Moving the Mini Countryman SUV up a segment in size while also making its exterior more rugged looking will put the automaker on the list of buyers who might have otherwise ignored it, the brand's chief said.
"Right now Mini is a second or third car, but the Countryman can be your first car or only car. This is the biggest change," BMW Group's board member responsible for Mini, Peter Schwarzenbauer, told Automotive News Europe when asked to compare the first- and second-generation versions of the car.
At 4300mm long and 1820mm wide, the new Countryman is 200mm longer and 30mm wider than the current-generation car. The car's wheelbase has grown by 75mm to 2775mm to increase rear legroom, Mini said. The added length moves the car into the premium compact SUV segment to compete against cars such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q2 and Q3.
"This new segment we are entering is four times bigger than the one for smaller SUVs," Schwarzenbauer said on the sidelines of the Los Angeles auto show, where the car was revealed for the first time last month. He believes that the size of the segment will help boost sales of the new Countryman.
The car's overall share of Mini's global sales is expected to stay the same at about a quarter, but Mini says the compact SUV's overall numbers will grow. That is because Mini expects its total volume to increase on rising demand for its core hatchback model and the Clubman premium compact.
Mini's 2016 global sales are on track to top last year's record of 338,466, Mini Senior Vice President Sebastian Mackensen said. Mini expects 2017 to be another record-breaking year because of the arrival of the new Countryman, which has a much tougher look than the car it replaces.
"We gave it much more SUV-ness," Schwarzenbauer said. "We see around the world a trend that more and more people are moving out of cars and getting into SUVs."
The outgoing model's softer looks were hurting the brand's sales, particularly in the U.S, where volume was down 13 percent through October this year. Mackensen said that in the last two years, the U.S. passenger car segment has been shrinking. "And that is where we compete," Mackensen added.
The new car will cost substantially more than its predecessor. The Countryman's UK entry price will rise 31 percent to 22,465 pounds (26,285 euros) compared with 17,125 pounds for the car that is being replaced. Mini says the price increase adjusted for the extra equipment is about 14 percent. "We got a lot of feedback from customers that the car was too naked, too empty. Now a lot of options are standard," Schwarzenbauer said.
The Countryman will use BMW Group's UKL front-wheel-drive platform that underpins other Mini models as well as the second-generation BMW X1, which will be a rival in the premium compact SUV segment. The Countryman will be made at contract manufacturer VDL Nedcar's factory in Born, Netherlands, rather than at Mini's factory in Oxford, England.
The Countryman will offer optional all-wheel drive, which Mini expects will be chosen by about 30 percent to 40 percent of customers, up from 25 percent for the previous model, because the feature will be available on a wider range of powertrains.
One of those powertrains is a new plug-in hybrid, a first for Mini. That variant of the Countryman will use the same technology as the BMW 2-series Active Tourer plug-in hybrid, which combines a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine with a 7.6 kilowatt-hour battery pack. Mini expects the plug-in hybrid to appeal to both environmentally conscious buyers as well as those who pick the brand because of its sporty driving dynamics.