WHEN you start small, you can but only get bigger.
And so it is with the MINI, which over the years under BMW’s charge, has seen its size benefit from a healthy German diet.
The MINI has bulged and expanded with new models that keep pushing the limits of its name.
To its credit, despite its growth, it’s hung on doggedly to the go-kart feel of driving with the belief that your centre of gravity is at the inner core of the planet.
With the Countryman, you’ve got a fairly large car now. The new model is 7.5cm longer in the wheelbase and 3cm wider than its predecessor. While that minimises the MINI reference, it does mean you have more space to work with.
Five adults can sit comfortably on the quilted seats, and while it might be a bit tight in the rear, there’s decent shoulder room in the front.
The rear seats can be folded down giving you more space in the boot, which can be opened by kicking under the rear of the car. It’s a bit of a kick and miss at times, but when it works, it’s great if you’ve got your hands full. There’s a picnic bench that folds out of the luggage compartment for a cosy two-seater.
A lot of the Countryman’s static appeal will be in its connected internal state. MINI Connected lets you continue your love affair with your smartphone in the car. The central touchscreen display still hogs the attention, but is probably earning its place as it offers more features. Information on show is useful, along with the Bluetooth hands-free telephone features.
Just be prepared for a lag when trying to operate the music on your device via the multi-function steering wheel. The sound system is a bit fuller, maybe because of the larger cabin, but the lag could prove annoying over time.
Another new connectivity feature, available as standard on the Cooper S, is the MINI Find Mate, a tracking device you can attach to your objects so that they can be hunted down in the event they go missing; useful in an aging society where things go missing quite often. You may want to keep a device on your grandparents in case they wander off.
The dashboard offers a variety of interesting design elements. Vertical stripes, round knobs, flick switches, but they all work in tandem and give the driver that sense of being in a busy, happening environment.
Between the Countryman and the Cooper S versions (both driven here) there are enough differences but also similarities to be had.
Both models are responsive and deliver a gripping ride. The Countryman goes from standstill to 100kmh in under 10 seconds, but it doesn’t seem to be struggling to achieve that.
The Cooper S delivers it in 7.5 seconds. It’s zippier, of course, but given the closeness to the ground of both models, you feel things are pacier.
The Cooper S also has the benefit of a more chatty exhaust system which splutters and burbles as you hold your gears.
While the Cooper S is clearly endowed with a higher trim level the entry level Countryman is no slouch, and quite able to hold its own.
RATING: (Cooper // Cooper S)*
Ride: 7/10 // 8/10
Handling: 7/10 // 8/10
Power: 7/10 // 8/`10
Overall: 7.5/10 // 8/10
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TECH SPECS (Cooper // Cooper S)
Engine (cylinders/valves): In-line 3/4 // 4/4
Capacity (cc): 1,499 // 1,998
Transmission (auto): 6-speed // 8-speed
Efficiency (L/100km): 6.0 // 6.5
CO2 (g/km): 138 // 149
0-100kmh (seconds): 9.6 // 7.4
Top Speed (kmh): 200 // 225
Retail price: **$162,000 // $183,000
**Please reconfirm price with dealer.
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