IAIN ROBERTSON

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BMW-Mini-Countryman-Works

Like the spotty teenager outgrowing his school uniform, at some point (coming soon!), reports Iain Robertson, BMW will awake to the realities of overstuffing its most compact car and (possibly) revert to what the Mini’s inventor intended.

Many manufacturers embody the spirit of an original product within their current market offerings. The prime example, for BMW especially, as it also owns the Rolls-Royce brand, is the very ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ that graces the radiator cap of all new Rolls-Royce models. It has altered ever so slightly over the years to become more svelte, more flowing and, ironically, easier and less costly to produce.

The archetypal Mars bar, the chocolate sweet line that has been a signature of the M&M confectionery firm for many decades, is an example of retrograde marketing. It is now smaller than ever and resides in its normal retail packaging that has always been marginally more expensive than other count lines. In pre-decimal days, it was usually a halfpenny costlier than any of its rivals but it was always the market leader.

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BMW-Mini-Countryman-Works

When Alex Issigonis designed his original Mini on a restaurant napkin, it was a concept that became a market leader and an icon. Yet, with its engine and transmission sharing an oil sump, mounted transversely between the 10.0-inch diameter, 3.5-inch wide steel wheels, with seating for four people within a 10-feet long, externally welded steel body, carrying a near-£500 price tag, it had minimalist purpose.

It was inevitable that the core product would grow and it did, into a Clubman body, culminating in the Metro model range. It is common carmaker practice. Yet, Mini was strong enough to survive throughout that period, still serving purpose, albeit with wind-up windows, rather than sliders, fatter wheels and tyres and fancier appliques…until BMW arrived.

The original BMW Mini demonstrated that the Munich company understood Mini. It was a larger car overall, because safety, security and engineering standards had all moved on and reproducing a 10-feet long marvel was no longer a viable proposition. Yet, it was as though Marvel Comics had managed to get a hold of the original artwork, to stretch it to stylistically and hysterically grander proportions in readiness for a TV series, let alone more outrageous cartoon adventures. Complete with tea-plate sized central speedometer and a bank of toggle switches, BMW had formulated its own comic book representation of Mini, almost 20 years ago.

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BMW-Mini-Countryman-Works

Renowned for its long-time ‘Driver’s Car’ promotional tagline, BMW commenced the stuffing exercise. Soon, 18 and 19-inch optional alloy wheels filled the arches…more accommodating front seats restricted cabin comfort and reduced occupant capacity to two-plus-very-occasional-two…beefed-up suspension provided the Mini-like handling and roadholding characteristics…but it was fast becoming ‘faux’.

The latest 306bhp Countryman S in John Cooper Works specification is starting to look more like Jed Clampett’s overladen pickup truck than a modest passenger car and, while there is no rocking chair for Grandma atop its tin roof, everything bar the kitchen sink has been factored within its hi-tech, stretched-to-bursting-point bodywork. BMW has always known how to charge a king’s ransom for its products and, while the original BMW Mini was a cool £10,300 including its first year’s servicing package, the latest iteration is a whopping £36,000, before daring to pore through the extensive personalisation catalogue.

Accepting that the programme has moved on by several large steps is fine but, a bit like Skoda and now Kia electing to turn their respective backs on the budget conscious customers that gave them their market positions, BMW is determined to highlight its magnificence in engineering know-how. As a result, an eight-speed fully automatic transmission, complete with limited-slip differential, helps to get the power down, with a power take-off to drive the rear wheels too, in support of its ‘All4’ designation.

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BMW-Mini-Countryman-Works

That central speedo has now morphed into a strangely space-wasting circular information panel, with a slim digital replacement located directly ahead of the driver (where it ought to have been all along). However, even though the car is now more ‘Maxi’ than ‘Mini’ and can boast a total carrying capacity of around 1,300-litres, when the rear seats are flopped forwards, its cramped and unaccommodating cabin is now even more restrictive for two people, let alone the four dwarves that BMW might like to squeeze within its confines.

Come on, BMW! Wake up. Smell the coffee! You have gone beyond the joke now. We all know that you are a technological marvel, after all, you inform us of this at every junctural launch of another new BMW motorcar…but this is Mini, the car that you would prefer all of us to capitalise. You have clearly forgotten what Mini stands for. Well, the hint lies in the name and it is not a mere conditional statement. Therefore, why not shock your market by introducing a genuine Mini? If you are so Teutonically mighty, surely you can perform a ‘smart’ trick, innovate but return to type? After all, market domination demands market consideration.

For the sake of reporting some facts, rather than opinions, this is the quickest full production Mini ever, capable of despatching the 0-60mph sprint in a mildly mind-blowing 4.8s, with a top speed notionally limited to 155mph, as much by sudden suspension, as by electronic means. Four-piston front brake callipers clamp slotted rotors for maximum retardation, while an ‘adaptive’ chassis varies ride quality between hard, harder and harsh. Adaptive LED headlamps and the cliché ‘Union flag’ tail-lamps lie about the car’s Austrian build origins. Meanwhile around 40mpg is expected on the economy front, with CO2 emissions around the 156-166g/km level.

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BMW-Mini-Countryman-Works

Of course, the BIG Mini is a technological tour-de-force but its marketplace has been shifted so seismically towards the BMW ‘premium’ idyll that it is a product attainable by the monied few that ignores and eradicates its iconic stance forever. Those persons investing in this top version of the Mini will never comprehend its genuine, classless place in society. They will not understand Mini, no matter how BMW reminds them.

Conclusion:      Mini is no longer the lithe simpleton beloved by decades of buyers. Instead, it is a fat kid in dire need of a new wardrobe. BMW ought to give it up as a bad joke and return to basics…except that it will not and cannot.