Thursday, 16 September 2010

Mini Countryman

When the new Mini One first came out, all those years ago, I doubt whether BMW knew how successful it would become. All the ingredients were there. You had an iconic car, a sharp chassis, and striking styling. It was something special, and you could see that if BL had bothered to redesign the Mini to keep up with trends, they would have ended up with something similar to what BMW produced.

VW had the same with the Beetle.

But BMW had something smart up their sleeve that VW missed out on.

Estate agents.

You see, estate agents like to have a desirable car to plonk in front of the house they are selling, in case the present owner drives a Nissan Sunny. So they bought Minis. Thousands of them. And suddenly the streets were plastered with Minis, making it an established brand retty much from the outset, whereas the Beetle struggled to get past the few aging hippies who hadn't spent all of their money on hemp bags and other hemp-related products.

And the Mini One is a very nice car. It does exactly what BMW needed - maintain the style of the Mini on an updated and more modern platform, while keeping the BMW badge away from the "small car" market. The interior is a bit plasticky but manages to maintain some 60s styling, which is a nice reminder that the car is essentially a retro toy.

But the main point was to keep BMW out of competing with already-established brands in the small car market, because, let's face it, if someone has the money, BMW would rather you bought a 1 series with the BMW badge than the Mini, because they make more money. And if BMW started selling the Mini as a BMW, then they would probably lose a large proportion of the sales that depend on the badge. It's a sensible move, and one that Mercedes should have noticed when releasing the SLK into the market that already had the ridiculously expensive SL.

The Mini has been going for 9 years with barely anything done, so it must be nearly at the end of production? It certainly doesn't appear to be, with a recent expansion of the range to include the bizarre Clubman, and now the Countryman.

So is the Countryman any good? Well, it's like a small Mini, but big. That's it.

And it's the size that made the original Mini what it is, the small stature endeared it to the hearts of thousands. But making it bigger just makes it look ridiculous.

And now the range is expanding, will it compete against the BMW X1? Possibly. This is exactly what killed British Leyland, and BMW are making the same mistake. I just can't figure out who this is aimed at, and I can only assume it is the people who might otherwise buy a BMW X1 or possibly... No, that's it. There isn't really another car in the "Small, premium SUV" category. Unless I've missed something... No.

This is an interesting experiment, but I'm afraid it just doesn't work for me. Sorry guys.

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