Auto blogFri, 11 Apr 2014 14:58:00 EST
The standard Mini Countryman is a bit of an odd duck against the backdrop of 'normal' small crossovers like the Mazda CX-5 and the Ford Escape, but I sort of get it. Apply the same winning Mini formula to a CUV, and you get a smaller-than-average entry in the segment, one that is far more entertaining to drive than the norm, more stylish inside and out and pretty expensive when cross-shopped. That list of qualities doesn't appeal to all crossover shoppers, sure, but it intrigues a big enough list that the Countryman has reason for being.
Now, add the expensive John Cooper Works package to the Countryman's already niche goodies list, and Mini starts to lose me. So, I'm getting the softer suspended, taller, generally less dynamically joyful version of the brand's core values, but now you're charging me at least $35,000 ($13k more expensive than the basic, front-drive Cooper Countryman and $7k more than the MSRP of the Cooper S All4 version)? What's that? You're going to make it look like a garish, tippy-toed tuner car in the process? Take my money.
Or, actually, let me keep it. I can swing with a lot of the weirdness that Mini has to offer, but this car pushed me past my limit.
Mini has introduced three generations of retro hatchback since its revival in 2001, with numerous bodystyles spun off that core model. But the Countryman has always stood apart from the rest (save the Paceman which was in turn spun off of it). The Mini crossover is bigger than the rest of the lineup, has more doors, more driven wheels and a familiar yet different look.
There's an all-new model in the works, set to share its architecture with BMW's own front-drive family. But that's still a couple of years away, so to keep the Countryman looking fresh, Mini is reportedly preparing to roll out a mildly facelifted version at the upcoming New York Auto Show.
As we're still awaiting confirmation from the automaker, few details on the updated Countryman are available at this point, but word has it that it will only include some minor cosmetic enhancements to the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Just how comprehensive those updates will be, and how many of them will be derived from the latest Mini Cooper hardtop remain to be seen, but with the NY show just a week away, it won't be long before we find out.
Driving a Mini is most definitely an individualistic choice - one that not everyone would get on board with. So if you're going to go with such a fashion statement, you might as well give it your own sense of style. That's where Mini's new line of accessories come in.
Available for the new third-gen Mini hardtop, the accessories offer buyers the opportunity to customize their retro hatchback as best they see fit. There are roof graphics, accessory lighting, wheel upgrades and mirror caps (like the cartoonish ones pictured at right) just like you would have found in the parts catalog for previous iterations of the Mini, but now the brand is offering four appearance kits it's calling Mini Design Lines.
The kits are color coordinated in either Vivid Green, Speedwell Blue, John Cooper Works Pro (in black, red and grey) and Essential Black and include everything from the interior trim to exterior graphics. They might not be to everyone's taste, but that kinda strikes us as the point. Scope 'em out in the extensive high-res image gallery above and the details in the press release below.
Does the name Guerlain Chicherit ring any bells? It definitely should if you're into competitive skiing, as he was crowned world champion in off-trail freeriding four times. But he's also a rally driver, winning the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup in 2009 and even a stage of the Dakar Rally the following year. What really set him apart, though, was when he back-flipped a Mini Countryman rally car to set a world record last year. And now he's after another.
This time he's going after the world record for the longest ramp jump in a car. The record currently belongs to Tanner Foust at 332 feet, but Chicherit plans to break it by a good thirty more with a targeted distance of 360 feet.
He'll be using the Mini once again, sponsored by Monster Energy and Toyo Tires, and specially modified for the endeavor which he plans to undertake this Sunday under the auspices of Guinness World Record officials. We'll be watching to see how it all goes down.
Nobody could argue at this point that Mini (like its parent company BMW) has not mastered the art (if you could call it that) of filling every niche with its own model. But with the third generation of Mini now upon us, some of the company's strategists are asking themselves what the point is of it all.
The outgoing second-generation Mini spawned too many variants to count. So far the new model has only surfaced in hatchback form, but the brand may roll out quite as many variants this time around. Instead it is looking at its lineup in terms of pillars.
The quintessential hatchback we've already seen would be one pillar. The Countryman crossover would be another. And the production version of the new Clubman concept which Mini displayed in Geneva would be a third. A convertible based (like the existing one and the one that came before it) on the hardtop hatchback is likely to follow, but don't expect too many other versions.
Contrary to popular belief, it seems that Mini's growth plans do have a limit both in size and number of models. During the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, it unveiled the six-door Clubman concept (pictured above) that was 4.4-inches longer and about two-inches wider than even the current Countryman crossover. Mini design chief Anders Warming says that this is the new size limit for its models, and the BMW subsidiary isn't building a larger, seven-passenger vehicle above the current Countryman.
"We won't build anything bigger than the Countryman, not at this moment. You should be able to park a Mini in a city, so a Countryman or this new Clubman is as big as it should be," said Warming to Auto Express in Geneva. Rumors going back to last November, pegged the Mini as developing an even larger vehicle to take on mainstream CUVs.
While Warming is ruling out a bigger Minis for now, a smaller one like the Rocketman concept still might be in the cards. He said that the project has been warmly received but still had to be investigated because "it's a numbers game." So if bigger Minis aren't coming, there still might be a slim chance for a smaller one.
Hey, remember when Mini was... mini? I know, you've heard all this before. But seriously.
Take this new Mini Clubman Concept, for example. As you'll recall, the current Clubman slots in between the Hardtop and Countryman models in the Mini lineup. But because the new, third-generation Mini has grown, so has everything else. And in fact, the concept car seen here is actually 4.4 inches longer and just over 2 inches wider than the current, already-large Countryman. The future of Mini looks awfully maxi.
Furthermore, the Clubman as we know it uses a weird, five-door layout (two up front, a third, suicide door, and two barn doors out back), but this concept adds a sixth door for a decidedly more conventional layout. Of course, four real doors for passengers sort of takes the uniqueness out of the Clubman package, and essentially makes this thing a not-as-tall, front-wheel-drive Countryman. Totally necessary, right?
With Jay Leno off the Tonight Show, he has all the time in the world to focus on his passion for cars and can even travel a little. Leno teamed up with two-time Dakar Rally winner Nani Roma to jump and slide a Mini Countryman All4 racing truck around the dunes in Death Valley, CA.
The Mini-branded trucks are highly modified for off-road duty. They have won the Dakar Rally consecutively in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and even took a 1-2-3 finish in the most recent running. The specialized Minis are propelled over the dunes by a BMW-sourced, diesel engine with a six-speed sequential gearbox and heavy-duty all-wheel drive system with a locking center differential.
It is amusing to see the big smile on Leno's face, and Roma appears a little worried while Jay is driving. If this is what to expect from the post-Tonight Show Jay Leno's Garage videos, then things are only getting better from an already fantastic series. Scroll down to watch Leno and Roma take a Mini through the dunes.
Coming in just over 10 inches longer and 6.5 inches wider than the 2013 Mini Clubman, the new Mini Clubman Concept that you see above is set to debut at the Geneva Motor Show next week. Let's get the maximum mini jokes out of the way right off the bat... Done? Okay, moving along.
Adrian van Hooydonk, Head of BMW Group Design, says that this Clubman Concept "shows how the Mini Clubman could be taken a step further: more interior space, a greater sense of high-end quality and yet still clever, bold and distinctive." And that extra interior space will be accessible through four real doors, eschewing the single-sided barn door approach of the current Clubman. Well, mostly - there's still the side-by-side barn door philosophy at the back instead of a more traditional upward-opening hatch. In fact, spy shots and early rumors pegged this more conventionally doored Mini as a new model selling under a new name, possibly Traveller. However, it appears that Mini will stick with the brand equity it has established with Clubman instead.
As you can see in the small image gallery above, the Clubman Concept is instantly recognizable as a Mini, though a somewhat more refined overall package than past efforts. The front headlamps still have a bit of a surprised look to them, but we think this concept's overall fascia, and its unique bright finishes, might be more successful than the latest Cooper's. At the rear, there are a set of rather large taillights dominating the view, and we note that the prevalence of air intakes and scoops at parent BMW have moved on down to the Mini line. We'll have to reserve final judgment until we see the Clubman Concept in person.
BMW's decision to make the upcoming 2-Series Active Tourer front-wheel drive has been polarizing to say the least, but like it or not, that is the direction the company will go in the near future - one rumor put the number as high as 23 front-wheel-drive models for Mini and BMW combined. The next-generation X1 won't send all its power to the front wheels, though, when it launches in early 2016. While it will use the same platform as the Active Tourer, rumors suggest all models will use all-wheel drive - at least at launch.
A "high-ranking," unnamed BMW manager confirmed to AutoWeek that the new model will switch to transversely-mounted three- and four-cylinder engines and the same six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions as the Active Tourer. The new, smaller platform will allow for more efficient packaging, and despite the smaller size, interior space will remain comparable. All the changes should make it significantly lighter too.
Don't start wailing just yet because BMW surely won't be entirely abandoning sporty models. AutoWeek claims that the Bavarians are working on a higher-output version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with power closer to 300 horsepower, about a 72-hp boost. It's also rumored to offer a sporty version of the X1 that may be called the X2.