I loathe those modern interpretations of models from the past.
My sentiments would certainly be different if they retained the purpose and functionality of their predecessors, rather than morphing into mere accessories to appease a fashionable yearning for all things nostalgic.
Let’s take the Volkswagen New Beetle for example: it might bear the instantly recognisable styling cues seen on the original, but the New Beetle – or Millenium Bug – fares dismally in continuing the ethos of cheep and cheerful motoring that made the old one so popular. Sure, aplogists will argue that its bulbous, retro exterior is adequate compensation, making it cute and desirable. But those who’ve had a previous experience with a pretty, yet intellectually-limited paramour will know that looks can only enthrall for so long, before that lamentable lack of substance starts to work on the nerves.
As if its dated Golf 4 underpinings and the prospect of always being mistaken for a Barbie impersonator while behind the wheel aren’t strong enough to deter one from ownership, the price tag will: the most basic Bug comes in at an absolutely insane R284 000 according to the VW South Africa website. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not using this as an opportunity to harangue Volkswagen – there are others.
The original Mini, designed by Alec Issigonis, was lauded as a masterpiece of clever packaging. It allowed four occupants accompanied by some luggage, to travel in the same level of comfort experienced in larger cars of the day. Issigonis, who, after reading the book “MINI: The True and Secret History of the Making of a Motor Car” seemed to be somewhat of a pedantic minimalist himself, took a parsimonious approach to car design and produced a vehicle akin to the Phone Booth in Dr.Who: deceivingly small in appearance, yet unbelievably spacious inside. Indeed, it was its dainty size, low ground clearance and wheel at each corner that gave the Mini its most renowned attribute: the ability to stick to the tarmac like glue to paper.
Fast-forward to the present and the current version of the Mini is a far cry from the old one. It may still have the taut and agile handling characteristics of a go-kart and that large speedometer positioned in the center of the instrument panel, but unless your passengers are two of the seven dwarfs, they would much prefer riding the bus than enduring a cramped ride in the modern Mini’s rear quarters. Let’s face it: the Mini is no longer small. If cars were animate, I expect that the Mini would be the subject of many fat jokes, with its porky physique sitting in ignominy alongside the more leaner vehicles in the parking lot.
But before I start sounding like Top Gear’s geriatric Jeremy Clarkson, who often enjoys a vehement rant (or is a chronic verbal diarrhoea patient, you decide) I’ll swiftly conclude my brief vent with the Mini Countryman – the one that should have been the Mini revival product from the start.
As you probably noticed from the pictures, it’s a Mini with a slightly lengthened body, two extra doors and a larger tailgate.
The Countryman is Mini’s foray into the four-door hatchback segment, as well as being the first Mini to be offered with an all-wheel drive system. And unlike its two-door Cooper stable mate, the Countryman doesn’t only bear resonance to the aesthetic traits of the original, but also harks back to the practical nature of the old Mini.
It will be available in two derivatives: the Cooper Countryman and the Cooper S Countryman, which is powered by the same 135kw 1.6-litre turbo-charged engine that gives the Peugeot 207 GTI its pocket-rocket credentials. ALL4 – Mini’s moniker denoting four-wheel drive capability, will only be available as an option on the latter Countryman S model. Coupled with Dynamic Stability Control as standard, this will certainly enable the Mini to maintain its kart-like feel, despite the slightly raised ride height.
On the inside, the Countryman features a clever seating system that reminded me of the “Triptic” function on my Mother’s Renault Modus: it’s a rear bench able to accomodate three, allowing fore, aft and reclining movement for each rear passenger. If additional space is required – perhaps in the event that the trendy types who’ll flock to this Mini need to transport some funky decor or quirky art pieces – the rear seats fold down individually or in a in a 40:20:40 split giving a maximum loading capacity of 1,170 litres.
The press release purports that a “high level of standard equipment” can be expected from the Countryman. Let’s remember that Mini is owned by BMW, the manufacturer that charges exorbitant fees for extras that should come standard. But prospective owners can take solace in the huge novelty factor of configuring a truly unique Mini – a vast array of interior and exterior customisation options are available, in addition to various John Cooper Works performance-enhancing bits.
The Countryman seems like an interesting proposition for those seeking the virtues of a four-door hatchback, as well as the exclusivity and style synonymous with the Mini brand. It would be a pity if it is tarnished by an unreasonable price tag, when it arrives in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Photo Credit: Quickpic