How many modifiers can a company add to a product? In this case, it seems two, and big ones at that. It’s not just a MINI (the new ones are all caps) it’s a MINI John Cooper Works. It’s not just a MINI John Cooper Works, it’s a MINI John Cooper Works Countryman.
So what gives?
When the new MINI hit the roads, they had a real success on their hands (they, in this case, is actually BMW, since MINI is one of their sub-brands). But like a lot of modern business, making one product great that everybody wanted wasn’t the answer, funny as that seems.
Now, there are two things at play here. The first is fashion. If you have a hit on your hands, it might, in large part, be down to fashion trends. And what can be in fashion can also fall out of fashion very quickly. The people in the accounting department don’t like possibilities like that.
The other factor at play is range expansion. If you can diversify your offerings, say by not just making a 3 seat pickup truck – but by branching out and making crew cabs, and long beds, and step sides, dually configurations, and all combinations that I just mentioned – then you can capture more of the existing market, or, even better, pull in more customers who wouldn’t have thought to buy your product in the first place.
It’s just basic business management 101, and almost goes without having to mention. There is, however, the other edge of this knife: You can seriously torque off your loyal customer base.
Mucking about with variations of pickup trucks is one thing, but what if Chevy started making station wagon Corvettes, and four-door Corvettes, and stuff like that? The mob would be at the outskirts of Bowling Green with their pitchforks and torches before nightfall. And, honestly, I wouldn’t blame them.
This, in a certain way, is what MINI faces.
Vintage Versus Modern
I know a few devoted MINI people who just loved the things when they first hit. Bought them. Fawned over them. Rallied them (they’re good for that). Modified them into frightening little track beasts . . . then MINI started monkeying with the formula.
There were convertibles, and then that little two-seater thing, and this variant, and that variant and, the subject of today’s piece, The Clubman. This got a bunch of MINI aficionados seriously cheesed off. (Then again, the new MINI got a bunch of die-hard original Mini people (note the spelling difference) seriously cheesed off as well, but that’s a whole other story.) They swore up and down never to darken the doors of a dealership again. But, proof being in the pudding, although MINI lost some customers, they also sold a lot of these Countryman things.
The Countryman is actually not a new thing. Mini, back when they were British-owned, British-built, and about as British as warm beer, actually sold an archaic version of today’s Countryman. The old Countryman was, like the one today, a stretched wheelbase thing, but only had two doors, and, the best feature, wood accents. Most people called them “Woody’s” or ” Woody Countrymen.”
And that’s who they were aimed at. Farmers and the like who had to get a modicum of stuff from their farm or workshop cheaply and efficiently.
Today’s Countryman is aimed at a completely different set of people: urban dwellers who might, possibly, some day, want some sort of an SUV or a cute-ute, but can’t bring themselves to make that leap. The MINI Countryman aims to scratch that itch. And with the available John Cooper Works, that itch is scratched rahter quickly.
The Countryman is a little four door conveyance that sort of looks like a cut-ute, say a Toyota RAV 4, that has been put through a “de-big-u-lator” and shrunk down. It sits tall on the road (relative to other MINIs), and does seem, in its own small way, more practical than the other MINIs out there.
The new MINI John Cooper Works Countryman is enthused down the way by a 4-cylinder turbo engine that puts out 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. That is, to use the technical term, a lot, for a relatively small car. Unlike other, okay, traditional MINIs, all that power and torque is delivered unto the pavement (or lack thereof) via a standard all-wheel drive system MINI calls ALL4.
It’s an always on variable slip and torque distribution system.
The suspension, which MINI calls a “sports suspension,” features a Brembo brake system and 18-inch light alloy wheels. The whole lot, engine, suspension, and aerodynamics have been worked over by the fine fellows at John Cooper Works racing enterprises and the results are rather impressive.
60 mph comes up in 6.2 seconds which is both respectably quick and 0.8 seconds faster than the MINI Cooper S Countryman with the ALL4 drivetrain. Top speed? 145 mph. Which probably feels like falling off a cliff in a phone booth, but let’s not dwell on that.
Speaking of John Cooper Works, they’ve tweaked the aerodynamics up front to feature especially large air inlets, fiddled with the insides to give you a model-specific interior with John Cooper Works sports seats, standard LED headlamps, MINI Driving Modes, and Comfort Access. Yeah, I’m not sure about those last two either, but they’re there.
Too Many Treatments?
The MINI marketing types hasten to point out there are “five fully fledged seats, and a significant increase in space, luggage compartment size, and versatility as compared to the predecessor model.” Which is a nice idea, but I still wouldn’t ride in the back seat for a long haul. Shoot, Tyrion Lannister would feel cramped.
Nice try though.
But, say you live in an urban area; Chicago or Seattle or Boston. Say you have two young-ish kids, and occasionally get out of town and onto dirt roads, or go shopping for antiques or something along those lines. You, my friend, are the ideal MINI John Cooper Works Countryman customer.
Personally, I don’t have those needs and the fact this thing has four doors in an anathema to my sensibilities. But that drivetrain . . . or, more precisely that engine.
Ditch the all wheel drive system, make a front drive like Alec Issigonis and Paddy Hopkirk intended, put it into the “normal” MINI body, and lose the back seat, AC, and any other things that add pounds and rob performance. Then that 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque from that 4-cylinder turbo engine would be a real sweet deal.
But that’s just me.
The new MINI John Cooper Works Countryman will be shown for the first time in April at the Shanghai Motor Show. Expect them at U.S. dealerships around the same time.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.
MINI John Cooper Works Countryman Gallery
Photos & Source: MINI USA / BMW of North America, LLC.