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Mini goes maxi with Countryman

2010-11-29 12:06

PLUS COUNTRYMAN EQUALS FOUR: The bigger Mini is the fourth member of the Mini family.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mini
Engine 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with fully variable valve management; 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with twin-scroll turbocharger, dire
Power 90kW at 6000 r/min; 135kW at 5500 r/min
Torque 160Nm at 4250 r/min; 240Nm from 1600 – 5000 r/min (260 Nm with overboost)
Transmission five-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Zero To Hundred 10.5 seconds; 7.6 seconds
Top Speed 190 km/h; 215 km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.5 litres/100 km; 6.6 litres/100 km
Boot Size 350 - 1170 litres
Steering electric power steering
ABS with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), cornering brake control (CBC), dynamic stability control (DSC) with brake assist and hill assist
Tyres run flats standard

Hailey Philander

Has Mini abandoned the bright city lights in favour of something more Country chic and gained a few kilos in the process? We hop in for a ride in the most un-Mini-like Mini yet.

Mini’s resurgence over the past 10 years is a testament to how to do retro without trying too hard. Since the reintroduction of the classic Brit badge a few years ago with the backing of Germany’s powerful BMW the little Mini has become the vehicular accessory for a whole range of people.

Cute as it is, the Mini hatchback has always had its practical challenges. Sure, it’s nimble around town and great fun to drive, but using the boot for anything larger than a handbag is always an entertaining prospect. That has not, however, prevented me from squeezing a whole chunk of kit into it while out shopping with a friend for furnishings for his new home – albeit by employing some creative packing.

Given these and similar "packing tests", the move towards a larger Mini was bound to happen. It started with the wagon-like Clubman and its roomier accommodation and practical swing doors but the Countryman should be even more useful.


The pudgy Countryman is the latest addition to the Mini family and is set to take the badge into territories unknown. The biggest Mini yet is considered by BMW to be a proper crossover, able to take you from the city streets to the great outdoors, pronto.

The Countryman line-up mimics that of the rest of the Mini range with Cooper and Cooper S models comprising the line-up. This model seems the perfect foil for finally introducing a diesel model to the local Mini range and the South African team has confirmed this is being considered, although a decision will be made in early 2011.

Until then, the regular petrol engines will have to do. Yes, the engines are identical to those found in the hatchback, although engines across the range have been tweaked to produce marginally more power while consuming less fuel. The Cooper’s power is up from 88 to 90kW, while the Cooper S bags an extra 7kW to now pump out 135kW. Torque remains unchanged.

MINI, BUT...: Clever proportions help Countryman appear smaller.

For the money, we wouldn’t bother with the Cooper models – as the manual version was decidedly donkey-like on the launch drives mix of good and bad tar and gravel, we’d hate to think what the auto would be like – and make a beeline straight for the fun-loving Cooper S versions.

Although the dynamic appeal is on par with what you’d expect from anything bearing the Mini badge, a combination of this car’s bigger body and the oxygen-starved air at the launch route’s altitude (from the colourful Johannesburg CBD to the Cradle of Mankind's surrounds in North West Province) may have been its undoing, even with the two extra kiloWatts. Driving the Cooper S model is infinitely more rewarding. Power is available when you need it and the play factor is permanently poised for engagement, even on decent stretches of gravel with wheels eagerly grappling at any surface offering any kind of traction.  

The Countryman has optional 4x4 for the range-topping Cooper S models. An all-wheel drive system based on BMW’s fully variable xDrive, it electronically apportions drive from a standard 50:50 split up to, in extreme situations, up to 100% to either front or rear axles. This car is, however, seen as the lifestyle addition to the Mini range and is not meant for any serious off-road pursuits. Basically, it won’t tread a pretty 19" wheel where your favourite pair of Louboutin heels or Gucci loafers would not go.

Ride comfort on the MacPherson spring strut with forged track control arms and a multi-link rear suspension is exceptional. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is standard on all Countryman models.

ROOMY: The Countryman's cabin looks familiar, but you're less likely to jab your mate in the ribs.


The Countryman’s clever design has a lot to do with the almost automatic transposing of the Mini’s most enjoyable properties (and there are plenty). The car’s proportions are probably the most noteworthy.

See, despite it being just over four metres long, the Countryman doesn’t look too much bigger than the petite hatchback, and while the front occupants have noticeably more space up front, the facia arrangement still looks thoroughly Mini.

The first time I even noticed the seating position, aided by the 165mm+ ground clearance was when we were creeping along in traffic and I noticed I was looking slightly down at the other cars, and not up as I regularly would in a Mini.

The boot space is also noticeably larger, with its capacity swelling from 350 to 1170 litres with the rear seats folded forward.  Countrymans(men?) shipped to South Africa will all be equipped with a three-seater rear bench as standard, although the two individual seats standard on many other markets can be specified.


As expected, this Mini remains highly customisable but a cool new option (especially if you own an iPhone) is Mini Connected. Making its South African introduction on the Countryman, the communication interface allows for integration with your smartphone and allows for news, Twitter and web radio functions.

Countryman prices are a lot steeper but it’s completely likely that those who love their Minis will not be too distressed by this knowledge. It’s still a Mini and does everything you’d expect a Mini to do – it’s fun, quirky and solid – but everything is just a little bigger. Which probably explains why this Mini retains its cute factor, despite its fuller cheeks?

ROOM FOR MORE: The Mini family is rapidly expanding with three new models already pencilled in for 2011. A JCW model may not be too far off, either.

But if Countryman's not quite your thing, you may be pleased to know the Mini range is growing. The Mini WRC shown in Paris hits the dirt starting next year and customer racing teams, including a South African one, will be campaigning the newcomer from 2011.

Also look out for the Mini Coupe at the 2011 Johannesburg International Motor Show; the Roadster which will also be built at the Cowley plant outside Oxford will follow soon thereafter.

Countryman Cooper five-speed manual – R287 500
Countryman Cooper six-speed automatic – R303 600
Countryman Cooper S five-speed manual – R345 000
Countryman Cooper S six-speed automatic – R361 100
Countryman Cooper S five-speed manual All4 – R393 000
Countryman Cooper S six-speed automatic All4 – R409 100

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