Countryman is 200mm longer and 30mm wider, with a 75mm lengthier wheelbase

Countryman is 200mm longer and 30mm wider, with a 75mm lengthier wheelbase

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A second Mini model in the C segment goes on sale in Britain and other European nations from February. The new, bigger Countryman leaves the B-C size class, there is no successor for the Paceman and all build this time is by VDL in the Netherlands instead of by Magna Steyr in Austria.

SAV, not SUV

R60, the first generation Countryman, was more of a hatchback than a crossover, though BMW has its own term for the outgoing model as well as this new one. Sports Activity Vehicle is what the company called the X5 back in 1999, and SAV remains the abbreviation of choice for the company's SUVs and crossovers.

The latest Countryman, being larger than R60, shares modules with the Clubman, which is the other Mini that's sized in the segment above the brand's traditional B and B-C size classes from the BMW ownership era onwards. The latest Countryman is 4,299mm long versus 4,253mm for the Clubman.

All Minis now use one basic architecture

BMW Group says the Mini F56 three-door, F55 five-door and F57 convertible are based on the UKL architecture. The company distinguishes this from another set of modules which make up the basis of the F54 Clubman and now, the F60 Countryman. Product managers in attendance at the recent international media launch of F60 stressed to just-auto that there are no Mini platforms, just this one architecture, with two variations.

It makes sense to see things from the way BMW views the basis of its Mini models, given that engines and transmissions as well as so many other major components are now used across all three model lines: Mini three-door, five-door and convertible; Clubman (estate) and Countryman (SAV).

Auf wiedersehn Graz, hallo Born

Cowley, which the firm calls 'Plant Oxford', isn't where the new model is manufactured, which surprised some journalists attending the press drives event near Maidenhead. Magna International's Magna Steyr division is now doing some BMW 5 Series sedan build at Graz in Austria which seems strange, given that it put the R60 Countryman together there for six years.

Instead of going to Magna, the contract for Countryman 2 was awarded to VDL, the bus maker which BMW has an agreement with for Mini assembly at the former Nedcar plant at Born in the Netherlands. Could it be, I proposed to a product manager, that the poor sales of the Paceman - effectively a three-door first generation Countryman - meant that Magna was none too keen to take on the new C segment Mini? Not at all, BMW's man insisted, but the thought remains.

Who will buy a Countryman?

BMW sold some 550,000 units of the Countryman - no numbers were revealed for the Paceman - of which 79,009 were in the UK, making this one of the most important markets for the new car. Are there concerns about currency exposure? Again, this was waved away, and yes, I can see BMW's point that engines (Hams Hall) and body panels (Swindon) being made in England means that if anything, a deflated pound sterling versus the euro and US dollar might be a good thing. Britain, the USA, Germany and Italy were the best markets for the outgoing Countryman and this is expected to again be the case. China? Not so much, the car being pricey there due to import taxes.

VDL's operation at Born is more than a CKD operation but somewhat less than a true manufacturing plant; at least its full capabilities are not used. Once a three-way JV between the government of the Netherlands, Mitsubishi Motors and the former Volvo Car Corporation, the Born site was sold to the Dutch bus maker VDL in July 2012.

The first Mini to be built at the former NedCar works was the three-door hatchback. It has been assembled there since August 2014. In addition to its new duties as the sole production site for the Countryman, the plant is still able to act as a pressure valve for Cowley's other Mini bodystyles output. Like F60, the F57 Convertible is only made by VDL.

Worldwide CKD and SKD assembly

The new vehicle should also be assembled at multiple other locations, as was and remains the case for the mark one Countryman. That means Padang Meha (an Inokom facility in Malaysia), Rayong (Thailand), Chennai (India) and Araquari (Brazil).

BMW Group added assembly of the Countryman to its Indian plant in April 2013. The facility, located within the Mahindra World City business zone, is in the country's southwest, some 40km northwest of Chennai. Both the Cooper D Countryman and the One Countryman were assembled there.

CKD assembly at a Malaysian plant which had for many years built BMWs got underway in June 2013. Two months later, SKD assembly was added at the Amata Industrial Estate plant in Rayong (Thailand).

BMW announced plans for a plant for Brazil in October 2012. The first car, a 328iActiveFlex, rolled off the line in October 2014. The facility, which had an initial capacity of 32,000 vehicles per annum, was erected in Araquari city in the state of Santa Catarina. As well as multiple BMW models, the Countryman was also assembled there.

Sales commence from February

The second generation Countryman was announced to the media in October 2016, a few weeks ahead of its debut at the Los Angeles auto show. The UK will be the car's initial market, deliveries commencing here during the second week of February. Sales in the rest of Europe as well as North America, commence in March. The Countryman for the USA will be a 2017 model year vehicle.

The biggest Mini yet

The new model, which is 20cm longer, is the largest Mini yet. The luggage compartment volume is 450 litres and can be extended to a total of 1,309 litres. This constitutes a maximum increase of 220 litres as compared to the predecessor model.

Nicolas Griebner, who is the UK market product manager, says he sees around 50 per cent of buyers opting for cars with the ALL4 all-wheel drive system. He also points out that some items which are optional in other markets, are standard here. That includes the roof bars, which are one of the things which make you realise that despite similar looks and a much bigger footprint, this is definitely a new model. As for the volume split, this year that should be 60 per cent B segment cars and a combined 40 percent for the Clubman and Countryman.

Other things which mark out the second generation car include what Griebner call the "horizontal" headlights, and the rear registration plate having shifted positions. Also, those odd looking indicators which were placed at an angle on the rear of the front wings are no more.

Should you wish to make your Countryman look like an SUV, Mini will happily sell you an Optic Pack, which means big bumpers and wheelwell extensions. And if you'd like to sit on the sill of the open tailgate, there is a fold-out soft cushion accessory (see pics). This fabric with integrated seat covers the bumper, protecting it from the claws of your jumping-in pooch as well as the studs of your jeans' back pockets.

In Britain, satellite navigation, Bluetooth and Emergency E-call are standard, while this is the first Mini to offer touchscreen functionality for the central screen.

There are four initial variants:

  • Cooper Countryman: 100kW (136hp) & 220Nm 1,499cc three-cylinder petrol
  • Cooper S Countryman: 141kW (192hp) & 280Nm 1,998cc four-cylinder petrol
  • Cooper D Countryman: 110kW (150hp) & 330Nm 1,995cc four-cylinder diesel
  • Cooper SD Countryman: 140kW (190hp) & 400Nm 1,995cc four-cylinder diesel

JCW and PHEV to come

The John Cooper Works Countryman will have its world premiere at the Shanghai motor show in April and be on sale from the following month. The JCW is powered by a 170kW (231hp) and 350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo.

There is also going to be a plug-in hybrid, the Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4, to give it its official title. Let's call it the PHEV Countryman. Apart from badging and a charging port on the front wing, the PHEV looks just like the Countryman. Its powertrain is BMW Group's 100kW (136hp) 1,499cc three-cylinder petrol engine plus one rear-mounted electric motor and a 7.7kWh lithium ion battery pack. Drive to the front wheels is via a six-speed Steptronic transmission, while the 65kW (88hp) motor sends torque to the rear axle.

BMW quotes system power as being 165kW (224hp) with total torque of 385Nm. Average fuel consumption is 2.1 litres per 100 kilometres and the CO2 figure is 49 grams per kilometre (EU test cycle figures for plug-in hybrid vehicles). The car can run for up to 40km on its battery pack, with a top speed in EV mode of 125km/h.

Other than these preliminary data, we know not too much more about the PHEV as it wasn't present at the international media launch. A separate event is no doubt planned for the coming months. Production is due to commence in April or May.

What about other future Mini models?

A five-door Coupe may be an additional bodystyle to come but this is speculative. It could make sense, as BMW doesn't seem too keen on expanding the Mini range into smaller segments; at least it hasn't been so far.

Remember the Rocketman concepts? The world first saw one of these cars at the Geneva motor show almost six years ago. A production model would no doubt have sold well but would it have been profitable? BMW would love to return Mini to its original A segment but the company maintains that it struggles to make a business case add up.

Any future A segment vehicle for Mini would have to be a joint venture with another manufacturer, BMW Group's then CEO Norbert Reithofer stated in a May 2014 interview. In January 2015 there were media reports claiming BMW was looking to expand its alliance with Toyota over the possible joint development of a new small car project, thus potentially  resurrecting the idea of a Rocketman/'Mini Minor'.

Brexit knows

Whatever views the current CEO Harald Krüger has on a potential rival for the Fiat 500/Abarth 500, he has not aired them in public. A model such as this would surely be successful but it might have to wait for a period of calm after some or all of the nations which make up today's definition of the UK are wrenched out of the European Union. A volatile sterling-euro relationship will be the last thing that BMW Group wants of course, but it may be the future reality.

As those who bang on and on about 'high cost' countries often fail to see, what OEMs and suppliers need foremost are stable currencies. VW builds the relatively low cost Golf (compared to a Mercedes E-Class) in supposedly high cost Germany. It works, as there is minimal FX exposure and what there is can be hedged with the fairly safe assumption of no violent swings between the euro and other currencies.

BMW Group has announced its launch prices for the UK's Countryman range but we may soon be in an era when such numbers are revised upwards more often than what we have been used to. So, as at the 11 February on sale date, these are £22,465 (Cooper manual) to £29,565 (Cooper SD ALL4 automatic).