BMW has announced the new Countryman. The company describes it as the fourth model of Mini – it joins the established hatchback, Clubman estate and Convertible – but it is a bigger departure than this description suggests.
The existing models are all closely related to each other and built together at BMW's factory in Oxford but the Countryman is a larger vehicle based on a new platform that will be manufactured at Magna's Austrian plant in Graz. The new car will be offered with four-wheel drive and is officially described as a crossover, but in its final production form appears to be much closer to being simply a very large four-door Mini than an off-roader of the sort trailed by the Beachcomber concept car.
One worry has to be that the Countryman may just be a Mini too far. Even the standard version of BMW's reinvented classic is much bigger than the 1959 original; with its size and visually bulky styling, it's questionable whether there's anything "mini" about the Countryman at all. Another disappointment is that BMW doesn't really seem to have made any effort to advance the design language that looked so fresh on the first reinvented BMW Minis in 2001 but which is now, nine years later, starting to look a bit stale and overdone. Now over-familiar details such as the big "dinner plate" central speedometer, eyeball vents and oval rear-view mirror are still there in the Countryman, highlighting the difficulties of trying to introduce fresh elements into what is essentially a retro look.