It’s a big, big country
The brand is Mini, the car is maxi but it has its strengths
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.
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.