Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Jesus Wept.

The gauche face of MINI - the new Countryman

I've just seen pictures of the new MINI Countryman. Not the estate car you would expect given the long line of Austins to have borne the name, no. BMW decided that Clubman, the name BL used for the square fronted Mini, was more apt for that model. No, the Countryman is a lifestyle SUV, for God's sake.

Quite aside from the fact that Moke would clearly be a much more apt name, I've several problems with this excuse for a motor car. I've never been a fan of the BMW attempts at Minis. The original Mini was an innovative car, designed to combat the idea of bubblecars by creating a tiny car for four plus luggage. It popularised front wheel drive and transverse engines as a combination, used the technically great Hydrolastic suspension system created by Dr Alex Moulton, and was given an inoffensive body which was dictated by function more than form. The modern cars seem little more than the complete antithesis of this.

I've scratched my head and thought for, ooh, five minutes, and I cannot find anything new or innovative on the BMW cars. They use conventional suspension systems. The front drive/transverse engine layout is popular, indeed, the most common means of powering any car of the MINI's size. The car itself is a cool two feet longer than Issi's original, and that's before we consider the SUV abomination I mentioned in my first sentence. And yet, despite this extra length, the car is actually LESS spacious than a Mini from fifty one years ago.

BMW think that Mini is about styling. Maybe MINI is. But BMC's baby was one in which form followed function. The BMW range, from which I can name three trim levels, three engines, numerous special editions and modification companies, and now four bodystyles since it's launch just nine years ago. This isn't Mini. It's a mess. Alec Issigonis would be spinning transversely in his grave if he knew.

I understand the cars are deservedly praised by other sections of the motoring media, and I'm perfectly open to the suggestion that they are good cars. My problem is the shameless use of the Mini shape and nameplate to sell front drive Bee-Ems. I'm aware the project started with Rover in the 90s, but whilst Rover's designers (Namely Oliver Le Grice with the Spiritual concept) wanted a compact economy car which captured the ESSENCE of Mini, BMW's men including the infamous Chris Bangle wanted the STYLE of Mini. The Germans won this war. And therein lies the problem. Scrap the styling cues and the MINI brand and I reckon I could learn to like the cars. But not as they are.

But for the sake of a balanced article, I'll leave my personal prejudice about the brand there. Next prejudice. I cannot stand Chelsea tractors, especially pretend ones like this and the Toyota Rav4. It's tall, so the handling's affected. It's hideous - even the Porsche Cayenne is an oil painting in comparison. And I'd like to see how it performs in the Kalahari desert. No, at best it's a tall hatchback. I know we could have done with a five door MINI, but did it have to be so blindingly stupid, ugly, and unappealing? A five door pillarless car of normal height - a five door Mini - would have sufficed.

Five hundred and fifty words in, and I'm going to step free from the bonds of prejudice completely. I've covered the exterior, and I can be no fairer than I have been. Drivetrain? Same as a normal MINI but with optional four wheel drive. Interior? Fussier and, if I'm honest, even more hideous to behold than that body. Loadspace? Bound to be good, but what's wrong with the Clubman beside the name?

I honestly can not see who would be mad enough to buy the Mini Countryman. It's pointless, vulgar, and really rather gauche. I defy anyone to tell me differently.

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