MINI is the most unlikely successful new brand in America. Why? Because the brand’s “tiny transportation” ethos is at odds with America’s “bigger is better” mantra. Of course, these contradictory philosophies explain why the modern MINI is nowhere near as mini as Minis used to be. Still with me? Hang on to your hats because the German owners of the iconic British brand have decided American domination hinges on making the biggest MINI yet. Enter the MINI Countryman. Or as I like to call it, the MINI Maxi.
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.
MINI’s new six-model lineup gets an early preview, as the Cooper, Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Coupe and Roadster meet up outside MINI’s plant in Oxford, England. The Countryman SUV won’t arrive in the states until February 2011, with the Coupe and Roadster following by six and 12 months respectively.
What happens when MINIs stop being mini and start getting real? Huge sales in America, probably. Luckily the return of the Moke is not as mawkish as we might have feared. And with four actual doors, passengers won’t have to perform fakir-worthy contortions to reach one of the rear seats alá MINI Clubman. Look for the Countryman at your local upscale supermarket parking lot starting in early 2011.