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Mini Goes Maxi with the Countryman

It was Austin Powers' groovy-baby vehicle of choice, and it literally stole the movie as the getaway car in "The Italian Job." The Mini Cooper remains the must-have ride for drivers who declaratively eschew gas-chugging SUVs. But now it's come of age -- and has grown a few inches to prove it.

The 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman just rolled into the showroom of Mini of Fairfield County in Stamford. And according to general sales manager Mike Grassi, it's going to be a big hit with customers for two reasons in particular. "It's got all wheel-drive, which enhances its appeal for customers in this region." And, he adds somewhat conspiratorially, "It seats four adults very comfortably, and that's a very good thing."

The Countryman is not exactly maxi, but it's big for a Mini. It is six inches longer, 4.1 inches wider, 5.1 inches taller and rides on a 1.9-inch longer wheelbase than the Clubman model. But wait, you say. A big Mini? Isn't that oxymoronic? And isn't it an affront to the brand, which has prided itself on great things being wrapped in small packages? If it's any consolation, Porsche lovers were incensed when the iconic manufacturer of luxury sports cars got all suburban on them, with the release of its Cayenne in 2003. (By the way, take a guess which Porsche model now sells more cars than Caymans, Boxters and 911s. That's right. The Cayenne.) Sometimes a little bigger goes a long way.

In addition to the ample leg and headroom for rear seat passengers, both of which are sought after commodities in smaller vehicles, Grassi adds the Countryman is available in countless packages and configurations. For starters you can buy it with or without all-wheel drive, but you can also choose among dozens of interior and exterior options in order to build a customized car that suits your esthetics and driving style.

And speaking of driving, this car's got style. "It's peppy, responsive and lots of fun to drive," says Grassi.

The Mini hasn't lost any of its charm in its transformation. There's just more to love in the Countryman.

Are you a Mini-lover? What car would you drive if money were no object? Tell me how you roll. Drop me an email, at jcurtis@mainstreetconnect.us, or jot down your thoughts here.

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