It’s rare that a new car is met with what appears to be apathy from its own manufacturer. Sure, Honda’s engineers were reportedly ashamed of the company’s first EV prototype attempt, but that isn’t the same as simply giving the bare minimum of bothers.
Mini is celebrating, I think, something about its crossover offering by releasing a special edition model called the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 Uncharted Edition that its publicity team simply couldn’t care less about. Don’t believe me? Here’s the entire global press release, so you can be the judge:
When used on sand, the MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL 4 can demonstrate its maximum traction and driving stability in every corner. The Uncharted Edition underlines the exclusive characteristics of the untamed adventurer. The MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 feels at home off the beaten track with its powerful engine and all-wheel drive. The 131 kW/178 hp four-cylinder engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo technology ensures brand-specific, sporty driving fun.
To expend precisely one paragraph on a striking new special edition without any mention of what makes it special seems like some mixture of laziness and carelessness. It’s got all-terrains and an orange stripe and repeating print on the side trims like a set of swim trunks from 2013; come on, guys.
It’s seemed for a while that the corporate overlords at BMW have been neglecting Mini, but this feels like a new low. The Countryman is supposed to be a money-printing machine, a half-timbered BMW X1 with a thatched roof. And it’s not been unsuccessful; it’s been the best-selling Mini in the lineup for a while now, perhaps owing to how much Americans love bigger cars (which Mini doesn’t really do, otherwise.) And an all-new Countryman is set to debut later this year, which is also why this new special edition for the outgoing car is getting such tepid publicity.
But that new Countryman, and the forthcoming new Cooper, had better give this brand a badly needed shot in the arm. It’s not like BMW has done anything spectacular with the brand over the past five years.
The first reborn Mini hatch was on sale for six model years, and its successor saw a similar run of seven model years. The current-generation car? Nine model years. Nine. The third-generation Mini hatch is the oldest car model in the BMW extended family.
The Clubman? Dying. The Paceman? Dead for years. The Coupe with the roof like a backward baseball cap? Ancient history at this point. Mini hasn’t received an all-new model since the 2017 Countryman, but BMW’s been trying to fill every niche since then. I reckon part of the issue is a loss of identity. Just like how BMW doesn’t seem to know its past anymore, it doesn’t seem to know Mini history either.
Case in point, the last JCW GP was a bit of a mistake. Sure, it was absurdly quick thanks to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a 301-horsepower version of BMW’s evergreen B48 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but it was also frustrating. The ride over pockmarked asphalt was unbearable and the automatic gearbox just wasn’t as engaging as a manual could’ve been. What’s more, it came with the silliest body kit this side of Mansory, and it carried a ludicrous price tag of $45,750 including an $850 freight charge.
If that wasn’t enough, it looks like Mini might kill the manual gearbox altogether, with an Autocar report claiming that the JCW 1to6 Edition might be the last manual gearbox-equipped car Mini will ever make. It would be sad if this turns out true because the Mini brand was never about outright speed, but pure driving enjoyment.
Just as the Dodge Neon SRT-4 was quicker than the R53 Cooper S and the Mazdaspeed3 was quicker than the second-generation R56 Cooper S, any number of modern sport compact cars are quicker than the current Cooper S, but that doesn’t matter. A unique blend of upscale appointments, funky design, and eager yet friendly character make the Cooper S different from, say, a Hyundai Elantra N.
Mind you, it’s not all BMW’s fault that the Mini brand seems to be wavering. It’s not uncommon for people to claim that three-door Mini hatchbacks are no longer mini, but that’s a disingenuous claim. While the current F56 hatch is a whopping 8.9 inches longer than a 2002 Cooper S, you have to remember that everything has grown over the past 20 years for valid reasons like safety. Judged by modern standards, the current Mini three-door hatchback is ten inches shorter than a Kio Rio hatchback. If that isn’t mini, I don’t know what is.
Perhaps the electric era can provide salvation for the Mini brand. After all, most automakers don’t seem eager to offer small EVs in America. The Chevrolet Bolt, the lone exception, dies soon anyway, leaving a void in the market. While Mini currently offers an electric model for a reasonable $31,895, its limited range of 114 miles makes it a difficult sell as an only car. However, the next-generation model coming for the 2025 model year should bump that up significantly with a WLTP range estimated at 249 miles for the Cooper SE model. Mini’s also working on a genuinely small electric crossover called the Aceman, which should fill a gap between the hatchback and Countryman crossover previously filled by the Clubman wagon. (Editor’s Note: If it comes to North America; I’ve heard BMW people on this side of the pond are fighting for it. I hope they prevail. -PG)
Of course, this all depends on whether or not the marketers, product planning team, and all those sorts of professionals can keep the interest up in the brand in the interim. While Minis sell well in Europe and other markets, Americans are currently locked behind ever-changing option packages and that on-again off-again availability of manual gearboxes. A manufacturer can build the greatest car in the world, but if it can’t figure out how to sell it, you’re not going to see many on the streets.
(Photo credits: Mini)
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.