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The Secret History of the MINI R60 Crossover

MINI Beachcomber

In 2001 when MINI was relaunched by BMW there were plans for a number of different vehicles. The hatch, the convertible, the clubman and even the yet to be released speedster where on the drawing board with eventual plans for production. However the one variation not on anyone’s mind was a crossover. And here we are, just weeks away from the MINI crossover making its debut.

What created this shift in thinking? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Yes BMW wants the crossover to reach new MINI buyers and an entirely new demographic. Yet some of the larger reasons for the crossover is a story of corporate agreements and solving production scale issues rather than solving a consumer problem.

In 2006 BMW decided to move production of its underwhelming X3 crossover from a 3rd party (Magna Steyr) in Austria to it’s own plant in South Carolina USA. The thought was that it made sense for all crossover (SAV in BMW speak) production to be in a more cost efficient country that was also the main market for such vehicles. However there was an issue with this plan, BMW’s contract with Magna Steyr promised two generations of X3 production to be built at the Austrian plant. Somehow BMW had to either move production of a product or create something entirely new to fulfill the contract.

MINI Beachcomber

In parallel to these developments was the creation of the BMW X1. Around the time that the BMW 1 Series was launched BMW had decided that the X3 and X5 had to grow in size to better accommodate the US market – by far the largest for the vehicles in the world. However in doing so BMW was concerned that it would be forsaking the European market where smaller more fuel efficient crossovers were in greater demand. So a plan was devised to create a crossover based on the 1 Series that would essentially take the place of the X3 on a slightly smaller scale in both size and price.

As this decision was finalized BMW realized they finally had a solution that would allow them to move X3 production to the US while creating bigger economies of scale for the X1. The idea was simple, build a MINI SAV loosely based on the upcoming X1 in Austria in place of the X3 that would slot under the X1 in terms of price and size.

Nevermind that the concept of the crossover was against much of what the MINI brand stood for. BMW had a two-pronged plan to get around that issue. First off they were going to create a crossover (by then code-named R60 or the Colorado) that looked and drove like a MINI. Take styling cues from the MINI world and amplifying them in a way that gave the car a bit more attitude than any previous MINI. Secondly MINI would answer critics that say the brand had gone to far with lifestyle cars such as a speedster and coupe that would be based on the R56/7 and thus cost effective to create.

MINI Beachcomber

So the the task of creating a MINI crossover that retained the MINI look and feel fell to the design department. By all accounts it was something that many within the MINI division of BMW were initially against. Yet when we spoke with the head of MINI Design Gert Hildebrand recently at MINI United, it was clear that there is great enthusiasm for the R60 internally. Additionally there seems to be an expectation (from those who have seen the car) that the R60 will sell very well – especially in the important US market.

However when you look at the R60 closer you start to question how cost effective it has been to build. First off there are few common parts shared with the BMW X1 outside the rear substructure. In fact much of the structure is either loosely based off of the R55 Clubman or was created from scratch. We had more than one internal source confide in us that they had no idea how BMW planned to make money on the R60 given costs to build and currency fluctuations.

Under the hood the Countryman (as it will likely be called) will share very little with the X1. Instead it will feature the current higher output range of engines found in the current MINI. The only BMW based engine we’ve heard that will show up in the R60 will be the exceptional 2.0L diesel found in the 123d (an engine that may be the basis of any future MINI diesel product in North America). Eventually this may change as BMW’s new range of high output efficient four cylinders will likely slowly make their way over to the MINI line in the next 5-7 years.

MINI Beachcomber

One little known fact; MINI had big plans for the R60 in the form of fuel efficiency beyond a new diesel engine. One of the more interesting concepts was fitting solar panels on the roof that would help power the car’s electronics and thus reduce fuel consumption. However the concept was shelved due to cost of development and production.

MINI had another issue on their hands with trying to name the car. With Crossman (the preferred name of BMW execs) being trademarked by a European trucking company, MINI decided to look back at historical MINI models. The “Moke” didn’t make the cut because of the way it sounded. The “Traveller” name was considered but BMW couldn’t obtain the rights to it. Even the internal codename Colorado was being used by GM for their mid-size truck. For a time BMW seriously considered going with (wait for it…) “the Clifton” for the R60 as a nod to the MINI’s English eccentricity. Luckily for everyone involved BMW settled on “Countryman”, a name used for the long wheelbase Mini in the 60’s and 70’s.

In some ways the story of the R60’s development has us reminded of the original R50 program. A car put together from pieces of other projects and built with serious concerns about profitability. However as we all know the R50 was a watershed car and ultimately made the new MINI brand what it is today. At the very least it was the right car for the time. Can the R60 have a similar impact while being a very different product? That may be too much to ask but we are starting to think MINI may have a huge hit ready to be unleashed. With oil prices leveled off and owners of larger cars and crossovers looking to downsize, MINI may have unknowingly be in the right place at just the right time. Now we have to see if it actually drives like a MINI.

MINI Crossover Concept Gallery

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For more information on the MINI crossover see our R60 section.

Written By: Gabe

  • JonPD

    Well written piece Gabe with some good insights.

    I am still not in love with this development but its still interesting to see some of the inner workings. Think they should have stuck with their initial internal objections but I feel the overlords at BMW (land of the SUV craze) overwhelmed all opposition.

    As for the concept of the R60 having the same impact as the R50 I just don’t see it. The R50 was a very unique offering at the time, and became an instant icon. The R60 is not much more than a slightly smaller car that is already in a very crowed field of small suv’s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=544746412 Mini Nyc

    Excellent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=610504117 Dylan Bland

    Brilliant article. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I really look forward to seeing this car. It might not be mini in size, but it’s funky cool which is what MINI is all about. If I had kids and/or a dog – I’d be in with a grin.

  • gokartride

    BMWs take on the Mini, while understandable and justifiable from a car-sales perspective, is leaving many wonderful aspects of the classic Mini in the dust. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to recognize the MINI as a Mini anymore, despite the name. Mini DNA is now being dispersed beyond the brand, and perhaps this was inevitable over time. BMW has it’s take on the MINI…fine…but in the grand scheme of things I think they have already lost touch w/ certain aspects that drew some of us to Mini/MINIs in the first place.

  • Michael

    Great high quality article. Thanks Gabe

  • Mk1

    Great info on this new model, Gabe. Thanks

  • goat

    Agree with others that this is a well written piece. Nice to get an inside look at the “pragmatic” decision-making involved in the R60. Looking forward to the reveal and test drives. (Sidenote: The R60 can no longer properly be called “ugly” as that word has recently been appropriated by the Acura ZDX.)

  • zm

    i still dig this idea more than the clubman. will be interesting to see it in final form.

  • lavardera

    given the way the can make the R5 handle I have no doubt it will run circles around all comers in its class. The look, well right now its still reminding me of the previous gen Hyundai Santa Fe

  • zm

    “(Sidenote: The R60 can no longer properly be called “ugly” as that word has recently been appropriated by the Acura ZDX.)”

    and the X6?

  • cct1

    We’ll see. I personally think this thing is a mistake, and doesn’t really directly correspond to what happend with the R50.

    The R50 was unique and ground breaking–an upscale small car with insant recognizability–polarizing, but that’s not a bad thing. Unlike the previous MINI, you paid a premium for it, but it was a price we were all more than willing to pay.

    The R60? Not so much. Luxury crossovers have been around for awhile; this doesn’t really bring anything new to the plate. And there are a few that handle fairly well out there already, the clubman included, and to a degree (depending on price), this thing will be cross-shopped with the Clubman. It never really made much sense to me to badge this as a MINI, after reading Gabe’s article I understand it better, but it even makes less sense. Looks like BMW has gone about it backwards–rather than fulfilling a consumer need, they are fulfilling a corporate contract and hope the end result will hit. Personally, I think it’s wishful thinking.

    And I wonder what the demographic is going to be…Much of that will depend on price. If it is set too high, I think people in that demographic will steer toward other even more luxurious crossovers with more prestigious badges. If it’s set too low and becomes a budget crossover, then it really doesn’t apply to the R50 analogy at all, which was never a budget hatch. That may be the best place to position it though.

    As for brand dilution, yeah, it’s a bit of a bummer. The other variants–the speedster, the clubman, even the cabrio, all made a bit of sense given the quirky history of the original Mini and it’s many variants, but the crossover reminds me of the old Sesame Street song (c’mon, sing it with me): “One of these is not like the other things, one of these just doesn’t belong…”

  • Mark

    Excellent article Gabe. It’s good to see a rationally made case for the R60 without all the knee-jerk reactionary blather about the end of the MINI as we know it. Car companies have long been building vehicles targeted at the non-enthusiast masses that help pay for the development of their enthusiast models. It’s simply good pragmatic business that keeps the BMW Group balance sheet in the black hopefully.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1286761775 Fredric Haberer

    We have already made our choice. The R60 likely will bring others into the fold, while satisfying the Magna Steyr contract.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1070696962 Kevin Stephenson

    Very well written article. Although I am not crazy about the R60, it probably is the right move for BMW. I also don’t think it will do anything to take away from our “normal” MINI’s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fsaraiva Fillip Saraiva

    great article, it’s interesting how this car came out of BMW’s issue with their contract with Magna-Steyr. I did not realize that this car was mostly unique, I thought it would share alot more with the X1.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=550247827 Aaron Woolsey

    Good article. Like the folks at MINI, I have gone from being very skeptical about this car (all I wanted was AWD on the coupe) to actually excited about its introduction. I am waiting for the diesel.

  • IT WRKS

    Chalk one up for evolution. We have to grow and branching out but keeping MINImalism as our main goal works for me.

  • that.guy

    No thanks. Audi A3 for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=653192548 Aurel Savin

    the Audi A3 has a smaller driver quarters than the MINI coupe. good looking car but too much $$$ for what it is.

    nice writeup on the Countryman. I am really curious of what it will look and feel like and most importantly how it will differ price wise from the X1

  • Chris B.

    Indeed a case of being at the right place at the right time. I just wonder how much MINI USA is going to stick me for a Countryman S? I’m absolutely loving the additonal air inlet in the front grill. Cannot wait to see this car!

  • lavardera

    I like the sheetmetal on the concept. The photos of the camouflaged car do not look like the same shape.Unless they have padding in there I feel like its not going to look as nice.

  • Dr Obnxs

    Many here fail to acknowlege that this is aimed at a different car buyer than those that bought one of the current Minis. To some extent, because of this what current owners think doesn’t really matter. Many of us tend to think of this as a larger Mini. It’s aimed at those that want a smaller crossover!

    If it’s true that there was little thought to profitability of the vehicle, that’s not good news. Sharing little with other cars means that unit costs will be high for what’s in it, meaning the price point will be high OR it will be a boat anchor on division profits. Neither is good for the Mini brand.

    But now at least I understand the logic of using Magna to build it in Austria. Without the contract constraints, it made little sense.

    Thanks for the insight…

    Matt

  • Axel Hernandez

    As I said before PUT the 2 liter 123 d DIESEL engine and we cn talk

  • Chilly

    Great article Gabe.

    The Countryman doesn’t really look that big when you see it next to the Clubman in the photo above.

  • Hoover

    Great article. I am also glad that you posted the pictures of the concept again. I was worried that the C pillars were going to be huge on this thing (perhaps they still are) but I am optimistic that they have included some fixed rear side windows similar to the concept. When I look at the large version of the profile picture above, I am pretty sure that I am seeing some window frames back there. Enough already. I want to see this thing unwrapped.

  • SFRedMCc

    Great article. Americans just love their SUV’s, SAV’s & Crossovers, and generally hate mini-vans and station wagons, and I think it’s all about image. Recently I read somewhere that the X3 outsold a comparable BMW Wagon 10 to 1, and we all know the BMW Wagon (6-Series – I think) is an all-around better performing car and more fuel efficient.

  • illegalhunter

    THE X3 BUILD QUALITY IS SHOCKING

  • dr

    A brand is a marketing tool. nothing more, nothing less. A label is not meant to be an unwavering philosophical stance. Be happy with the product that fits your desires and quit expecting a company to refuse to offer a product which fits the desires of many others just because you have a particular philosophy. The goal of every company is to serve the customer by appealing to as many of them as possible while maximizing profit on the product.

    Many here fail to acknowlege that this is aimed at a different car buyer than those that bought one of the current Minis

    I disagree, the Cooper is a great car but does not lend itself to carting around children. The Cooper was always aimed at a youthful buyer (though the early years saw a majority of much older owners). The only way to get those young buyers of coopers to buy another MINI product is to offer something that will meet their needs of easy access to kid seats, a bit more cargo space and yet is small, efficient and fun to drive. Otherwise they will be forced to drive some appliance that sucks life out of them with each mile driven.

  • Phil
  • C4

    The R60 is the answer to a question no one asked. But hey, let them find out in their own accord (And at their own expense) the magnitude of the mistake they are about to make. A vehicle that was conceived and developed to fulfill internal corporate specifications/requirements can’t never be successful out in the real world. BMW sounds like they applied GM style decision making on this one (Aztek anyone?).

    In this economy, I don’t see many people lining up to grab a US$30K pseudo poseur MINI crossover vehicle. In fact, I can count with the fingers of one hand the total amount of new ’09 R57 convertibles I have seen in the streets of car crazed South Florida since it was launched earlier this year.

    Perhaps the R60 is exactly the self inflicted wound BMW needs in order for them to snap out of their deep trance and realize, once and for all, that plastering the MINI logo onto anything (Akin to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks and what doesn’t) doesn’t automatically make it a brilliant idea that commands astronomical admission prices and, above all, can not be questioned or challenged at the risk of being labeled “troll” and “hater” by the herd mentality of the fanboi congesceti.

    I hope I am proved wrong in my views of the R60 but I am afraid that this vehicle will be the what the Aztek was to GM back in 2001 = Arrogance made into a car!

    If come 2012-2013 MINI hasn’t cleaned up their act with the next gen of their core product, I’ll happily be motoring down the street in a brand new BMW 3 series, European delivery, room for 5 and a sweet 6 cyl engine all for the price of the R60.

    Good luck MINI with the R60. You are gonna need it.

  • C4

    @dr:

    The back of my R53 has given me extreme utility and service to grow up a family, thank you very much.

    After all these years, friends, family and colleagues can’t understand how someone has managed to transport kids all over the city) and in numerous road trips all over with such impractical and family un-friendly cars as the MINI. Hahahahahah I laugh in their faces and have a great time while at the wheel!

  • Sideways Eh!

    I cant wait to see this thing without all the camo…Where are the upskirt spy shots when you need them!!!

    Great Article Gabe!

    If we only didn’t have to wait until 2011 for this new model. I don’t understand how it can be billed as a car for the North American market, yet we see it AFTER they get it in Europe :(

  • bee1000

    C4 – If you go from a Mini into a more expensive 3-Series, I think you’re doing exactly what BMW hoped for when they started making Minis (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

  • Evan

    Thanks for the great piece.

    I’m a first gen R50 owner and diehard fan. And I’m also the person referenced in needing a bit more space with pending child and requisite stroller. All I want is a little more room and the ability to use a LATCH carseat base without making the passenger seat eat dashboard. I want to make the R50 work, but it’s just a little too small.

    However, I really don’t want to give up MINI. I like the small size, agility, personality, and all of the diehard fans out there. The Countryman happens to be perfect for me. Looking at the specs from an earlier article, when compared to a Clubman, it’ll be about 2 inches longer in wheelbase, 2-3in longer overall, about 7inches higher and about 5-6in wider. I know in MINI-world all growth is bad, but this is still very small compared to any other car. With it mostly based on the Clubman with a still independent rear it should drive pretty well too. Sure, it’s not going to be a Cooper S hatch; it’s not supposed to be.

    I’m psyched MINI’s bringing this to market. I’m just hoping the spring isn’t too far away.

    Will it be here Feb-March 2010? Or am I looking at a later date… I really want to hold out for it, despite some antsy feelings about first year builds from Austria after the X3’s initial year on the market…

  • Hoover
    I really want to hold out for it, despite some antsy feelings about first year builds from Austria after the X3’s initial year on the market…

    Despite the needed utility offered, I think I would be a little wary of being an early adopter on this one, too. Were there many build issues when the Clubman first came out? Any history of problems with this plant? Does the AWD system complicate matters…or is this a pretty proven system? I’m in no position to buy right now anyway, so I will just wait and see what happens…especially when they introduce the wagon based on this platform.

  • that.guy
    Aurel Savin the Audi A3 has a smaller driver quarters than the MINI coupe. good looking car but too much $$$ for what it is.

    Well, the A3’s roof is lower, so may not fit the tallest folks. If you think the current A3 is good looking, the 2010 design will blow you away. I predict this CrossCountyManBeast will be priced very closely to a comparable A3.

  • MINIme

    I have to laugh at C4’s commentary. On one hand he bashes BMW for building such an atrocity (MINI R60) and on the other he vows to purchase a what?? BMW 3-series? That’s sticking it to them C4! That’s the way to show your displeasure. You go on with your bad self…

  • MINIme

    As much as I loved my R53, I had to wince every time the family (wife and 3 kids)wanted to go somewhere together and I had to leave her parked in the garage because we all couldn’t fit. The R60, assuming there will be seating for five, could fix this problem. As much as I grew to love the brand (despite quality issues I experienced) the R53 never met my needs. Perhaps, now I can enjoy some of the features and benefits of MINI ownership while accommodating the family. “No one left behind.” Life is full of compromises. The trade off of some handling and ability to park in tight spaces for the extra passenger/cargo space will be welcomed by many. Thank you, MINI, regardless of the initial intent, for growing to meet the needs of a larger demographic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1145665586 DUDE!

    Why do these car companies think we [yanks] need bigger cars more than other countries? Just back from Holland and here’s a flash for them… Look around, the Mc Donald’s invasion is in full swing! Fat people everywhere, not just here anymore. Since I 1st went to europe some 12 years ago I’ve seen major changes in cars and people… I’d say fatness is not a USA phenomenon anymore. Large vehicles are everywhere. In Hilversum I saw a Dodge Ram pickmeuptruck, a city truck at that, Sprinters, the vehicle, large family vans, PT Cruisers, Chrysler 300, Escalades… fat obese people. 12 years ago I never saw any of this, be honest with yourselves people across the sea, it’s true.

    I’m an American and I’m offended by the “American’s need bigger vehicles” way of thinking. The MINI did quite well, even though some at BMW said.. “Hatches don’t sell in the USA.” What a load.

    BMW’s have gone to s#!t, my beloved MINI is of marginal quality, a friend who leases a MINI has had the car at the dealer some 65 days of the first 3 months of her lease, MINI E’s a dropping like flies, the only good car is a Lexus although I’d never own something that booooorrrrrrriiinnnngggg!

    So here’s what I think, instead of the suits at BMW thinking we need BIGGER vehicles maybe they should concentrate on building better cars.

    LOL… RB

  • Dr Obnxs

    This is a bit off topic… But they car companies sell bigger cars because that’s what sells. Small cars tend to sell well when gas is really expensive, but other than that, the US buying public trends to larger and more powerful vehicles.

    All you need to do is research the vehicle buying history to see that this is true, no matter what you or I think is true.

    Because Europe taxes the crap out of gasoline, the trend is to, on average, buy smaller cars or smaller engines in cars. Like all those BMW 4 bangers that we can’t buy here.

    Matt

  • JonPD

    MINIme Mini has already said several times that the R60 will have 4 seats while the X1 will have seating for 5. The only advantage over the coupe and Clubman will be the four doors and a little more room. Guess for those out there that believe 4wd makes them safer and more tolerant of weather will have a solution also.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=548320534 Christian L.

    @Chilly: I was thinking the same thing too, even the SUV behind the clubman is taller.

    Great article by the way.

    I for one have been getting more into SAV type rather than large SUV. I love my R53 but would love to have a 2nd vehicle so I’m excited for the R60. Need something a little more space yet still fun.

  • MINIme

    If the R60 is a four seater, MINI just lost a sale. This is a major oversight. Hell I can’t imagine sitting 3-across in the back of a MINI, but my kids would be willing to do it… If a manufacturer is going to build a “bigger” vehicle, the space needs to be use-able and not just on the outside in the form of overhangs and bulging fenders.

  • JonPD

    Pretty sure at the end of the day between sales of the R60 and the X1 that more X1’s will be sold because of seating 5 than R60 because it has 4 doors. A massive number of families just plainly need more room than 4 seats.

    Heck here is a another need for you BMW, maybe time to make yet another larger and heavier “mini”.

  • C4

    In Europe the Clubman seats 5 (in a pinch of course) but MINIs by far and large are strictly 4 seater vehicles. JonPD, I could not agree more. A Bigger crossover that only seats 4 is pretty lousy given the added weight and heft.

    If you have a family, you’ll do much better with a 4 door or a station wagon 3 series.

  • Andrei

    You are all missing a couple of bits:

    1) They build vehicles in the target market, in this case Europe.

    2) Rallying. Rallying sells vehicles of this type (WRX, EVO, …).

    Carnac says stay tuned for a 4WD 2L Turbo version RSN.

  • JonPD

    Andrei think Mini has said that the R60 is aimed squarely at the suv obsessed US, though I am sure they will sell it in many more markets.

    As for rallying the R60 is a soft-road vehicle that is going to be slower and more sluggish around corners than the Coupe and Clubman. Not a great place for a rally car. The AWD system is being made with the idea of getting a soccer mom across a snowy parking lot not for thundering down nasty b roads. I am pretty sure we are going to see a JCW version (bleh). Still at the end of the day you will have a slower, softer, and heavier vehicle than either the R55 or R56.

  • Andrei

    Rallying is heavily based on “homologation”. The manufacturers need to build X examples before it can be rallied (where X is a number like 2500 or 5000 depending on the class). You can sell these vehicles off at a loss if need be or you can convince the Suburban Assault Vehicle crowd that this is what they need at MSRP. If you can get US soccer moms to buy your homologation minimums, brilliant.

    But, if you don’t have a 2 or 2.5 litre turbo engine, you can’t just drop one in, it has to be available to X customers, no specials that are not production based. If you don’t have 4wd you can’t install one.

    The rally engine and drivetrain can be modified heavily within the rules, but it would be a stretch to take a 1.4T-FWD and turn it into a 2.0T-4WD. (quite unlike NASCAR)

    The classic Mini went through this same process, that is where the Cooper S got its 1071cc and 1275cc engine and larger disc brakes.

    Rover produced a thing called the Metro 6R4 back in the day and produced the required minimum number to be homologated for rallying. They were rallied, did well and the surplus units were sold off for whatever they could get for them. And it was based on the Rover Metro grocery getter.

    Ford is currently rallying the Focus, not exactly a street legal racecar when you go out to your local dealer and talk to the guy in the plaid pants and white shoes. But if you go to a dealer in the UK you can order a Focus RS with a 300HP 2.5L turbo, just like the one they run in the WRC.

    The Audi Quattro came out of world rallying.

    The same process is done in racing, vis the Ford GT40, Ferrari 250 GTO (“Gran Turismo Omologato”)…

    Do you think that all of those scooby WRXs running around with gold wheels and hood scoops were sold because moms could rely on the safety of a 4wd system to get over curbs at the soccer field? No, rally on Saturday, sell on Monday.

  • JonPD

    Ok Andrei now list for me all the SUV’s including micro crossovers that are competing.

    I don’t expect we will ever see any Mini with a 2 liter motor. The R60 is built with the idea of getting a small family over a little bit of snow (for those that need a cruch imo), the WRX though seating 5 was still built from the ground up to be a performance car something the R60 will never be (even in JCW form)

  • C4

    I guess using Andrei’s logic one can deduct that Pontiac’s reasoning behind the Aztek was the same.


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Autocrossing the MINI Range


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