It’s a big, big coun­try

The brand is Mini, the car is maxi but it has its strengths

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

FOR once, it’s not me ask­ing the tough ques­tions about a new Mini.

I love the ba­sic Mini and the hot rod JCW speed ma­chine. There is some­thing about the Club­man wagon that gets me in.

But I won­der if the whole Mini thing has been lost in the un­end­ing search for new cus­tomers and answers for ques­tions peo­ple haven’t asked.

Then the smart half of The Tick team raises her own doubts about the lat­est Coun­try­man cross­over.

“For a brand called Mini, this thing is aw­fully maxi,” Ali says.

“And why do they have the Coun­try­man wagon when they al­ready have the Club­man?

“I know that peo­ple buy a Mini be­cause they are buy­ing into some­thing dif­fer­ent and quirky, but do Mini buy­ers re­ally want a fam­ily SUV?”

The first gen­er­a­tion of the Coun­try­man sold rea­son­ably well in the smart suburbs, where a Mazda CX-5 is the right an­swer but a chic new Mini has much more im­pact.

This time it still looks too big and bulky — I’ve un­kindly called it a puffer fish — but there are some good rea­sons to buy one. The ba­sic pric­ing, from $39,300, is pleas­ing.

The Coun­try­man is a twin un­der the skin with the BMW X1, the small­est of the Ger­man brand’s SUVs. This shar­ing makes eco­nomic sense and also pro­vides the ex­tra cabin space to make the car work prop­erly for a fam­ily.

Bonuses in­clude 100L of ad­di­tional boot space, nearly 60mm of ex­tra el­bow room, front seats that sit about 10mm higher and a 40-20-40 fold­ing rear seat.

So the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Coun­try­man is a gen­uine fiveseater, even if the dark­ness of the cabin and the in-your-face dash­board makes it feel a lit­tle cramped.

There are four Coun­try­man vari­ants. Three have the same front-wheel drive set-up that’s cre­ated controversy on the X1 (the first front-drive BMW) and there is all-paw grip for the All4 ver­sion.

Ex­tra equip­ment in­cludes ac­tive cruise con­trol with a stop-and-go func­tion that fol­lows slow-mov­ing traf­fic au­to­mat­i­cally, rear-view cam­era, 18-inch al­loys, power tail­gate and a Mini pro­jec­tor that flashes a Bat­man-style logo on to the road along­side the car at night.

The safety pack­age is im­proved with auto safety brak­ing, a full suite of airbags, auto high-beam con­trol and the rest of the equip­ment needed for a five-star rat­ing, even if it’s yet to be tested by ANCAP.

ON THE ROAD

The Coun­try­man drives and cor­ners well. The ride is quite firm but the body con­trol is good, even with a lot of peo­ple on board.

I like the me­chan­i­cal pack­age on the Mini D, which brings eight-speed auto and 19-inch al­loy wheels. There is also a 6.5-

inch in­fo­tain­ment screen for the ba­sic price of $43,900 but, with all the op­tions on the test car, we’re look­ing at $52,700.

The only piece I’d pick from the ex­tras is the Chili pack, be­cause it brings ex­cel­lent LED lamps for $2400.

Com­pared with the X1, the Coun­try­man feels more solid and sub­stan­tial.

The diesel en­gine has plenty of shove and good re­sponse at all times and all speeds, with a sports mode (from the Chili pack) to make it more lively for some ex­tra week­end fun. It’s not a sports car — among other things, the lack of pad­dleshifters is a give-away — but it gets along well and has great over­tak­ing pace.

It’s also good to know this diesel will go for more than 800km be­tween fuel stops.

To be hon­est, I’m now com­pletely over the car­toon­ish dash­board that draws a very ten­u­ous visual link to the orig­i­nal Mini.

I like the tog­gle switches but, for mine, the rest of the cabin lay­out has jumped the shark on the Mini con­nec­tion and there must be bet­ter so­lu­tions than the over-in­flated cir­cu­lar cen­tral dis­play.

The car is roomy and I like the com­fort in the seats, although Ali finds them too firm. The au­dio is good though dig­i­tal fit­ment is a query when there is no re­cep­tion in so much of Aus­tralia.

Dur­ing my time with the Coun­try­man I won­der con­stantly whether any fam­ily re­ally wants a Mini SUV, par­tic­u­larly with­out all-wheel drive to give it some Subarustyle get­away cre­den­tials.

And then I step out­side and see a body that’s way, way too maxi for a Mini.

THE TICK

This one is not for me. The Coun­try­man drives well enough and the qual­ity is good, but it’s not good enough as an SUV and it’s over­sized.

But Ali can see the strengths in the Coun­try­man, even if she thinks “It’s eaten a lot of Mag­nums to end up like that”. For the right per­son, and she knows a few, she reck­ons it still de­serves The Tick.

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