The all-new and bulked up 2017 Mini Countryman is coming for us next year. And given the U.S. obsession with trucks, crossovers and large SUVs, it should do well here, right? Mini badly needs that to be the case.
U.S. sales have been down nearly 13 percent. That’s because all the newest offerings to date have been small—the Cooper Hardtop, Cooper Convertible and even the Clubman wagon, which isn’t that small but isn’t hardly a full-on crossover either. And small car sales have been down pretty much across the board thanks to cheap gas and a glut of options in the small crossover space.
In other words, now’s not a great time to be a brand with small in its name.
With the introduction of the new Countryman next year, the company hopes to really make a killing and ride this SUV/big car/truck wave as far as it will take it. Mini hopes to steal competition away from the likes of the Volkswagen Tiguan, Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA by offering a “fun to drive” option with competitive “premium-ness.”
“This is the right Mini at the right time,” Patrick McKenna, Mini’s product planning manager for the U.S., told me at the auto show this week. And he’s right.
Compared to the old Countryman, the new beast is eight inches longer and 4.7 inches taller. It has 13 percent more cargo space in the rear and Mini has seriously stepped up its quality game.
The new Countryman will offer an optional 8.8-inch touch screen, a power lift gate for the rear, sliding rear seats, app integration for smartphones and power seats as options. Many of these features have been pretty standard on its competitors for a couple of years now.
Supposedly one in four Minis sold recently in the U.S. have been a Countryman, which makes this Mini’s most important new model for sure. And historically the Countryman has been the brand’s best-seller. Give Americans the chance—and, again, cheap gas prices—and we default to bigger cars over smaller ones.
It seems that Mini is banking on the funkiness of its brand image to attract eyes and then using the added storage capacity and interior features to hopefully land the sale.
The target demographic? The youths. People who will definitely drive a sky-blue or orange Mini but need more room than a standard Cooper. Will those be the same people who are buying up all the trucks and SUVs? Debatably. But for the slews of yuppies looking to buy the German crossover? Hey, maybe there’s a plucky British option now that’s finally the car it should have been to begin with.
The new Countryman will be available by March of next year, with a plug-in hybrid variant following in June.