Well, that’s not quite what we were led to expect.

The pictures of the new Mini Countryman show a pretty logical five-door extension of the established Mini. A polished mainstream model and an aggressive Cooper S hot hatch.

Neither car is anything like either of the taster concepts (The Crossover and Beachcomber) rolled out last year.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine just why Mini showed the extravagant Beachcomber when the real thing is so much less of an SUV.

What mystifies me is that I was told, face-to-face, last month that the Cooper S road car had not been signed off by the BMW board. A few weeks later, it seems that the BMW board has had a change of mind.

All of which maneuvering might be evidence that concept cars and the subsequent media coverage does actually influence car company bosses.

With sales not starting until the autumn and the Magna factory in Graz only now limbering up to begin production, BMW must have had enough time to decided to build a premium supermini, rather than a 4m-long Tonka toy.

The Countryman will also test the theory that car buyers are willing to ‘downsize’ and pay Golf money for a smaller, albeit premium, package.

I also wonder where this will leave the Mini Clubman. Although the Clubman does pretty well in the US market (taking 20 percent of Mini sales), the Countryman is barely longer, but has a much more efficient interior package.

The higher roofline, five proper doors and a decent boot will probably throttle demand for the Clubman, which must be costly to produce, not only because of the single side door but the complex double rear doors.

Of course, recent patent drawings suggest the Clubman format could re-appear in a future version of the Countryman.

One BMW source told me last month that the Clubman’s ‘club door’ would have been more popular ‘if only we had explained it better’. I think that the near-certain success of the Countryman makes this year an ideal point to close the ‘club door’ for the last time.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,