Since 2001, BMW has aggressively expanded the range of cars wearing a Mini badge. Coupes and funky vans have joined the classic hatch, but no car signals a bigger departure from the compact simplicity of the original Sir Alec Issigonis Mini than the Countryman SUV. Now there's a new one, which is even bigger and heavier than the original.
Even though it's wearing a Mini badge on the hood, the new Countryman has been designed with a real focus on practicality. The car's body has grown 20 cm (7.9 in) longer and 3 cm (1.2 in) wider, and its wheelbase has been extended by 7.5 cm (2.9 in) for better legroom in all five seats.
There's even a usable 450 liters (15.9 cubic ft) in the boot, or a capacious 1,309 liters (46.2 cu.ft) with the rear seats folded. Unfortunately, this extra size contributes to a jump of around 100 kg in curb weight.
Some designers make a concerted effort to hide the size of their cars, but the team at Mini has done the opposite. With chunky bumpers, oversized lights and swollen wheel arches, all the details are overblown to make the car look bigger and tougher than it actually is. We're not sure about the finished result, which looks a bit frumpy with its cross-eyed headlamps and downturned grille, but someone is sure to like it.
The cabin has mostly been borrowed from the Clubman, although a few trim pieces have been swapped out to match the Countryman's chunkier exterior. When the first New Mini launched back in 2001, it was widely criticized for low-quality interior materials, but the intervening 15 years have seen big improvements. Having poked and prodded at a Clubman JCW ALL4 in Paris, we're happy to say it's almost a match for the best that Mercedes or Audi can offer in the A-Class and A3, and the Countryman should be no different.
There are plenty of options in the engine lineup, including the first ever Mini Plug-In Hybrid, but the range kicks off with the familiar BMW Group petrol three-cylinder turbo making 100 kW (136 hp) and 220 Nm (162 lb.ft). Jumping up in the range gets you the Cooper S, powered by a 141 kW (192 hp) four-cylinder turbo.
Interestingly, the Cooper S won't be the quickest Countryman. That honor is reserved for a four-cylinder diesel in the shape of the Cooper SD, which makes 140 kW (190 hp) of power and a handy 400 Nm (295 lb.ft) of torque. Lower-end engines will be available with a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed steptronic auto, although range-topping cars will come with an eight-speed auto as standard.
The plug-in hybrid on offer combines a three-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor for a total system output of 165 kW (224 hp) and 385 Nm (284 lb.ft). As yet, there's no word about all-electric range. Although the official fuel consumption figure is a measly 2.1 l/100 km (112 mpg), so we'd be amazed if anyone goes near it during regular driving.
As yet, there's no word on pricing for the Countryman, but it will make its official debut at the LA Motor Show in November, before hitting showrooms in February 2017. Expect it to start around US$23,000, before options, of course.