Mini Crossover Concept is a Jumbo Shrimp

Last Updated Sep 10, 2008 2:16 PM EDT

mini_crossover_300.bmpBMW's Mini brand unveiled a vaguely SUV-like, all-wheel-drive, Mini Crossover Concept vehicle, illustrating once again that for automotive brands, the grass is always greener.

The rest of the U.S. market is shedding SUVs and getting smaller and more fuel efficient. With the Mini Crossover Concept, the small and fuel efficient Mini is getting bigger, less fuel-efficient, and adopting more SUV-like styling.

The all-wheel-drive Mini Crossover Concept probably won't be a whole lot less fuel-efficient than the front-drive, 32-mpg base Mini Cooper, but any all-wheel-drive model is bound to get fewer mpg's than any two-wheel-drive version.

Until now, the Mini Clubman has been the biggest Mini â€" now, there's an oxymoron. The Mini Crossover Concept is still pretty small, but it's the first Mini that's more than four meters long overall, and Mini's first four-door model -- five, counting the rear hatch.

Like the Mini Clubman, the left side and right side of the Crossover Concept are not mirror images of each other. On the passenger side, the Crossover Concept has two doors that look to be the same size. On the driver's side, the Crossover Concept has a long door in front, and a shorter door behind that.

The Mini Clubman is a three-door, plus a rear hatch. On the passenger side, it has a longer door in front, and a shorter, rear-hinged door behind that. On the driver's side, the Mini Clubman has only one door.

Even though its tiny size is part of the appeal, Mini responded to complaints that its first generation was too small, by coming out with the present, slightly larger generation of Mini Cooper, and by adding the Clubman, and now the Crossover Concept.

The grass is always greener, in the sense that Volvo, the "safety" brand, always wants to be sportier; Mercedes-Benz, the "prestige" brand, would like to be more approachable; BMW, the "sporty" brand, would like some additional prestige. And so it goes.

Another auto industry truism is that it takes so long to produce a new model, decisions made a couple of years ago can look a little silly by the time the product actually lands in a given market. Mini almost certainly decided to do the Crossover Concept before U.S. gas prices really took off. The Mini guys can and probably will argue that with sky-high gas prices, the Mini Crossover Concept is a better idea than ever, because people trading in SUVs will give it a look.