It might not be mini, but it’s still a MINI

Alright, oh faithful reader, here comes another MINI post. It’ll be the last one for a while (unless BMW continues to make my week by handing me the keys to the latest and greatest Countryman).

It seem the Countryman has raised a few eyebrows on the road and in the blogosphere.

A fellow auto blogger’s opinion on the Countryman was brought to my attention and I couldn’t help but feel the need to answer his rather blunt (and sometimes uninformed) opinions.

Now, we all know I’m not one to hold my tongue. So, first of all I want to say kudos to Matthew DeBord for letting it all hang out in his review of the Countryman.

However, that’s where the compliments will end.

Let’s start with the fact that Matty boy chastises the Countryman for being a pseudo SUV, claiming to seat a theoretical 7 passengers.

Um, no it never claimed that.

This weekend I was lucky enough to spend a day with a BMW rep (after a week behind the wheel of another Countryman, the FWD, non-turbo version this time) and we got to talking about Matt’s blog on the Countryman.

I explained how Matt felt the Countryman was trying to be to MINI what the Cayenne was to Porsche.

And Mr. BMW chuckled and shook his head. In not so many words Mr. BMW told me that the Countryman was not a ploy to bring in customers they didn’t already have, as was the case with Porsche. The Countryman was an answer to MINI customer’s critiques and comments on the MINI lineup so far.

Their customer’s asked, and they answered.

Matt himself admitted that Porsche purists poo-pooed the Cayenne when it first hit the streets.

The main issue Matt (and I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him that, Matthew just seems too long to type all the time), and others, seem to have is the fact that this MINI is no longer, well, mini.

That’s true.

However, it doesn’t mean it’s no longer a MINI.

And for some reason I immediately thought of the new iPhone4. It’s so much chunkier and heavier than the previous generations. Did people stop buying the iPhone? God no, if anything the sales continued to climb because the bigger, chunkier model had a much clearer screen, better functionality and was just an all-around better phone.

I’m not saying the Countryman is better than the coupe Cooper. It’s true that it’s not faster because it’s larger. However, it is more practical.

“When one-car companies try to expand their lineups: they have to sacrifice what made them great in order to capture more customers.” — Matt

I’m not sure Matt has actually driven a Countryman yet (and if he hasn’t then I suggest he get behind the wheel ASAP), but if he had he’d know this statement is completely and utterly false.

The Countryman is sacrificing nothing of what made and continues to make MINI great.

The MINI brand was never purely about design as Matt points out. The MINI brand was about a heritage, a lifestyle, an icon. The MINI is like the VW Beetle (though I hate to admit that on so many levels), they’re both automotive icons that stand for something in automotive history and mean something when they’re sitting in your driveway.

“The Mini has so many distinctive design touches that making it larger runs the risk of transforming its rock-solid cuteness into cartoonish parody.” — Matt

And that’s why it looks different. If BMW had simply blown up the MINI Cooper coupe into a larger frame and stance, it would have looked like the love child of an FJ Cruiser and a Mazda3 on crystal meth. And so, BMW didn’t just keep the MINI facade and make it larger. Instead they created his fantastic British bulldog front grille that’s both aggressive and full of personality. They kept the roofline semi intact and managed to make the Countryman look strong and proud without making it look top-heavy and roll-y.

So, after thoroughly bashing the Countryman’s design and practicality, Matt goes on to say that there is no market for the Countryman.

“Who fits this description? Basically, no one but hipster design-junkies who dig the Mini but now have kids to haul around. Mini would like to woo some of them away from SUVs and minivans.” — Matt

First off, hipster design-junkies are all going to be lining up for the Scion iQ or Nissan LEAF because it doesn’t kill the planet — and those people don’t procreate because it creates too much waste so they’ll never need a full back seat because Dachshunds in tweed jackets don’t take up that much space.

And no, MINI would not like to woo SUV and minivan buyers into their showrooms. This idea that the Countryman is an SUV is ludicrous. Of course it’s not! Nor is it pretending to be. Mr. BMW confirmed this (with a few more chuckles). MINI never promised seating for 7, nor do they promise towing capabilities, third row seating or off-road suspension settings.

The Countryman is not an SUV.

It’s not even a pseudo-SUV.

The Countryman is a crossover; that elusive class of cars that emerged a few years ago and seems to be the answer to every “What is it?” question. It’s just large enough to be uber practical over its smaller brethren, but no so big that you lose the essence of the brand.

Countryman buyers will be die hard MINI fans who’ve been chomping at the bit for an AWD version to arrive (like yours truly). The ALL4 is, perhaps, the most exciting part about the Countryman. Forget the back seat that allows you to transport non-amputee friends and family members, or the higher ride height and the larger trunk. It has all-wheel drive people. All. Wheel. Drive.

Not once did Matt mention this nifty little tidbit of information.

And that’s a shame because it truly is the Countryman’s best feature (along with the four doors, which he also failed to talk about).

It seems that perhaps the Countryman is such a brilliant idea that naysayers are simply grasping at flaws when it comes to putting the new MINI down.

Because, in my opinion, the pros far out-way the cons. And I’ve now driven both the ALL4 turbo and FWD non-turbo versions. MINI has a winner here. It’s going to help grow the brand as they grow with their customers.

Matt — I hope you get to drive a Countryman if you haven’t already. I have a feeling your opinion will change once you get past second gear and you hear that exhaust blip and the twin-scroll turbo kicks in…

Drive on,
– M.

I like to hang out with the Countryman...

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~ by drivingmsmiranda on March 20, 2011.

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