Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 Mini Countryman - Alert! Identity Crisis!

Price: Decent, mostly because there are not any options on it that can turn it into anything snazzy.
Power: Gutless.  And more gutless.
Sex Appeal: Not sure who would find this sexy.  Its too small to carry a family or any cargo.  It is too big to be cute.  My theory is that only dumpy people who can't make up their mind and have no creativity will buy this.

When I first heard that Mini was making an "SUV," I was aghast.  How could they?  Why would a brand defined by its cute, pint sized cars make anything larger than a matchbox?  The answer lies in motorsport. More specifically, the world rally championship.

History lesson time! What brought Mini to prominence back in the 1960's wasn't its fuel economy.  It wasn't even its cuteness factor.  Mini DOMINATED rally racing.  Even though the original Mini Cooper had about as much power as your average lawn mower, it was so small and light that it could go over dirt roads faster and with more agility than any other car.  Over the years companies like Audi, Subaru, and Mitsubishi got in the game and with the invention of all wheel drive cars, the Mini dropped out of the public eye.  Back in 2002 BMW decided to bring it back.  However, the Mini Cooper and later the Mini Clubman were both just cars.  Motorsport is very specific about engine size, length of wheelbase, etc ad nauseum.

Mini wanted to get back into the sport which defined its origin so it made a car that could compete: the Mini Countryman.  But why, you may ask, did Mini bring this car to the streets where it is a rolling contradiction?  Two reasons really.  First is that they probably though it would be a hot selling item (not really to be explained later, and secondly there is a funny little rule about motorsport which dictates that all race cars must have an on road equivalent.  That is why Toyota's NASCAR car looks like a Camry, and why the monstrous Subaru STI and Mitsubishi Evo exist.

As a car, this thing has issues.  It is too big to be called a Mini and too small to be an SUV.  The picture deceives.  This is not a big car.  I've sat in it and I felt extremely cramped.  The drivers seat is ok but the back seats have just enough knee room for a double amputee.  There is also only two seats in the back. Instead of having a middle seat, there is this weird little bar that goes from the front of the car to the back where there is places to put cup holders and random doo dads.

My biggest problem is that Mini is very lazy. They built a bigger car, but refused to do anything else.  The engine options for this 4000 pound beast are the same as the regular Mini cooper.  So while you have more space, your ability to move that space remains at gutless and slightly more than gutless.  If you have ever driven the turbo Mini Cooper, you would probably agree that it has just enough power.  Having that same motor in a way heavier car is just stupid.  It means you will be driving down the freeway and look to your left and you will see a bicycle rider passing you.

Visually it is not that bad.  The grill looks like a moustache and the body is a tad bulbous, but otherwise it looks like a regular Mini Cooper that found the cookie jar.  What really bothers me though is that half of what makes Mini so attractive (the infinite amounts of decals, paint combinations, stripes etc), is missing from this car.  It comes in boring colors, the Roof is always black, and there are almost no cool visual accouterments that can be put on this thing.  In short, its boring.  Hardly worthy of the Mini brand logo(which was supersized to look normal on the hood of this car, just fyi). 

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