Hooniverse Asks- Premium Mini Utility Cars: Brah! Or Blah?




At last year’s Los Angeles Auto Show I witnessed the debut of the new Fiat 500L – the L standing for Lugubrious I think. While the retro-tinged standard 500 is a tiny bar stool of a car, the L looks like a 500 that’s been stung to death by many angry bees. Now, you might attribute this car to the limited players on Fiat’s current bench, but truth be told, the company is trying to Single White Female Mini.

Fiat’s 500L is not only -IMHO- a dumpy looking car, it’s also an almost exact copy of the Mini Countryman – another small car that’s been given its big-boy pants. Cars of this size aren’t a big deal, but their prices are. When I questioned the stoically enthusiastic Fiat rep as to the price for their new family hauler he noted that it was expected to come in at around $25K, as they like to be about five grand below the comparable Mini product.

The Countryman starts at $22,500, and just keeps on going from there, and that got me thinking about the purpose to value ratio of these and other somewhat expensive “Utility” cars. When your needs are to tote a bushel of kids around – as well as their Crayolas, candy bars, and seat-wiped boogers – then you’re probably looking for something that isn’t going to see its resale plummet due to a – how shall I say it – lived-in look.

What do you think about these expensive little family haulers – as well as cars like the BMW 5-series GT, which melds hatchback utility with BMW priciness – are they a brilliant reach into an untapped market, or are they just the dumbest thing since unsliced bread? What do you think, are premium utilitarian mini cars Brah! or Blah?

Image: [encarsglobe]

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62 responses to “Hooniverse Asks- Premium Mini Utility Cars: Brah! Or Blah?”

  1. Fritzo2162 Avatar

    MINI has lost it's way so badly I can't even look at them anymore. They're no longer tiny, affordable, tunable cars. They're regular sized cars with a gimmick that nostalgic people are falling for hook, line, and sinker.
    The original relaunch of the MINI was pretty good. Small, efficient, nimble, and cheap. Now it's close to $30000 for a decent new MINI, and to top it off they have gigantic station wagon versions, ugly roadster versions, and they all offer a JCW edition that adds so much to the price you end up wondering why you're not buying a Lexus.
    Get back to basics MINI.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I would be eager to agree with you, it it weren't for one of the recent crop of Mini-ploitation models, one that I really kind of like…maybe even want (even if, as Mat says, it is "dare say, a little bit girlie").
      [youtube oBuyFve17zA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBuyFve17zA youtube]

      1. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
        Dean Bigglesworth

        I really thought i would like the Roadster, but i drove a Cooper S roadster last summer and the rock-hard suspension was infuriating. I like firm suspension but that one was just ridiculous, it feels like it's constantly riding on the bumpstops.

      2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
        Peter Tanshanomi

        Okay, Mr. Downvoter: what did I do wrong re: this comment…other than like something you don't?

        1. Vavon Avatar

          As you were neither rude, ignorant or down right nasty, I can only give you a thumbs up…

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      Also acceptable: Mini Wildgoose
      <img src="http://i23.servimg.com/u/f23/11/33/77/46/1910.jpg&quot; width="400">
      and Gowrings Chairman
      <img src="http://www.minimarcos.org.uk/altpics/chairman/p6.jpeg&quot; width="400">
      (although I'd prefer one without the Clubman front end).

  2. muthalovin Avatar

    Who are the buyers for the PUCs, anyway? Married couples on their 2nd kid who need to graduate out of their aging coupes, but still want to put on airs of hipness?
    For the record, the new Mini Countryman is bigger than my wife's Forester. Yeah.

    1. Hatchtopia Avatar

      Hate to be "that guy," but the most recent Forester is about a foot and a half longer than the Countryman. Other than that, I agree with your premise 🙂
      The Countryman is about 161 inches long, which is still pretty tiny – shorter by a significant amount than my old '90 Geo Prizm even.

    2. Matt Avatar

      Storage capacity for the 2013 Forester is 33.5 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded up, 68.3 cu. ft. with them flat. I would assume that this figure is larger than the previous generation Forester.
      2012 Mini Countryman is 'maximum' 41.3 cu. ft, which I assume means with the rear seats folded. I can't find the figure for just the cargo area.

      1. topdeadcentre Avatar

        "maximum capacity" 41.3 cu ft. … I wonder if they're including the footwells, the glovebox or any other storage compartments, folding down the front passenger seat if possible (Volvos do this, it's a neat trick for certain long items).
        There are other, more absolute dimensions that I'd trust.

      2. Maymar Avatar

        Going off the Canadian website, looks like it's 16.5ft^3

    3. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      The only guy I know who has one is married, middle-aged, and has recently had his kids move out. He traded a Civic hybrid in on it; I believe his wife has a Rogue. He chose a Mini after falling for his cow-orker's Cooper S; he simply chose the wrong 'Mini'.

  3. LTDScott Avatar

    I'm not sure I really understand the question. But if you want a smaller car that takes up less room and gets decent mileage, why not tart it up and make it a nicer place to be in? Not everyone wants a stripped down bare bones practical-mobile.
    Would I be willing to pay for this? No, but then again I did just buy a used almost fully loaded Mazdaspeed 3, and I like all the bells and whistles it has. I used to think rain-sensing automatic wipers were silly and unnecessary, until I owned a car with them.

    1. B72 Avatar

      I'm with you on this. New Mini was always a luxury car first, and a sporty car second (notice I didn't say sports car). In fact Mini was a pioneer in successfully selling premium small cars here in the US . Here they are selling something that is true to those "premium" roots in a slightly different package.
      There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't want one.

    2. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
      C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      You've hit upon the reason I prefer used higher end luxury automobiles.
      I thought a heated steering wheel was absurd…until the first cold day I used it.
      Same goes for forced air ventilated seats. Incredibly nice to have during Texas summer…and spring…and autumn.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Proceed with caution. That line of reasoning got me a thirty-year-old British hatchback with wood trim and a talking digital dash.

        1. CherokeeOwner Avatar

          I see your problem. It starts with "B" and ends with "ritish."

        2. Rover1 Avatar

          I see your problem in…..'line of reasoning'….. I suffer from the same delusions with my fleet of British, French, Italian and German cars. 😉

        3. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
          C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

          Oh, I understand.
          I was a classic Cadillac guy, then I had the HT4100 equipped '85 Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance, and that soured me on them for a while.
          A W126, then W124, had me craving US 'luxury' again, so I have an '05 STS, now.
          However…I surf CL fairly regularly for Lagondas, 1966 Imperials, and other land-yachts.
          Oh, and 2006-2009 Jaaaaaag XJ Super V8's, too.

  4. OA5599 Avatar

    If the world looked to me for car buying direction, a lot of popular car models would whither and die. But I'm not about to tell anybody not to buy the car they want. The bean counters price these cars at a price that works for the car companies, and if enough buyers take the bait to stay in production, who am I to argue?

    1. P161911 Avatar

      When it came time for me to buy a Daddy Car I knew I wanted something basic and reliable. After a nightmare with a BMW Z3/M Roadster conversion I wanted something American. I have a natural aversion to FWD and Asian cars in general. Because of the BMW debacle a warranty was somewhat of a must. I went for the cheapest RWD 6-passenger vehicle I could find. I got a Chevy Silverado WT extended cab, V-6, 2WD. Under $20k with rebates and a GM family discount and includes a 10 year/ 100k powertrain warranty. Normally I would have looked for used, but the sour taste from the BMW was just too fresh and used pick-ups with under 50k miles started at about $20k.
      Does a rear facing car seat even fit in these little things?!?

  5. DemonXanth Avatar

    If you want to pay a lot for a front wheel drive BMW with a British name, sure.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      For those who'd rather pay a lot for a rear wheel drive BMW with a British name, there's the Bristol 400.
      <img src="http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3014/5747130612_007ce54ccb_z.jpg&quot; width="450">

  6. onrails Avatar

    Anytime a car company – ANY car company – starts deciding that they want to become all things to all people, the product suffers. It's especially painful to watch with MINI and BMW because the true essence of what the cars are (or at least were) gets diluted by the pretenders. The best cars I've been in have been the vision of a small amount of people. Enthusiasts loved them, even with what would be considered sub-par niceties like cup-holders that don't hold a Big Gulp (Mon dieu!) or no armrest (Sacre bleu!) or even the injustice of summer only tires (oh the humanity!).
    If you want an appliance, stop pretending and get an appliance. Leave the compromises for the people that want and even appreciate them and stop screwing it up for the rest of us.

  7. Vavon Avatar

    When I look at a modern Mini Countryman all I see is a ridiculous luxury interpretation of this:
    <img src="http://images.forum-auto.com/mesimages/158060/Renault4GTL_XL-61-35_3.jpg&quot; width="600/"> Mini utility cars, BRAH! Premium tag on, BLAH! I don' buy into that "Premium" crap!
    If I had a kids, I wouldn't mind having a little Citroën C3 Picasso like this (minus the red windows).
    <img src="http://www.salon-auto.eu/mondial-auto-2008/wp-content/citroen-c3-picasso-2.jpg&quot; width="600/">

    1. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Better get goggles for the whole family then!

    2. Rover1 Avatar

      It's so the owners can take a rose-tinted view of the world, necessary with ownership of a Citroen.

  8. Devin Avatar

    You know the end of Live and Let Die, when Kananga gets that shark bullet in his mouth and inflates like a balloon?
    That's what these things remind me of. So blah.

  9. PotbellyJoe Avatar

    As someone who strongly desires the return of the small to midsize wagon market, any and all 'cross overs' can die a rusty death.
    Come to America, little wagon…
    <img src="http://media.caranddriver.com/images/10q3/365112/2012-ford-focus-wagon-european-spec-photo-366818-s-1280×782.jpg&quot; width=500>

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      This is probably the number-one new car I'd consider if I was in the market. SE, stick shift, whatever options happen to be on the right example. not too picky. I like the hatch well enough, but the roof isn't long enough.
      Hell, I might even be able to coax my grandfather out of his '00 Outback and into one of these, albeit with an automatic.

  10. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
    mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b9/2011-2012_Mercedes-Benz_R-Class_–_05-01-2012.JPG/400px-2011-2012_Mercedes-Benz_R-Class_–_05-01-2012.JPG"&gt; These will do well, I have no idea why though. I mean why not get a Mazda5 instead? But you shouldn't believe me, I thought these would have done splendidly. It just makes no sense to me the way that companies strike-out or get a home run seeminly randomly to me in getting people to believe one thing is trendy and worth the price really. <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ce/Chrysler_016.jpg/400px-Chrysler_016.jpg"&gt;

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      When the R class arrived, I was so excited about seeing Volvo's reply in five years time. Instead: Nothing. Just. Nothing.

  11. j84 Avatar

    The swing bridge from the Valencia Street Circuit is the most interesting piece of engineering in this picture.

  12. rennsport964 Avatar

    I don't see anything inherently wrong with an expensive smallish ute, per se. You see, I don't really want or need to drive a well-appointed large car – I want to drive a well-appointed small car. American manufacturers, tend to equate small cars with crapcan, although they're starting to wise up here. Where MINI (with iterations like the Countryman) and FIAT (with the 500L) falls flat is in the styling department. They could have designed a slightly larger car without resorting to extreme levels of exaggeration.
    For various reasons, I need a small car with AWD and a manual and I have no tolerance for Subarus. This leaves the Golf R, the Countryman All4, or the Carrera 4S. Sad.

    1. Synchromesh Avatar

      Except the Carrera which is in a different league, everything you described is pure and utter junk. German junk but junk nonetheless.

    2. Devin Avatar

      I think you've hit it, the styling is like taking a small car and inflating it to an absurd degree (See also: Kanaga, Live and Let Die).
      If there was something the size of a Countryman, but styled in a way that it wasn't trying to look like a bloated version of its smaller brother, I'd be much more open to it.

    3. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Don't forget about the Suzuki SX4, you can still find them new!

    4. Rover1 Avatar

      And isn't that the rationale behind the BMW 3 Series before it decided that it really wanted to be a 5 Series (in size)?

  13. Sjalabais Avatar

    My wife says I have to work harder on not judging people based on their cars. She's probably right, and I get the ugliest when I see a blown up Mini or that small Audi.
    Obviously, I understand that there is a marked for these cars and due to coming brand/fleet regulations on pollution they make sense in that way, too.
    So…the point is: I have never been good at tackling flashy luxury. Driving such a car shows less your interest in cars and more your interest in showing off your wealth. Paying more for less of something is an age-old definition of luxury.
    And ever since Apple got away with "this message was send with my iPhone" I feel really out of touch with this world, and how status and prestige are created.

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      I sometimes conclude a poorly spelled email with "Sent from my Rotary Payphone"

  14. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

    As a well paid high tech worker with a nuclear family, I'm probably near the target demographic for these things, but they leave me cold, except when I see an OG Mini Countryman and then the current "Mini" excrescence gets me mad..
    If i"m going to buy small and utility it will be a Mazda5 or a Subaru wagon, not a bloated fashion accessory.

  15. topdeadcentre Avatar

    Actually, I don't mind them. The styling on the Countryman doesn't suck all that much (and it's pretty distinct from the smaller Mini's, even if there's a similarity across the Mini line), and despite the love for the original tin-can Mini, any modern safety requirements were going to change it utterly.
    And if we can get rich chavs into smaller CUV's and SUV's, there'll be more gasoline left over for muscle cars. It's a win-win!
    With the exception of the super-luxury and exotic sports market, the reality is that automakers need to sell to many segments of the market if they're going to survive. That's why the Cayenne SUV from Porsche, the crossovers from BMW, and a minivan from Benz.
    I've tried the Mini Cooper, and the original size cars are too small for my cargo requirements. If I want a Mini, I'd have to buy the Countryman just to be able to haul enough crap.

  16. topdeadcentre Avatar

    Can we please, please, please change "Brah! or Blah!" to something that doesn't contain the word "BRAH", which is rather loathsome.
    "Hurray! or No Way?"
    "Yeah! or Bleah?"
    "Write the check! or Total Dreck?"
    "Superb! or Kick to the Curb?"

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Embedding doesn't work from my cell, so: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5fQyGvIX5tI
      You get the corner office.

    2. Felis_Concolor Avatar

      How about Yeah, Nay or Meh?

  17. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    I'm pretty sure the most space your kids ever take up is when they're between birth and whatever age you can just put them in booster seats. Rear-facing car seats, diaper bags and strollers are the bane of "small family car" existence. Our WRX wagon barely worked with 1 kid, and was completely out of the question for 2.
    What's curious to me about what's pictured above is that it most certainly doesn't have room to be a prime family hauler, so it's basically a mid-to-large sedan equivalent (arguably more useful in that you can fold seats down and hold something big).
    To be quite honest, upwards of 90% of all new cars on the road are total blah anyway, so whether it's a Countryman, 528i or Avalon I really don't care. In the same vein, I like the Juke just for being a little crazy and ugly.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      High five on this one. And you probably get a nice Volvo 140/240 for the price of some fancy Mini alloys.

    2. muthalovin Avatar

      This. I could not imagine having twins straight away. The carseat is up to 2 years (it used to be 20lbs or 2 years, whichever came first), and trying to fit 2 in the Forester would have been quite a feat.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        I struggle with two seats in a Primera. Works, but I constantly dream of a Previa, going back to Volvo, buying a Soviet toy, getting a …

  18. jeremy![™] Avatar

    unliced bread is pretty awesome when its still warm and you can take a big, man sized bite out if it.
    mmmmm bread.

    1. Vavon Avatar

      YES! I too prefer my bread without lice!

      1. jeremy![™] Avatar
      2. Devin Avatar

        But you're missing out on valuable protein!

  19. IronBallsMcG Avatar

    My wife's next car will be a Countryman S All4.
    Why? Because that's what she wants; which happens to be the same reason she bought a Fit a couple years ago.
    There's probably more than a few customers like her. Start with kids young, reach 40 and two decent incomes in the house, kids are mainly gone, and now she can say "I like that, I want it." The styling is distinctive and appealing to at least some and yet there is more than a bit of practicality.
    I doesn't need to be the -est of anything, just the one she wants, and by the way, I encourage that.

  20. Felis_Concolor Avatar

    The happy urban luxury apartment dweller enjoys wearing a set of $2K ear cans which knock the stuffing out of that $35K line array the misguided audioholic down the street blew his salary on. An overstuffed recliner with activation levers and concealed hides for books and remotes may appeal to many, but a leather-finished Metro pop-up will perform the same basic task while consuming 66% less space. And just as a well-optioned T-Amp from Trends Audio can shame that $3,000 Onkyo BSP when it comes to providing the clean sound reproduction most of us love, so too do these well appointed and upscaled compacts and subcompacts counter the worn out argument that luxury equals large.
    I find it far less ridiculous than claims that people who drive smaller automobiles don't deserve access to the same sort of luxuries formerly reserved for large vehicles.

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      I'm all for smaller luxury vehicles. (Okay, so the smallest car I've owned was a Volvo 850 wagon, but you get the point.) I just wish they could make 'em, y'know, well-styled. The Countryman's not as bad as some, to me, but for my money, I'd have a Clubman… or something else entirely.

  21. TurboBrick Avatar

    It's just another fashion accessory to me. Mini keeps slinging these out because they have no other card to play. They can't restyle the car because it's not a Mini then, and you can't keep selling the same thing for years and years anymore.

  22. Lex Avatar

    Would you call that a "utility" car? It's really just a small, four dour hatch back. And fine for what it is, though that doesn't mean i'd buy one even though my lifestyle is probably in the target demographic and i like small cars with some utility. (Hence i have an e30 rather than a Miata, and that decision was all utility.)
    Sure, they're comically large if you hear "Mini" and picture an original … then again, they included heat in the New Beetles and that seems kind of sacrilegious to someone who grew up riding in old VWs. But they're not really large in comparison to most cars on the road today and that's good in my opinion. I also agree with posters above who point out that small, well-appointed cars are good to have around in general.
    Finally, let me bemoan (again) the lack of selection in true wagons anymore. The Betterhalf does not like old cars and i'm not a fan of Subarus, but we need something with an actual backseat and enough room for two sixty pound dogs in the back. I own German cars, a 10 year old Audi or BMW scares the money out of my wallet; Volvos are mostly automatics; so we're left with VW, which scares me only slightly less than Audi and BMW. I know it's a tangent, but this is Hooniverse where i believe that my love for wagons and constant complaining about few companies willing to take my money for one will be well received.

    1. topdeadcentre Avatar

      The turbo Volvo XC70 may only be available with an automatic, but it's not a bad transmission, and it gets the job done.

  23. Maymar Avatar

    Back in the summer, I managed to get in on a Mini test-drive event. I was just signing up for the standard Cooper/S, but they were also showing off the Countryman. I wasn't that excited about it, but took it out anyhow – it's actually not terrible to drive. Unlike a lot of crossovers, it doesn't feel like it's falling all over itself if you ask it to do anything other than 40mph in a straight line. Of course, they had us drive it against the Tiguan (way too soft) and the Juke (which was fun it its own way).
    Anyhow, the wife and I are discussing having kids in a couple years, making practicality something of a consideration. I'd be perfectly content with a Mazda5, but my other half isn't so excited about getting a van. Now, a Mini (even if it's the Maxi) is closer to a compromise that makes us both happy. Hopefully the 500L also gets the seal of approval, just because I wouldn't mind saving several hypothetical grand.

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