By on August 17, 2010

How does a brand built on small, fun, efficient city cars build up to its inevitable first-ever SUV? Apparently the answer is very little. MINI’s seems to be aiming its forthcoming Countryman squarely at current MINI owners, with the first US market ads portraying the Countryman as little more than a MINI Cooper with four doors and All-Wheel-Drive (as opposed to Subaru-style outdoor lifestyle marketing). In other words, it’s not so much a Countryman as a city hipster with a flair for rural evangelism. But are four doors, AWD and a “sliding center rail” enough to bring new buyers into the fold? There’s almost no doubt that the Countryman will be a hot fashion item for a while, but the world’s first Austrian-built MINI is going to face high prices, weak power in the base spec (1.6 liters moving over 3k lbs), and intra-brand anti-SUV snobbery. On the plus side, it’s apparently very hip.

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23 Comments on “Countryman’s Culture Clash...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Um, OK. Looks like a commercial done by a group of coed Spice Girls.

    Come to the Country! You’ll get to be hip wearing different fabric!

  • avatar
    Bancho

    A normally aspirated 1.6L motor moving over 3000lbs? Holy crap that sounds like the antithesis of fun (most especially for the prices they’ll be charging for this).

    I love MINI’s but they need an ad of the Countryman jumping a shark, because that’s what’s happening here.

    At least the coupe and roadster concepts stuck closer to MINI’s small/efficient/fun factor they’re generally known for.

    • 0 avatar
      sitting@home

      Isn’t it actually more in line with the original concept of the (BMC) mini; maximum interior volume for minimum exterior size with just enough power to get 4 people where they wanted to go.

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      You might be able to spin it that way, but the people this is marketed to will probably expect quite a bit more than what the utilitarian concept of the BMC mini promised, don’t you think? Heck, if that’s the criteria this should be measured by then do we consider the Versa, Yaris, Fit, Fiesta…etc to be the competition (sure, they don’t have AWD, but neither will the base Countryman)?

      Don’t get me wrong. I think they’ve done some interesting things with the interior and I’m a big fan of small vehicles, but the base model of the countryman doesn’t seem like it’ll be a fun way to get from point A to B in the same way that the base MINI Cooper is.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    They had a Countryman on display at the recent MINI autocross event at FedEx Field.

    It didn’t look half-bad in person, with decent visibility and actual room for backseat passengers. Trunk room could have been better, as I would not be able to fit anything bigger than a breadbox in there after the folded-up stroller goes in. I would never buy one, though. My 2005 Cooper S put an end to the idea of MINI ownership.

    I agree that this thing will be a dog with the base engine, and I wonder why they didn’t just make the turbocharged variant the base model, with perhaps the JCW tune as the optional engine.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    When is a Mini not a Mini? When it’s a 4 wheel drive, 4 door podge-mobile built in the land of Arnold’s and Adolf’s birth.
    This vehicle is a travesty, its so far away from the original concept of a Mini. I hope to God this evolutionary dead end just fizzles out and people get bored of it… but they won’t.
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Alex Issigonis is rolling in his grave.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I said the same thing about the Porsche Cayenne, but that didn’t stop if from becoming their most popular vehicle. Purity aside, Mini was leaving money on the table by not having a four-door model. Although there is the danger of diluting the brand’s “mininess”, as this resembles a “real” Cooper a lot more than the Cayenne resembles a 911. As far as the made in Austria issue, who really cares where cars are made anymore, when Camaros are made in Canada and Fords and Volkswagens come from Mexico?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Alex Issigonis is rolling in his grave.

      Probably not. He actually tried to produce a four wheel drive version of the Mini Moke, their first attempt at an SUV/CUV. You can read about it here. At the moment, I’m sitting about 500 feet from a yet to be restored Moke. They also produced pickup, so that’s been done already.

      I think he’d be quite happy with the Countryman – although I’m sure the weight and size would cause him to cringe a bit. Anyway, this might be a good time for TTAC to put together an article on Mini history.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      http://www.ateupwithmotor.com already has. Quite a nice, concise read.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Nice read, but I’d still prefer the Paul N. version!

  • avatar
    V572625694

    The sliding center rail is the greatest improvement in automotive technology since the juice-box-capable cupholder.

  • avatar
    cole carrera

    All three Mini models say Cooper on the back which I don’t get. ANd yes the 1.6 is oh I don’t know. It does seem small.

  • avatar
    lawmonkey

    I think the commercial is a good one – poking fun at perception in a typical MINI way. Compare these with ads for a Patriot, which to me seems to fill the same vehicle niche.

    In any case, I’m looking forward to driving one. While some think it’s a brand travesty, it’s at least a cost efficient one – if I recall correctly, development costs were spread out with the X1 at BMW, right? If it works for MINI, good for them. If not, I don’t think it will be a huge misstep. I personally think the Clubman was dumb, but I see so few around it doesn’t really affect the brand overall.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    According to Edmunds this thing is a couple feet shorter than most midsized sedans, and even 8 inches shorter than a subcompact Nissan Versa. Calling this a CUV is a bit of a stretch.

    What it looks to be is a way to get more US buyers into Mini dealers who want usable back seat space, and who might be a bit afraid of the original Mini’s diminutive stature.

    They should just call it the Mini Cooper XL.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I don’t see “CUV” and “SUV” as defined by size, just construction and configuration. For example, a Suzuki Sidekick (4 door) and a Chevrolet Suburban are similar SUVs. Just built on polar opposite scales.

      If a CUV is a station wagon dressed up as a light truck, this thing qualifies as well as anything else I’ve ever seen wearing the label.

  • avatar
    tedward

    why refer to it as an SUV/CUV? It’s a GTI/MazdaSpeed3 competitor that’s horrendously down on power vs the competition, and that’s it. Even with the turbo engine (which I absolutely adore in the Mini) it’s going to be down on power vs the GTI (and VW sandbags the TSI’s output #’s), and waaaaaay down on the Speed3. AWD might help bring in some uneducated sales, but that’s hardly going to help the perception of a performance deficit. They could go for really short gearing/final drive to compensate (and that would work) but combined with the AWD it will do no favors to the milage. Mini’s in a tight spot with this one.

    All that said, I’m fascinated by this thing and am definitely going to snag a test drive as soon as I can. If they keep the interior better appointed than the GTI’s and retain a powerful feeling in the turbo version I might even be won over. Performance numbers aren’t everything after all.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Eh, I don’t think this is intended as a GTI/MSpeed competitor. This is more or less a salve to the prospective customer who balks at the 32″x 36″ ‘cargo-space’ in the base Cooper, and realizes they might need a commuter AND a place for the car-seat.

      “If they keep the interior better appointed than the GTI”

      Have you sat in a Cooper or a GTI recently? The Cooper has nice front seats, to be sure, and BMW has developed a nice product. But ‘better appointed than the GTI’ it is not. Unless having the Mrs. watching/harmping your speed on a dinner-plate sized plastic-retro-speedometer is your thing.

  • avatar
    tedward

    alright, I’ll own up to ‘better appointed than the GTI’ being a stretch. The materials aren’t quite as nice and the design isn’t as friendly, but it’s still a well-done, premium interior to my eyes. What I meant was more along the lines of keeping the interior distinctively upscale and quirky. This car will need that help making an argument for itself as a worthy competitor.

  • avatar
    cackalacka

    To be fair, I liked the feel for the Mini’s interior, and if I owned one, I probably would have grown to enjoy its whimsical eccentricities.

    Save for the plastic-dinnerplate-speedo in the middle. The speed that I’m going only concerns me, and potentially the state trooper who pulled me over. I’d like to keep the folks in the cabin out of the loop.

    As for making it a worthy competitor, at least against the GTI/MSpeed, not sure if getting the S engine or the John Cooper Works package would be enough to push that weight (although the JCW package would likely push the sticker price $10-20k above the GTI/Speed/entry-lux category.)

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I thought the commercial was cute. Sometimes cute sells. And it’s not GM. And it’s not Mike Ro. So there.

  • avatar

    “sometimes cute sells” – exactly! very good point.
    mini has clearly decided to go this route instead of the typical macho/cool route of most car makers.
    they have a ton of this stuff up their sleeve. at xmas they had snow globes, they did the porsche challenge, and now they have a mini countryman driving cities with a classic mini bolted to the roof.  their ads get people talking which is like getting additional ads for free.
    as for the car? imho it looks too much like a golf and not enough like a mini.


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