What would Issigonis think?
Sir Alec Issigonis was the irascible genius behind the world's most famous motorized munchkin, the original, 1959 Mini. And standing next its comparatively enormous descendant -- the new Countryman -- left me feeling sort of like John Stewart recently on the Daily Show when he held an iPad up to his head, as if he were on an iPhone. "I actually just use it to pretend to my children that I'm shrinking", he quipped.
How big can a Mini get before the FTC steps in to investigate it as a misrepresentation? A car capable of wearing BMW 5-Series rolling stock is a big automobile to be called a mini-anything. And yet...
I suspect Sir Alec might approve of it anyway -- along with a long list of suggestions, elaborately hand-drawn on sheets of paper. You see, Issigonis's Mini wasn't actually so much about puniness (there've been plenty of tiny cars) but how smartly you deployed those dimensions.
At a length of 161.3 inches (a daring 97 mm beyond the 4-meter length Mini has previously considered its limit) the Countryman is a giant Mini, but still a small car. Think the Honda Fit's length with the Volkswagen Golf's width.
The Countrymans we sampled outside of Vienna (I know, tough job...) were all S All4's -- that last part signaling the availability of very crossoveresque all-wheel drive. Actually, that number "four" comes up a lot here, also suggesting it's the fourth Mini model, and the inclusion of four, adult-accommodating seats...with their very own doors (four again!) And rather than disguise these, the traditional Mini-esque floating table-top roof has been notched to lick around the aft door's window frames, serving to visually shorten the roof and draw your eye to those new apertures. Mini's calling it a 'helmet roof' (I call it FJ Cruiserlike). Up front, Coopers receive an enlarged version of the Mini frown, while the S adds a pouting lower lip. Both are sculpted onto a startlingly tall nose that's sans any scoop (better for pedestrian impact absorbance) and bookended by beveled versions of Mini's ovoid headlights. At the rear, the taillights now protrude from the Countryman's rump in a reference to the old Abingdon days when you just stuck the taillights on the bodywork.