Sporty, rather than sophisticated, is the word most commonly associated with a Mini but the new Countryman should change that.
The Mini Countryman is a crossover from the iconic British brand model and while the latest version looks very similar to its predecessor, it is a completely new car. The second-generation Countryman has the same bulging headlamps and unconventional roofline but it is bigger and its wheelbase stretched. The 4.3-metre mini-Mini SUV is 199 mm longer and 33 mm wider, with its wheelbase extended 75 mm to 2,670 mm.
All these have expanded cabin and boot space sufficiently to be immediately noticeable. Five adults can be comfortably ensconced in the spacious Countryman, with the three behind having no shortage of legroom.
The rear door openings have also been enlarged and the split rear seatbacks can be tilted for passenger comfort or additional storage space.
But everyone enjoys the same raised seating that offers not only more convenient ingress and egress, but also good forward visibility for the driver.
Head and shoulder room for both front occupants is enhanced and their seats are electric, with a memory function on the driver’s side.
The dashboard’s distinctive large central instrument and the tachometer on the steering column are unchanged but the quality of materials used look and feel better. Also new is the fully electric power steering, from the previous electro-hydraulic system.
The steering feels lighter, obviously for ease of manoeuvring in city traffic, and those who prefer beefier feedback have to change the driving mode from either Green or Mid to Sport.
There are two versions of the Countryman – Cooper and Cooper S. Both have turbocharged petrol engines to drive the front wheels but the Cooper’s is a three-cylinder 1.5-litre affair mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, while the Cooper S’s is a four-cylinder 2.0-litre unit coupled to an eight-speed auto.
Despite having only three cylinders, the Mini Cooper Countryman’s motor bursts with enthusiastic response. The only roughness is aural, and detected only if the windows are down.
In Sport mode, the Cooper brims with confidence. Go into an S-bend fast and you will experience the distinctive dynamic handling characteristics of a Mini despite the Countryman’s size and weight (1,465 kg). But what is different is the substantially refined ride. The bumpiness has disappeared and the cushioning is so good you could be riding in a small BMW. Then again, the Countryman and the BMW X1 share the same basic platform. The Countryman also gets better sound insulation and the suspension set-up of front MacPherson struts and rear multi-links reworked to be more pliant and well, more grown-up.
While the smooth ride and quiet cabin have to be this new Mini’s stand-out attributes, the brand’s stylish design continues to delight.
One new and cool example is the “picnic bench” – a thick strip of cushion attached to the underside of the boot floor that can be flipped out for two people to sit comfortably on the rear bumper when the electric tailgate is up.
It’s a reminder that playful is another word associated with Mini and it’s not something that has changed.
Adapted from The Business Times