What's this then? A new Mini rag-top?
Yes. We've seen the same-again-but-new Mini hatchback, and next up is the new Convertible. Our spies snared this prototype testing in Germany ahead of its release in September 2008. Don't forget that the hatchback was replaced this autumn after five-and-a-half years on sale, whereas the Convertible was only launched in 2004. That's why soft-top Mini lovers will have to wait a little bit longer before this newcomer rolls into showrooms.
So what's new then?
Expect to see similar changes as on the latest hatchback, codenamed R56. Out go the underwhelming Chrysler-sourced Tritec engines, replaced by state-of-the-art BMW-PSA developed motors. The Cooper will get the 120bhp 1.6, which breathes more heartily through BMW's Valvetronic trickery, while the Cooper S pictured here gets a turbocharged version of the same engine (minus Valvetronic), developing 175bhp. That same-again skin hides a seriously different Mini. The bonnet is higher for superior pedestrian safety, while the beltline of the new car is higher, giving the car more 'wedge'. There's also more space in the cabin and boot; don't go expecting Golf-class room, but you'll be more likely to squeeze in bodies and baggage.
What about all these other spin-off Minis I've heard about?
Mini has a raft of body styles it'd like to launch. As ever, only the accountants are holding back the creative juices of the engineers and stylists. On the drawing board are plans for a two-seat Speedster, Moke off-roader and two-seater Coupe. Mini is still musing business plans for these, but we do know that the first spin-off will be a four-door Mini estate due in late 2008. Think of it as BMW's answer to the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Merc A-Class - but with a dose of Mini style.
And what's this about Mini special editions?
Yes, it's true. Hot-selling Mini doesn't need to do distress special editions, but it has quietly launched Seven, Park Lane and Checkmate models in the past year to keep sales ticking over. Now there's a new one, taking the Mini Convertible to dizzy price heights: the new Sidewalk, pictured above, costs a whopping £20,235 in Cooper S guise. Buyers get leather, unique alloys, stability control, chrome accents and air-con. Far from being a distress signal, Mini's special editions prove that BMW is the master of premium pricing. Who else could charge more than £20k for a supermini, albeit a soft-top?