Mini Countryman grows up…again
With a more focused product line up and clear direction for 2017 and beyond, BMW’s cute baby brother has grown up. We hit the twisty back roads of KZN and see how the second generation Mini Countryman holds up on tar and dirt.
If you’re going to be driving on mixed surfaces it’s usually a case of compromise. Either tarmac drivability suffers or prepare for a trip to the chiropractor. It was with this in mind that Mini tailored the launch of its fresh and larger Countryman to showcase that need not always be the case.
“But it’s a Mini, it’s supposed to be small” I hear you say? Well times have changed, and Mini has grown up. It’s time to accept that the Mini name, is just that, a name. A throwback to when it was acceptable to have a car with 1:18 dimensions driving alongside regular size cars.
Mini Countryman is 20cm longer, 2cm wider, 13mm higher and longer by 7.5cm. This all equates to fantastic interior space, superior seating position (at least in Cooper S) and good ergonomics. Rear boot space is 450 litres and 1309 litres when the seats are folded, an increase of 220 over the previous model.
Speaking of litres, fuel consumption on Cooper is claimed at 5.9l/100 for the 3 cylinder Cooper, and 6.5l/100 for the S.
Usually launch drives are a no more than 200kM long but Mini were confident that a long haul 400Km journey would be handled by the not so little tike. With a boot full of luggage and 2-up we hopped into the Countryman Cooper S for the first 200Km Tarmac “stage”. No sooner did we leave when the convoy of Countryman came upon some very tasty twisty roads. With permission granted from my co driver we winded along the roads and managed to really squeeze the chassis. On turn in the nose holds true, while under braking the rear shifts and squats before getting settled. A little unnerving at first and one of the trade-offs for being 13mm higher than before.
When pushing on the 8 speed Steptronic gearbox works best in manual mode, while in auto it tends to select gears for you. Engage Sport M however and the paddle shift (available only on Cooper S) is responsive, positive and when downshifting, some raspy over-run burbles can be heard in 2nd and 1st gear. Cooper is also available in 6 speed manual.
Trust the chassis and yaw and the arc can be controlled by the brakes while the 141kW, 280nM engine revs the power out to a disappointingly low 6000rpm. Not to say the car doesn’t have power, but it’s like a good party that ends way too soon.
Mini’s new mantra is “Add Stories”. So Mini SA decided to let us drive the Mini Countryman for over 50km on slippery and bumpy gravel roads. And believe it or not, Mini Countryman came out trumps. With substantially less power than the Cooper S, (100kW and 220nm) the standard Cooper is an entirely different car dynamically. Softer suspension and a much more pliant ride this is the choice to make when performance is very far down your list of must haves.
But back to the gravel. Hard to believe but the very small compromise the car makes in ride height means when you do encounter a dirt road on your journeys, you need not turn the other way. A true Crossover? This car is it. For a few corners we disabled the DSC and nervously laughed our way through what felt like a slow speed rally stage. Mini is still fun!
While there are many other sensible alternatives such as the Tuscon and award winning Tiguan, sense and sensibility won’t be the only things on the minds of new Mini owners. It’s a funky stylish alternative to what’s currently on offer.
MINI Cooper Countryman: 3-cylinder petrol engine, capacity: 1 499 cc,
output: 100 kW, max. torque: 220 Nm.
Starts at R422 000
MINI Cooper S Countryman: 4-cylinder petrol engine, capacity: 1 998 cc, output: 141 kW, max. torque: 280 Nm.
Starts at R490 000
MINI Cooper D Countryman: 4-cylinder diesel engine, capacity: 1 995 cc, output: 110 kW, max. torque: 330 Nm. *available in the third quarter of 2017.