When is a Mini no longer a Mini? The British brand is about to test its limits with the launch of the 2024 Countryman. But that’s not the only change in store as Mini also begins its shift to EVs with the launch of the 2025 Countryman SE. What else is in the works? Headlight.News spoke with two of the automakers top executives to find out.
Most automakers live by the maxim “Bigger is Better.” Britain’s Mini, on the other hand, has long shown that big things really can come in small packages. But will its loyal fans remain true as the next generation of Mini products come to market and they discover models like the 2025 Countryman have grown substantially?
It’s not just the dimensions of its products that Mini is in the process of redefining, the automaker is also migrating from internal combustion engines to battery-electric drivetrains. An all-electric Countryman will reach market in 2025. By early in the next decade the entire line-up will be battery-powered.
Those decisions have generated more than a little controversy, as comments on Mini chat sites and other social media outlets have clearly demonstrated. But change is the only option, company officials said during a breakfast meeting this week ahead of the debut of the next-generation Mini John Cooper Works Countryman.
No stranger to controversy
The Countryman isn’t new to controversy. When launched in 2010, the crossover was not only the biggest Mini ever but also the first to get all-wheel drive. But it quickly connected with buyers who needed more space and those who lived in colder climbs who needed the added traction. It almost immediately became the brands best seller.
The third-generation Countryman, revealed in September and set to on sale for 2024, adds yet another five inches in overall length and, for some, may stretch things to the breaking point. But company officials insist they had no option.
The evolving U.S. market, in particular, has threatened to leave Mini behind. The brand’s sales peaked in 2012 when Americans bought 76,354 of the British vehicles. By last year, that had plunged to just 29,500. Mini did report a 18.7% jump for the first three quarters of this year but sales still lag well behind the brand’s heyday.
There are a number of reasons why Mini has lost momentum. It brought out a variety of niche models during the past decade which failed to generate much excitement. But there’s also the fact that U.S. buyers have migrated away from sedans and coupes in favor of SUVs and CUVs. Even the Countryman, designed to respond to that trend, didn’t quite hit the mark, said Christopher Wehner, the brand’s vice president of global product.
With the new, larger Mini, company officials hope to not only keep customers in the fold but win back those who’ve gone looking for more space to fit their families and cargo.
Mini plugs in
As for the switch to battery power, “The electrification of Mini is a perfect fit (for the brand),” said U.S. boss Mike Peyton.
Mini has already tested the market with the Cooper SE. The all-electric hardtop was clearly a niche product, with an EPA-rated range of just 114 miles. Yet those buyers who did plug in generally gave the SE good marks.
That, said Peyton, reflects the fact that Minis tend to be the third, even fourth, vehicle in a household. Those who bought the Cooper SE tended to find it more than adequate for daily commutes and around-town chores.
By stretching the body of its crossover, the 2025 Mini Countryman SE also will get more room for a larger battery pack. That’s expected to boost range to as much as 240 miles per charge.
That “go-kart feel”
Of course, EVs, in general, tend to weigh more than comparable gas-powered vehicles. So, the question is whether the battery model will be able to deliver the “go-kart feel” ride and handling that is a fundamental part of what defines a Mini, said Peyton. “It has to drive like a Mini.”
The automaker’s product development team spent a significant amount of time making sure the larger, gas-powered 2024 Countryman won’t lose that distinctive road feel. And Peyton is confident the all-electric SE will meet expectations as well.
Not only will it match the power of the gas-powered model, but it should be quicker off the line thanks to the instant torque offered by electric motors. And, with the crossover’s batteries mounted below the load floor, the EV will boast a lower center of gravity, a critical factor when it comes to performance handling.
When is a Mini no longer a Mini?
The arrival of the third-generation Countryman, and then the all-electric Countryman SE will mark some significant changes for the brand. But there are likely to be more to follow. Among other things, Mini planners are looking at what could be an even bigger model in the future, one based on the Argonaut concept unveiled in 2020.
“There is no limit in size as long as we can deliver the Mini lifestyle … and go-kart feel,” said Wehner, though he quickly added that the brand is unlikely ever to stretch into the midsize segment.
JCW isn’t going away
Not everything will change, said Wehner and Peyton. Among other things, buyers can expect to see Mini continue to push performance to the limits with its John Cooper Works models. JCW models are named after driver John Cooper who found he could dominate the race circuit by improving the handling of Mini products, despite their lack of competitive power.
The 2024 John Cooper Works Countryman is the latest example. Its 2.0-liter inline-four engine will deliver 312 horsepower — in U.S. trim — and 295 pound-feet of torque. That will launch it from 0 to 100 kmh (0-62 mph) in just 5.4 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph.
Despite all the concerns and criticism leveled at Mini by many fans online, analyst Sam Fiorani is confident the brand is moving in the right direction.
Keeping pace with an evolving market
“They definitely have to reinvent the brand to follow where the market is,” said Fiorani, lead analyst with AutoForecast Solutions. American auto buyers, in general, “have migrated to crossovers and that’s the niche they have to fill.”
As to the nascent shift to EVs, Fiorani says it “fits perfectly into Mini’s image.” The brand has always been “cutting edge” and, if anything, electric propulsion can deliver the sort of driving experience its buyers expect.