MINI USA is reporting not only their best December but their best year ever for sales in the US. Sales in December totaled 5,711, up nearly 1,400 from the previous year. Total sales for 2011 were up 26% overall with sales of 57,511 units, up nearly 12,000 cars from 2010. VP Jim McDowell, head of MINI USA had this to say:

β€œMINI’s record setting sales results in 2011 prove that small is a success in its own right even without the prodding of rising fuel prices. Our U.S. customers have found they can have a great motoring experience even while enjoying strong fuel economy and a smaller footprint.”

It’s an interesting point that MINI is seeing its best year ever despite relatively low fuel costs and a still-rocky economic climate. I think it’s fair to say that the brand is standing squarely on its own four wheels. The novelty has definitely passed. “Cute” will only get you so far. High gas prices will make many people consider smaller cars, but MINI has been successful beyond these “on paper” factors. I think MINI is here to stay and has found a more mainstream fan base outside of those simply crunching the numbers or drawn to its bulldog face.

Where did that growth come from? The Countryman, of course. We’ve seen it in the numbers all year long. Countryman sales have been neck-and-neck with Hardtop sales for months now. At some point, R60 sales will likely surpass Hardtop sales, if only by a few units.

Now a lot of MotoringFile readers are not fans of the Countryman β€” not fans of the “bigger” MINI. I get that. From the perspective of the Hardtop, the R60 certainly is bigger. Thing is, I think Jim McDowell had it right when he said “small is a success” because the Countryman is one of the smallest, most capable, most sporting small four door crossovers available. Go find another small AWD crossover with good handling, a manual transmission, and that can get 30+ mpg. It doesn’t exist. People are responding to the Countryman’s clever use of space, its efficiency, and its performance β€” all the things that make it a MINI β€” and the brand is reaping the sales rewards. Furthermore, all the things the R60 brings to the table are additive. Its success takes nothing away from the Hardtop, nor does it unseat the Hardtop as the core of the MINI brand.

So a huge congratulations to MINI on a great year. Here’s to breaking that record again in 2012.