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Future models - Mini - Countryman

First look: Mini crosses over with Countryman

Maxi-Mini: Countryman should be Mini's most expensive model, eclipsing the $40,000-plus Cabrio from about $45,000.

Mini’s first crossover emerges as official Countryman details and images surface

Mini logo20 Jan 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

HERE is the not-so-minor Countryman from Mini, the born-again BMW small-car brand’s first crossover vehicle.

Although no body dimensions have been announced, Mini’s fourth model should be similar in size to the 2008 Paris motor show’s Mini Crossover Concept, which at more than four metres long was the longest vehicle ever to wear the Mini moniker.

The Crossover Concept, which was also known as the Crossman - a nameplate which BMW confirmed almost 18 months ago would not reach production – also rode on a 2606mm wheelbase and measured an equally unprecedented 1830mm wide and 1598mm high.

Apart from its size, Mini’s first SUV is also the first to feature four side doors – unlike the two-door Cooper hatchback and Cabrio soft-top, which are now into their second generation under BMW control, and the Clubman wagon, which has conventional front door, a rear roadside door and two side-hinged barn doors.

In other Mini firsts, the Countryman (a badge that’s now confirmed for most markets) will not be produced at the Oxford plant in England but at Magna’s Graz plant in Austria, while it’s also the first to feature all-wheel drive - not counting the oddball twin-engined Twini Mini of the 1960s.

Mini says the Countryman’s optional AWD system, extra ground clearance, elevated driving position and conventional wagon body style - accessed at rear by a conventional top-hinged tailgate - offers “enhanced opportunities in urban mobility and beyond” for “new target groups requiring extra space and flexibility”.

Due on sale in the UK in September and in Australia a few months later, the Countryman aims directly at small premium crossover models like Land Rover’s Freelander, Audi’s upcoming Q3 and BMW’s own X1, which goes on sale here in April.

The newest Mini, officially revealed just a day after images of it wearing psychedelic camouflage were leaked across the internet, will make its global public debut a month earlier at the Geneva motor show on March 2.

Production versions of the Mini Coupe and Roadster concepts revealed last year will bring the number of models from BMW’s premium compact-car brand to six.

Despite its larger dimensions, the R60 Countryman’s proportions – which were revealed by the doorless Mini Beachcomber concept at the Detroit motor show this month - are all Mini, from the short overhangs and high shoulder line to the wrap-around glass area.

Yet it also injects a number of SUV twists by reinterpreting the floating roofline, hexagonal grille, large bonnet-integrated headlights, upright tail-lights and large wheel-arches – this time brandishing mandatory matt-black plastic attachments.

39 center imageFrom top: Countryman is Mini's first genuine five-door Mini Beachcomber concept Mini Crossman or Crossover Concept. There are also prominent air-intakes within the matching black lower air-dam, bookended by large foglights, long-stalked door mirrors in contrasting scalp colours, four proper over-or-under door-handles (unlike the Crossman’s, which were concealed at the rear) and curious side indicator surrounds that appear to extend the A-pillars all the way to the front wheelhouses.

It’s all modern Mini inside too, with contrasting-hue door trims and coloured surrounds for the air-vents and large central display dial, which once again dominates the circular-themed cabin.

A unique centre console extends all the way to the rear in four-seat versions (a three-position rear bench seat will be a no-cost option, at least in Europe), comprising cup-holders and storage compartments that can be variable divided by clip-in components.

Uniquely, the rear seats slide fore-aft individually in four-seat versions or in a 60/40 split in five-seat versions, while their backrests can likewise be tilted independently or in a 40/20/40 split respectively – extending cargo space from 350 to a sizeable 1170 litres.

The Countryman will be produced with five EU5 emissions-compliant engines – three petrol and two diesel – ranging in power output from 66kW in the Mini One D Countryman to 135kW in the Mini Cooper S Countryman.

That’s up from 128kW in the Cooper S Clubman, hard-top and convertible, thanks to the 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine’s twin-scroll turbocharger, direct-injection and fully variable valve management.

Alongside the standard six-speed manual transmissions, petrol engine will also be available with a six-speed automatic gearbox, while fuel-saving technologies – fitted in various combinations as standard across the range – include brake energy regeneration, an idle-stop system, a gear shift point indicator and on-demand engine ancillaries.

Dubbed ‘ALL4’, Mini’s new AWD system comprises an electro-hydraulic differential positioned on the final drive, which infinitely directs between 50 and 100 per cent of the engine torque to the rear wheels.

Underneath are Mini’s familiar MacPherson spring-strut front and multi-arm rear suspension units, while the Servotronic power steering system is all electric.

Of course, electronic stability control (DSC) will be standard, though (DTC) traction control and a limited-slip front differential will be fitted standard only on the Cooper S and the Cooper D with ALL4.

Twin front and side curtain airbags will also be standard, along with three-point seatbelts all round, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and belt force limiters, Isofix rear child seat fittings and a ‘tyre defect indictor’ In Europe, run-flat tyres will be optional across the range and standard on the Coopers S with ALL4.

Beyond a range of personalisation options, available extras will include a ‘panorama roof’, adaptive and Xenon headlights, a heated windscreen, towbar, 10mm-lower sports suspension and 16 to 19-inch alloy wheels.

Expect a stand-alone John Cooper Works version to also grace Australia, employing the JCW components sold separately in Europe.

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