BY NOW, the shape and ambition of MINI under BMW leadership have been well-established.
It was never going to be a small project, and has grown its stature since the turn of the century, when BMW acquired it.
Over time, we’ve grown accustomed to its unexpected form and the large dial in the centre of the dash, as well the attempts to retain the go-kart feel when you push it to perform.
Always desirous to be a larger car, it has journeyed down a road of expansion. Today’s MINI is less about the driving experience, and more about the creature comforts, being relevant to society, and selling more cars.
The Countryman has been able to deliver on most fronts with its larger form factor. How big should a MINI SUV be before it starts losing its cool, trendy, engaging looks?
The updated version of the Countryman boasts more room — 5 full-size seats, though they are still a bit snug if you’re not of a mini frame yourself — conveniences like automatic boot opening, enhanced connectivity, and safety features that are now almost de rigueur.
This is a MINI that will appeal to those who like performance, reliability and quirkiness in their lives. For the young family that’s trying to transition from single bliss to family needs, and still able to put down $202,888 for a set of wheels.
Looking racy in sage green metallic, which changes colour under different lighting conditions, the Cooper S Countryman reviewed here projects a look of mixed emotions.
Roof rails hint at practicality for those who live adventurous outdoor lives. Metal finishes on the bumpers offer contrast against the piano black trims. The tail lights with the Union Jack motif hint at the heritage of the brand. The 19″ light alloy wheels offer a bit more height to the crossover.
The rounded mirror housing and headlamps set you up for an interior filled with similar softer edges — from the dials to the air vents and the touchscreen display. The starter switch, in red, and the switches beside it break from the round design. And the shifter sits upright, at attention, easily grasped when needed.
The stitching on the Chester Malt Brown leather upholstery adds a diamond design to the mix.
But that mix of design elements still come together quite neatly.
MINI Connected operates behind the scenes to keep you in touch with your digital devices. Syncing with your smartphone — there’s wireless charging in the armrest — it has Apple CarPlay, remote services and you can control features on the car — ventilation, checking on its status — when you are away from your MINI.
The novelty of this wears off fairly quickly, though, if you sync it with your calendar, it’ll conveniently plot the best route for you.
On the move, this Countryman enjoys the longer and winding road. In city travel, it’s efficient, but give it a chance to open up and it is quick to take the bait. The 4-cylinder TwinPower turbocharged engine is not lightning quick — 0-100kmh in 7.4 seconds — but does it in a fashion that suggests speed through the quick gear changes of the 7-speed Steptronic double clutch sport transmission.
In sport mode, the engine makes its presence heard, though not in a screaming way. The grip and handling are what you’d expect from a MINI, assured and composed, even if it’s not exhilarating.
At higher speeds, a bit of wind noise intrudes into the cabin, a slight sibilance you can drown out with the audio system.
As MINI continues to navigate between its core values and what’s needed in the market, it will have to dig deeper into its ingenuity to continue rolling out cars that are relevant, yet in keeping with the brand’s expected sense of quirkiness.
MINI Countryman RATING
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