"I think you're going to find several veins of new customer," McDowell says. "Very importantly, they are people who have taken Mini test drives in the past, loved the dealership experience, (but) couldn't get their heads around something quite that small. These are people that were severely tempted, but bought something that they thought was more practical, not as much fun to drive."

He says there are Mini owners who own a bigger SUV for extra cargo capacity or room enough for two child seats. McDowell and Co. hope such owners will replace their conventional, gas-chugging SUV with a nimbler, cheaper Countryman that will retail in base, non-S trim for $22,350 (including $700 for destination and handling).

Around music-loving Austin, the Countryman S ALL4 performed just as we imagined: like a bigger, top-heavy Mini Cooper Hardtop with controllable grip, uncanny soft-road capability, four full doors, and interior space capable of housing four American adults. Whether you like it or not, Mini has a true crossover on its hands.

2011 Mini Countryman S ALL4
Base price $22,350; $27,650*
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD or AWD, 4-pass, 4-door hatchback
Engine Engines 1.6L/121hp/118-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4; 1.6L/181-hp/177-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
Curb weight 3000; 3250* lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 102.2 in
Length x width x height 161.7 x 70.4 x 61.5 in
0-60 mph 7.3 – 7.7 sec (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 24-25 / 31 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.71 - 0.73 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. January 2011
*Countryman S