Is there a more polarizing vehicle in the MINI lineup than the Countryman? That was a rhetorical question; there isn’t. MINI purists object to its size, using colorful descriptors like, “bloated,” “swollen,” or “fat,” and fear that MINI has damaged its brand with a car ill suited for its name.
Change is scary and frequently resisted, so the objections to the Countryman are not really surprising, however, to say the Countryman dilutes the MINI brand is a bit short sighted. After all, the Countryman has been around for years, though few ever mention the original Austin Mini Countryman.
Even today’s MINI had doubters. Skepticism ran rampant when BMW, a German company announced it would reintroduce the pint-sized British icon a decade ago. Concerns over brand integrity gradually subsided once the quality of the product was realized. “MINI” was not the “Mini” of old, but the recreation retained the core characteristics that had originally endeared the vehicle to owners in the 60’s.
The same charm and athleticism – the DNA of the MINI brand – is present in the Countryman, it just takes a different form. MINI Coopers, while undeniably fun, are short on space and ill-suited for extreme winters. The Countryman opens the door to a whole new segment of the car market with its increased seating capacity, cargo room, and optional ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. Ironically, the size of the Countryman is one of its greatest attributes, as well as its greatest flaw among critics.
(The Countryman's larger size and all wheel drive provided MINI the platform to develop a vehicle for the World Rally Championships and return to its racing roots)
Still, those who label the MINI a “giant,” or “huge,” seem determined to stir the pot. Of course, context is key, and the MINI Countryman is significantly larger than its Cooper cousins – one of the smallest vehicles on U.S. roads. Taking a step back, it’s clear that The Countryman isn’t any more “huge” than Hummer’s H3 was “small.” Compare the Countryman’s size to its crossover competitors (BMW X3, VW Tiguan, Acura RDX, Nissan Juke) and it starts to look smaller, even mini.
Despite some dissenting voices, the MINI Countryman has received its share of praise. J.D. Power and Associates recently named the Countryman the winner of its Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study, also known as the APEAL Study. The survey polled numerous Countryman owners, asking for feedback on over 90 vehicle attributes. It seems those willing to give the Countryman a shot were quite pleased with its performance.
2011 MINI sales in the United States have increased over 30% from the previous year, with the Countryman contributing to over 25% of those sales. The Countryman’s impact on the sales growth is significant, considering The Countryman was unavailable for the majority of 2010. MINI has made it clear that the Countryman is merely the first of several new models scheduled for development over the next few years. The Countryman’s success has established MINI as more than just a novelty vehicle, without destroying its brand.
Change is good, when it’s done right.
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