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Review: 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman

2017-07-27 12:42

Image: Alan Rosenmeyer

Alan Rosenmeyer

Johannesburg - The badge is familiar, the shape is familiar, so is the silhouette but why is this Mini  so BIG?  

That was my first impressions when the new Mini Countryman arrived for testing. It’s the standard Cooper version which means a 3-cylinder 1.5-litre motor powers this SUV. 

So, here I’m faced with a vehicle that looks, dare I say, different? Almost as if someone has taken one of the world’s favourite "small and zippy" little cars and blown it up until its almost about to burst and punished me by providing a little engine.

Well, time to start eating my hat because first impressions can be very wrong and this was a classic case.

'Form of magic'

Somehow Mini has taken the world’s favourite 4-wheeled go-kart, inflated it almost beyond recognition yet retained its essential DNA. This almost sounds like some form of magic.

Stepping inside the orange/brown unit I had on test, the interior immediately felt familiar and welcoming. Traditional Mini style cues are present such as the giant instrumentation and famous Mini switchgear. The "round" theme throughout, barring the rectangular air vents on the dash - might be a tad out of place but overall its an excellent touch.

READ: Driven in SA - The new Mini Countryman has grown up

The large round screen in the centre provides the full connectivity and infotainment suite, and I mean the FULL suite, as only the BMW group can provide. All easily and simply accessed by touch or the easy to use controller on the centre console. Then the little touch of the screen surround having mood lighting that adjusts according to your driving style - it somehow seemed to glow red most of the time during my test period.

'Right level of fun'

The magic I previously referred to is almost hidden away just below the gearshift that operates the excellent and smooth 6-speed auto transmission. There is an innocuous toggle switch that indicates “Sport” to the left and “Eco” to the right. I almost missed this and, if left undiscovered, would have missed the entire point of the car. Especially when giving a little click to the left, this gives a step to the right - the right level of fun and performance that is, and can only be, Mini.

When performing this "One click", watch the centre screen light up and bear the legend: Sport mode, maximum go kart feel. I almost scoffed when I first saw this, except that it’s true. In typical BMW group style, this change in setting alters the entire persona of the car. From a throaty growl from the exhaust, to a kick-in-your-back as it engages and a tightening of the steering wheel in your hands.  

Suddenly I was transported back to the feeling of the first car I ever drove on a road, the original square-nosed Mini Clubman of the 1970’s. Hauling myself back to reality when noticing the size, comfort, luxury and all the mod-cons conjured those same memories.

Speaking of size, when out of the driver’s seat, I discovered that this is a family sized SUV/ Crossover vehicle.

Legroom in the rear bench can be adjusted to increase boot size if you wish but it's already generous when left in the rearmost position. If you're serious need of luggage space the rear seats can be dropped. The boot has auto-closing at the press of a button and can double as a 'picnic seat'. This is a comfortable cushioned section that folds out of the boot floor to provide you with a soft seat in the tailgate.

The Cooper is powered by the 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder turbo engine that has become familiar in many other Mini versions. Figures of 100kW/230Nm combine to provide all the power and fun that you"ll require but if you have a need for speed, the Cooper S increases power to 141kW/300Nm. As for economy, it’s difficult to consider when you’re having this much fun and I returned the vehicle with the on-board computer reflecting 7.9-litre/100km. I doubt it would require much effort to improve this figure.

The test car was fitted with possibly every option though some great features are its adaptive cruise control, active braking and updated LED headlights. 

This brings me to the crux of the Mini brand. Minis have, since their rebirth under the BMW banner, always been “boutique hatches”.  I think the Countryman is the perfect example of a "Boutique SUV/ Crossover". Your aspirations may be towards a luxury yacht or private jet, but until you reach those lofty heights, driving a Mini Countryman projects the image of one who has already arrived.

This car defies the term value, it’s a “heart -over-head” purchasing decision. It almost defies logic to pay this price for this car, yet there are many that do and driving it, it's easy to see why. You know that you are getting great performance, handling and luxury if you want it, at a price but somehow this is not the issue. 

If it is important, the list price of the Countryman Cooper Auto is R442 052, the test car was R585 000. This seems to be patently insane to pay this money for a Mini, but to quote Billy Joel: "You may be right, I may be crazy."

This includes the standard 5 year or 100 000km maintenance plan.      

View more MotoringMatters here. 

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