Chicago Auto Show 2009: Tiny is So In These Days (Mini Cooper S JCW, Mini Clubman JCW, BRABUS Smart ForTwo, Mitsubishi i MiEV)



Remember back when the resurrection of the Mini in the form of the MINI was big news—mainly because it was so small? Nevermind that it was significantly larger than the classic Minis of yore—it was still a whole lot smaller than just about everything else on the market. And it was sporty! And thoughtfully appointed! And quirky, full of personality—and had more space inside than you’d expect!

Well, times have changed. The MINI has gotten slightly larger with each successive evolution, and the new MINI Clubman is something different altogether. A nice “something different,” but is it really, well…mini? It’s hardly an SUV (thankfully), but it’s definitely not…mini.  The JCW packages are mostly nice-looking and sporty (although chrome bezels on absolutely everything that could be chromed in the Clubman is questionable), but they don’t really affect the overall size, although they do make a difference in aerodynamics.


Enter the SMART ForTwo. Now that? That’s tiny. And yet there seems to be quite a bit more headroom. And that panoramic moonroof—fantastic! Not that the MINI’s is bad—not by any stretch. But the SMART ForTwo, especially the BRABUS-tuned and trimmed one…well. You could argue that MINIs do cost a bit more than they should, but they also retain their value pretty well down the line, so if you want to sell it later, you’ll be in good shape. And much like a MINI of any stripe, the SMART can be thought of as an investment, in a way. In addition to being an efficient way to get yourself around, depending on your needs—a BRABUS SMART ForTwo even won the EU Cannonball Run last year, beating out a pack featuring several fully-fledged supercars. Gasp!


What’s that, you say? Not forward-thinking and/or tiny enough? Enter Mitsubishi’s i MiEV concept. Here’s the thing that sets this apart from most other electrics and/or micro-minis being trotted around on a grand scale today: in-wheel motors. Not content to go the standard route by, say, tossing a really huge lithium ion battery pack where the backseat would go (hello, MINI-E test vehicle), Mitsubishi have long been experimenting with the possibilities of in-wheel motors to power efficient and powerful electric cars. It’s not for nothing that they were first in line of the major car manufacturers to be incredibly interested in Keio University’s Eliica—the world’s first battery-powered electric supercar. (Before you laugh at the very thought, you should keep in mind that it set a speed record of 370kph at Nardò, and also had a 0-100kmh time of 4 seconds in 2004—faster than its contemporaneous Porsche 911 Turbo.)

The i Miev is no supercar. It’s a city car, like the SMART. Or it would be, if it was more than just a concept. But the main point here in its favour is really the in-wheel motors, which make a lot of sense. Siemens has been working on in-wheel motor technology—as was GM, at one point. Even the Honda FCX concept had in-wheel motors originally before dropping them in favour of a more standard drivetrain for mass production. It’s an idea worth exploring for most cars—and an interesting thought that as our world gets smaller, so too might our coolest cars.

[Photos: Joe Lucente]