BMW launches fuel-efficient new Mini

OXFORD (REUTERS) - BMW unveiled a more fuel efficient, third-generation version of its iconic Mini on Monday, as the world's biggest luxury carmaker looks to retain its leadership in the lucrative high-end compact car market.

The launch of the three-door hatchback took place at the Mini's production plant in Cowley, Oxford, on the 107th anniversary of the birth of the Mini's founding father Alex Issigonis. Prices will start at about 13,500 pounds (S$27,119).

"It's a brand new car under the skin and it retains that go-kart feel to drive," said BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer, who was driven on to stage to the music of British band Blur in a Mini adorned with the Union Jack flag.

Describing the new Mini as "original and still cheeky", he said it would appeal to "young people with their finger on the pulse" and older Mini fans. The previous Mini generation was launched in 2007.

Production of the new Mini will start later this week and it will go on sale in Britain early next year. It will be based on a brand new BMW-engineered platform called UKL1.

The small, fast and affordable original Mini was hugely popular when it first went on sale in 1959 and has been a big success story for BMW since it revived the brand in 2001, growing sales volumes by 21 per cent to more than 285,000 cars last year.

It has also seen an influx of competitors into the high-end compact car sector in recent years such as Fiat's 500 and Opel's Adam, which are courting environmentally-conscious city dwellers in want of easy-to-park vehicles.