this year for the U.S. market, with more anticipated for next year.

For more information visit www.miniusa.com.

 

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