The MINI Cooper has long been the metrosexual of the motoring world. Indeed, if this swish little hatchback were human it would no doubt layer itself in Paul Smith; hangout at natty nightclubs and gorge itself on Sushi whenever the opportunity presented itself. Now I’ll agree that this image is certainly most fitting for the legions of hip urban trendsetters to whom the brand mostly appeals but what if your needs are a little more utilitarian? You know, more centered on being sensible than shamelessly suave?
Well in the past this conundrum meant shelling out for the slightly less impractical Clubman with its oddly placed suicide door but now there’s a new kid in town and it’s pumping a whole lot more maxi into the MINI formula most of us know and love. Measuring four meters in length, the all-new Countryman is the most practical MINI ever produced thanks to the addition of four individual doors and a rear hatch that opens up high and wide to devour any luggage that comes its way. Endowed with 350-litres of boot space (1170-litres with the back seats folded flat) what this means is that you no longer have to be a childless singleton to enjoy the fun-filled driving experience that all MINI products have become synonymous with over the last couple of years.
Indeed, whether you plumb for the 90kW Cooper or 135kW Cooper S (a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox is available in both models), the Countryman is a fun and engaging piece of metal to punt along the blacktop. For not only is the seating position spot on but its tidy chassis and sporty suspension setup ensure that handling is scalpel sharp no matter how hard you’re pressing on. Though not quite as direct as its lesser siblings, that electromechanical power steering is equally pleasing as it telegraphs exactly what the two front wheels are up to. The punters may slag it off but I can tell you that the Countryman certainly lives up to the brand’s promise of go-kart-like drivability.
Unfortunately this glut of sporty DNA combined with the liberal use of run-flat tyre technology means that overall ride quality is far from cushy. Borderline when shod with the standard 17-inchers, the 18-inch setup on the Cooper S I piloted at launch made it romp around like a rodeo bull when I drove it down less-than-average surfaces.
Now besides the additional doors and extra interior space, this burly newcomer also comes armed with another MINI first – all-wheel drive. Dubbed “All4” (count on these guys to funk up the mundane) and only available as a R48 000 option on the Cooper S model, it’s been included to help give the Countryman some pseudo off-road credentials.
Of course even though you’d never want to steer this machine down anything other than the occasional dirt road, I found that this intelligent all-wheel-drive system does a lot to improve traction across loose surfaces. Maintaining a 50:50 front to rear torque split in everyday driving scenarios, All4 is controlled by an electromagnetic centre differential that can send as much as 100% of the drive to the rear wheels should it sense the need.
On the inside it’s standard MINI fair with a barrel-sized centre binnacle housing both the car’s speedometer and a two-line display for the standard MINI Boost CD sound system. Sporting an aux/iPod interface, this system can be upgraded for the R9 500 MINI Visual Boost setup that bolts on satellite navigation (R15 000) and Bluetooth preparation.
Specification levels are generous across the range with even the entry-level Cooper scoring things like air-conditioning, cruise control, six airbags and a sports leather steering wheel as standard. But perhaps the biggest news is the arrival of the optional MINI Connected (R3 250) that allows owners with Apple iPhones to receive RSS news feeds, tune into web radio stations and stay up-to-date with what’s happening on Twitter. I didn’t get to see this action but I expect it to be a hit with South Africa’s gadget freaks.
With prices starting at R287 500 for the basic Cooper and topping out at R409 100 for the top of the range Cooper S All4 Automatic, there’s a Countryman to suit every pocket. The latter may definitely seem like a princely price to pay for a MINI but if you set your sights on the R345 000 Cooper S sans the All4 system that, let’s be honest, you don’t really need, you’ll be scoring all the brand’s style and driving substance with a useful wodge worth of extra space. That alone makes the new Countryman worth a closer look.
MINI Cooper Countryman S at a Glance:
Engine: 1598 cc turbocharged petrol
Power: 135kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 240Nm @ 1600rpm (260Nm on Overboost)
0-100km/h: 7.6-seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 215km/h (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 6.6l/100km (claimed)
Price: R345 000
Powerful and efficient new engines
Improved interior space and access
Still feels and drives like a MINI
Extensive and expensive options list
All4 drivetrain doesn’t come cheap
A rather harsh ride
I just looooooove this car!!!
How about this for thinking outside the “(gas) box.” Mini Cooper should develop a TDI version. Make it street-ready for a veggie oil accepting gas tank. Target the usual customer base (18-35 year old socially concious adults) with goal of attracting Prius users (heavy-up marketing in San Fran) because nowadays you want to look stylish, be green and have performance! Really attract vegetarians…yes go niche…because you could build loyalty with this whole community. Marketing campaigns could have a vegetarian theme (finally a “meat-free car,” etc.). Build an app that gives drivers a “map and guide” for getting unused veggie oil from restuarants in their community. Let’s face it…hybrids use electrical energy…running on veggie oil would be the coolest thing on the market and cleaner/greener than anything, besides possibly hydrogen, which has a long time before adoption.
Ok so I’m no Designer but i’ve gotta hand it to Mini – they made a true 4-door that still looks like a Mini. I agree w/ Brandon though, in that there is a market where they would KILL and this is in the eco area. Make a hybrid version and watch the cash roll in!
Did also see a Mini Countryman driving down Market St the other day … wait for it … with a “classic mini” attached to the roof. Good one Mini.