Has Mini Lost Its Way?S

A little more than a week ago, our own Bill Caswell expressed his displeasure at how BMW has been diluting the M brand with special editions that mean nothing and cars that no longer have anything to do with the word "Motorsport."

Now, In a column for Automobile, Jamie Kitman is raising the same concerns over another BMW owned company, Mini.

BMW is on a quest to increase marketshare, and this means adding models like the 5-Series GT, X6, Mini Countryman, Coupe, and Roadster.

As I never tire of saying, just because it sells doesn't mean it's good for your brand. Like some of the Kinks' late period hits, I don't begrudge Mini its Countryman success in the slightest — the company deserves to make loads of money for its maxi contributions to fun over the years. But while I know the Countryman is a Mini, it's not cute like its forebears, old and new. It's more, but somehow less.

Kitman, a huge fan of The Kinks, feels that these recent cars are like later Kinks albums. At the beginning, they were fantastic, fresh, and fun, but later in their career, the hits stopped coming.

Taken together with the alarmingly confused styling of the two-seat Coupe and Roadster Minis that have followed, the Countryman suggests a company that is spinning its design wheels. Indeed, each new iteration of Mini appears to set out to prove the limits of the brand's design language. Surely this can't be the plan, anymore than Kinks' leader Ray Davies set out to tank his band.

I tend to disagree with him on the Coupe and Roadster, which I find eminently cool and close to the spirit of Mini. They're small, fun, look cool, and bring a smile to your face when you see them.

But he's spot on with the Countryman. It's bulbous, ugly, goofy, has a weird interior, and, worst of all, not Mini in size or spirit. I typically refer to it as the Medium Cooper or, when I'm feeling really affectionate, "Hey You Ugly."

Even worse, Kitman says that the daring, inspirational spirit of Mini Cooper's gone by is gone.

But worst of anything must be the company's recent announcement that it will abandon the small, lightweight, high-tech Rocketman concept it showed last year. Not only did it look like a Mini — balanced, handsome, and right-sized — it was a reaffirmation of what the brand's core principles and mission should be. That is, building deluxe small cars with premium engineering and making money doing so.

Would the Rocketman have made the Countryman ok? I think of it as a Porsche scenario. If the Cayenne lets Porsche build awesome cars like the 918, then it's a necessary evil. But at Mini, the Countryman gets to exist and the Rocketman is dead. While sales are good, it's stifling and strangling the Mini brand.

But what do you think? Is Mini a shell of its former self or is the Countryman a proper Mini?

Photo Credit: Mini Passion via flickr