Mini is considering increasing the size of its largest model, the Countryman - but could also produce fewer derivatives of the latest hatch.
The Countryman SUV was a controversial model when it was launched in 2011, but it has been a sales success in several key regions. High-level Mini sources have long insisted that the 4.1 metre-long Countryman is as big a car as the brand would sell, but the recent switch to a new chassis platform (shared with the next generation of BMW 1 Series) is allowing a rethink in that area.
Peter Schwarzenbauer, the BMW Group board member with responsibility for both Mini and Rolls-Royce, told What Car?, 'The new Mini's platform means that the size can go from 3.8 metres long to 4.5 metres long, so in theory we could offer a car of more than four metres. But our cars will always be perceived as the smallest car in the segment.'
Going beyond 4.1 metres could potentially give Mini a model to rival the latest Nissan Qashqai in overall length - perhaps appealing to buyers who want more interior space and a bigger boot than those on offer in the current Countryman.
Schwarzenbauer also suggested that the SUV could be part of a smaller model line-up. '‘The first question for Mini is what is the right product portfolio,' he said. 'We have the chance to have up to 10 models but maybe less is more? Perhaps four or five hero models would be better.'
Mini's brand director, Jochen Goller, told What Car? that keeping hold of customers whose lifestyles would otherwise force them out of the firm's cars was a key goal. 'We always want to listen to our Mini buyers and respond to them,' he said.
'For example, they were requesting better interior quality and I think with the new Mini hatch, we've delivered that. Sometimes their circumstances change and they need more space, and the Countryman has delivered that, too. I remember the launch of that car and being asked so many questions about it, but it has been a success.'
However, while Goller also admitted that the Countryman could be made 'slightly bigger', he added, 'Whatever happens with the car, it has to stay true to the brand DNA. What you can't do is just pump it up. We won't do what Fiat is trying to do with the seven-seat 500L.'