In the cat and mouse game of automotive spy photography, while it's always important to be first with getting a particular car out in the wild first, sometimes it's almost as important to capture a significant detail as well. That's what happened yesterday when we captured MINI's upcoming 4X4 crossover in BMW's trademark psychedelic camouflage. Although the car has been extensively scooped earlier--in both hot and cold weather test sessions--we were lucky enough to confirm that while the camouflage wants you to think that the MINI crossover will have the Clubman's side-hinged, rear barn doors, since this engineer needed to get something out of the tightly packed rear compartment, we were able to confirm that the car will have a conventional top-hinged hatch. (Just a day ago LeftLaneNews.com reported that the MINI Crossover would have side-hinged doors.) This confirms this highly significant detail of the design, which is expected to premiere in full production trim possibly as early as this September at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
The MINI 4X4 has evolved through a long gestation process since its first reveal in concept form as a concept at the 2008 Paris Auto Show when it was thought that it would be produced for the 2010 model year. Obviously that timetable has been pushed back at least six months given that it's now undergoing its final stage of testing before entering production. It is expected that the MINI Crossover will share its 4X4 underpinnings with BMW’s upcoming X1 crossover but unlike the X1, which will be built in South Carolina, the MINI Crossover will be assembled by Austria’s Magna Steyr. When it goes on sale here in the US next spring, expect a starting price of just under $30,000.
The first thing that apparent when looking at the near-production-spec MINI 4X4 is the thicker body section, from the rocker panels to the window line that while unmistakably MINI, is much more butch than the non-4X4 versions. Clearly BMW's designers wanted to make a statement that the form and function of their first crossover would separate it from its expected rivals in the small, soft-roader segment populated by the like of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, and Jeep's own Patriot, probably the most off-road capable vehicle in the category.
Again, it's the little details that one looks for when closely examining new spy photos. In this case, when the test engineer opened the door, you can clearly see a panel concealing the door trim, indicating that the MINI 4X4 will get new interior trim, a move that is likely to be expanded across the entire MINI lineup in order to keep it fresh as newer competitors enter the marketplace, like Alfa Romeo's MiTo. (This level of concealment is designed to protect important new details from prying eyes, especially at fuel stops when some alert reader might have a high-res camera phone handy when the engineering team needs to top off the tank in plain view of the public.) What's also apparent from this angle is that the design of the C-pillar area has clearly evolved from the original concept version.
It's actually quite rare to get this close to a test vehicle, and while we hate shooting through the windshield--in this case it was of our Challenger RT which will be profiled next week on Automotive Traveler--its possible to make out additional details on the hatch. Notice the decals that attempt to confuse the uninitiated; the line running through the rear window or backlight, and fake barn door handles from the Clubman. They went through all that trouble yet opened the hatch when they could easily see that we were photographing the car. Whatever they needed to get out of the rear compartment must to have been very important or that they thought that we were a couple of local yokels and not someone of consequence. Sorry about that guys.
Finally, here's an additional close-up of the C-pillar and hatch, this time a tight, three-quarter view through the eye of our 300mm lens. The first thing you realize when looking at the MINI 4X4 is that it's no longer mini; it's big but not quite as big as its main competitors. Based on the information from the press kit from the Paris reveal of the concept we know that the MINI 4X4 will stretch to about four meters, 4050 mm to be exact, or about 160 inches long. This will make it the shortest of the vehicles in the compact crossover category, most of which range in length from 169 inches (Honda Element) to 182 inches (Nissan Rogue). For reference, that's six inches wider and taller than the MINI Clubman.