The purity squads have their tiny knives out for the BMW Mini Countryman, and who can blame them? A 3,200-pound, four-door, all-wheel-drive Mini as big as a Nissan Juke and as potentially as spendy as a BMW 3-series, pushing $40,000? Why, it's ridiculous, it's absurd. You might as well suggest a Ferrari four-wheel-drive station wagon.
Oh dear Lord. When did that happen?
For many Mini brand apostles, insert dismay here. And it's not even a question of whether BMW and its wee Anglo-Saxon thralls in Gaydon, England, can engineer an entertaining small car with all-wheel drive. Clearly, it's within their compass to do so, and with the Countryman, they have. Here is as lively, vital and tossable a sedan as ever resembled an orthotic shoe.
Nor should we doubt that the brand's troupe of design-school savants—you will know them by their complicated German eyeglasses—can style a cool and charismatic interior. Again, they have. The Countryman's spacious rear cabin is masterfully packaged, with two slide-and-recline bucket seats separated by a novel accessory rail that runs the length of the cabin. Owners can personalize the cabin by situating detachable accessories such cupholders, iPod docks, eyeglass cases and elbow rests where they like them along the rail. Brilliant. Only downside: Big dogs can't climb in the back seat. A bench-seat option is coming.