Thursday, 11 March 2010


When trying to sum up the new MINI Countryman, "divisive" is a good place to start. I fall in with those who favour it but I’ve never shirked playing devil's advocate.

It will be the first MINI ever, to feature four-wheel drive and four side doors but you only need to observe the lack of wooden sides to work out it won't have much in common with its namesake of 1961 either.

This makes it easy to dismiss it out of hand for being a warped interpretation of Alec Issigonis' iconic original - "13-foot 4x4" appears to sit about as comfortably with the "MINI" moniker as Gordon Brown at a press conference.

But to understand the Countryman as a car, one needs to put it in the context of its brethren. At 13 feet in length, it's three feet longer than Austin Mini but more pertinently, it's a full five feet shorter than a Mercedes GL Class. More examples? Three feet shorter than each of, a Land Rover Discovery, VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC90. A mini-SUV if you will.

Then when one pores over the engine range, warm and fuzzy feelings abound! No pun intended, in re it's potential effects on global temperatures. The choices will be 1.4 and 1.6 litre diesels and three versions of a 1.6 litre petrol including a 180bhp turbo-charged 'Cooper S' version.

Combined with modifications employed in the rest of the BMW range under the 'EfficientDynamics' banner, the Countryman's no more likely to melt polar ice caps than leaving your telly on standby.

The modifications are "MINIMALISM fuel efficiency concept" in PR-speak while in geek speak, they are direct injection, variable valve control, automatic engine stop-start, brake energy regeneration and a gearshift indicator . To the rest of us, the Countryman will achieve hatchback-like fuel-economy and emit hardly any nasty gases into the atmosphere.

The Nissan Qashqai belongs to the same class and it has been a runaway sales success for the Japanese automaker having shifted over half a million units since going on sale just over two years ago. This bodes well for the MINI, which, like the Qashqai, is aimed at families for whom dull Vauxhall Astras, VW Golf's and Ford Focuses don't quite hit the mark. That you'll be able to specify the Union Jack roof Austin Powers had on his MINI makes the Countryman all the more enticing.

Which brings us onto the most contentious subject; the way it looks. I for one, think it's a well-proportioned, design success! Certainly moreso than the clumsy MINI Clubman or the downright ugly MINI Roadster and MINI Coupe set for production in 2012. We can discuss aesthetics ad nauseum but they are subjective so we'll all have to make our own, individual minds up.

What I won't straddle the fence on though, is that despite the multitude reasons you can think of why it is predisposed not to, the MINI Countryman works - And BMW have without a doubt, scored another winner.

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