With the launch of the all-new MINI Countryman at the Geneva Auto Show last week we had an opportunity to sit down with the VP of MINI USA, Jim McDowell and find out more about the brand’s first crossover and what the future holds for the rest of the product range.
Starting with the Countryman, McDowell believes this is a vehicle that will help bring back brand rejecters – those who simply couldn’t justify owning a MINI for reasons ranging from size, to functionality. He even commented that in the past a father of two who bought a MINI would be seen as selfish, putting his wants ahead of his family’s needs. The Countryman lets those needs and wants come together while avoiding any social stigma.
Added usability will come in the form of fuel efficiency. While no official numbers are yet available (or any unofficial ones for that matter), McDowell says he wouldn’t be surprised if the Countryman became the most fuel efficient crossover offered in the U.S.
MINI also hopes to attract driving enthusiasts to the Countryman by offering it with a manual transmission here. In fact, when it goes on sale, it will be the only all-wheel drive crossover offered with a manual transmission. When asked if MINI’s All4 AWD setup is being planned for any other future MINI models, McDowell commented that while it was most likely possible, it’s not something they are looking at, favoring the two-wheel approach for the ideal sporty driving experience.
As for the future of the rest of the range, McDowell confirmed that the recent engine updates made on European models will arrive for the 2011 model year cars in North America. In Europe, the Cooper and Cooper S models get a slight boost in power and improved fuel economy thanks to direct-injection technology and variable valve control. The Cooper gets a 3-hp jump to 122-hp, while torque is rated at 118 ft-lbs, allowing a 0-62 mph sprint of 9.1 seconds. As for the Cooper S, it gets a new twin-scroll turbocharger that helps bring the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder to 184-hp (up 9-hp), while torque of 177 ft-lbs comes on from 1600 to 5000 rpm. The overboost function delivers 192 ft-lbs (260Nm). The Cooper S is rated at 7 seconds to 62 mph. (These numbers should change slightly for the North American market and we’ll have to wait for official EPA rated fuel economy numbers).
But beyond those updates, McDowell had more to say, specifically in regards to our questions about smaller engines and the use of dual-clutch transmissions – something particularly relevant with Volkswagen and Audi now delivering cars like the A1 and Polo GTI with 1.4-liter Twinchargers and dual-clutch transmissions. “We are continuing to add technology as quickly as it comes, while working to promote the MINI driving experience and be environmentally responsible,” he commented, following up by stating that MINI will “move forwards in minimalism,” with a future that is, “greener and more efficient.” From this it’s safe to surmise that future MINI engines will get smaller while new technology like dual-clutch transmissions (which improve both the driving experience and fuel economy) are pretty much a given.
As for the upcoming Coupe and Roadster models, we pressed McDowell on what exactly makes these cars so different. He spoke at first about the obvious lack of a hatch, more futuristic design and improved cargo room – all of which is rather obvious. When we expressed our feelings that these attributes (including the JCW engine) really didn’t set the two models apart, he admitted as much, commenting: “but you don’t know what else is coming. We have a few pleasant surprises.”
After our conversation took a bit of a detour about MINI buyers and the other sorts of vehicles they consider, McDowell brought it back on point stating that he wouldn’t be surprised if the MINI Roadster came to own the entry-level roadster segment that Mazda currently has locked-down with the Miata.
As a brand, MINI is expanding significantly with new dealerships poping up all over the U.S. Over the next two years the Countrman (and soon the Coupe and Roadster) will double MINI’s lineup of products aimed at delivering performance and fuel economy in packages with the sort of universal appeal that has always made MINI models “global cars,” long before such a concet became popular.