- Published in Vehicle Development.
Mini has sold in large numbers up to now, and the BMW Oxford plant built 216,000 last year. But it has remained essentially a one-car range, albeit with derivations. The five-door Countryman takes it up a sector, into the family hatchback class, vital to the brand’s long-term viability.
The Countryman will be produced in Austria by Magna Steyr. It effectively takes over the BMW X3 capacity, which has moved to the US. Analysts expect that Magna will eventually produce 100,000 a year, and they see this as the key to Mini becoming a genuine brand, rather than a subset of BMW.
The Countryman may be the biggest Mini ever, but it is less than 4m long. This is an important boundary that Mini is unwilling to exceed, says design director Gert Hildebrand. “There is a philosophical border with 4m that means we will probably never cross it.” Consideration of the Japanese market also sees the model sit no higher than 1.55m tall. “Otherwise, it would be barred from using certain garages,” he says.
The Countryman has a crossover profile that will see it compete with the Nissan Qashqai and Juke. Mini is not marketing it as an off-roader, although four-wheel drive will be available on the top-series variant. Other versions are front-wheel drive.
Adopting a subtle reverse rake “shark nose” profile for the front has helped Mini to meet the latest crash test legislation, which requires three impact points to be exactly defined. Hildebrand admits that these boundaries are tight, and concedes that “the next generation NCAP will be even worse”. Door mirrors meeting current visibility legislation have been carried over from the Mini hatchback.