Mini gets more-ish

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - JOHN CAREY

CAN a car made in the Nether­lands by a Ger­man com­pany, and bought mostly by Amer­i­cans and Chi­nese, re­ally be a “very tra­di­tional Bri­tish brand”? Maybe. But with­out ques­tion, the Coun­try­man has been a hit for Mini.

When the first Coun­try­man was rolled out in 2010, crit­ics moaned. How could some­thing more than four me­tres long and with four doors cred­i­bily be called a Mini?

There had been noth­ing like the Coun­try­man in Mini’s his­tory, don’t you know?

Buy­ers, on the other hand, liked what they saw. The four­door for­mat made it the brand’s first fam­ily-friendly model and it was a car ex­ist­ing Mini hatch own­ers could step up to when the fam­ily grew. “For these peo­ple Mini Coun­try­man was the so­lu­tion,” says prod­uct man­ager Klaus Mehlich.

Today the Coun­try­man ac­counts for about one-third of the brand’s sales around the world. Af­ter the US and China, it’s also a strong seller in Bri­tain, Ger­many and Italy. And where there’s suc­cess, there’s a suc­ces­sor…

Mini’s Gen II Coun­try­man is ready and will ar­rive in Aus­tralia in March. It is, lit­er­ally, more of the same. The new model is longer (by 200mm) and its front and rear axles are fur­ther apart (by 75mm), in­creas­ing rear legroom and cargo ca­pac­ity. But the distinc­tive Mini style re­mains.

Mini’s mem­ber­ship of the BMW Group means the new Coun­try­man shares vi­tal or­gans with the X1 small SUV. The brands col­lab­o­rated to de­velop body struc­ture and chas­sis set­ups, ac­cord­ing to Mehrlich.

Not ev­ery prod­uct of the joint ef­fort will come to Aus­tralia. And, at least ini­tially, there will be fewer Coun­try­man mod­els to choose from.

Prices and pre­cise spec­i­fi­ca­tion are not yet fi­nalised but Mini Aus­tralia is aim­ing for a start­ing point at $40,000, or a lit­tle be­low, for the least costly Coun­try­man. This would make the Mini com­pet­i­tive with Audi’s new Q2 small SUV, though it also rep­re­sents an in­crease of $5000 or more over the cur­rent Mini Cooper Coun­try­man with its non-turbo 1.6-litre four-cylin­der driv­ing the front wheels.

The new Cooper Coun­try­man will have in­stead a 1.5-litre three-cylin­der turbo that’s al­ready be­ing used in some small BMW mod­els (and the i8 hy­brid su­per­car). The like­wise front-drive Cooper S and Cooper D will come with turbo 2.0-litre four-cylin­der petrol and diesel en­gines re­spec­tively. Top­ping the launch line-up will be the all­wheel-drive Cooper SD All4, with a more pow­er­ful ver­sion of the 2.0-litre turbo diesel.

A new eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion will be stan­dard in all these mod­els, ex­cept the base Cooper, which con­tin­ues with a six-speed.

A six-speed man­ual will be a no-cost op­tion in ev­ery­thing.

The only ver­sion of the new Coun­try­man avail­able to test at the in­ter­na­tional launch was the Cooper S All4. In­con­ve­niently, this is one of the vari­ants that’s not com­ing to Aus­tralia. Still, it was pos­si­ble to learn some­thing about the new Mini’s strengths and weak­nesses.

The new 2.0-litre petrol en­gine and eight-speed auto combo is quite tasty. It’s perky, not jerky, and more silent than vi­o­lent. It should im­press those who test-drive the new Cooper S Coun­try­man in March.

Around a muddy track spe­cially con­structed in the grounds of a stately home west of Lon­don, Mini’s All4 all­wheel-drive was al­ways able to find trac­tion.

The tech­nol­ogy should work equally well in the Cooper SD All4 that’s headed our way.

But it was the gen­er­ous rear seats, and the easy ac­cess to them af­forded by the Coun­try­man’s larger doors, that were most im­pres­sive — and per­haps most cus­tomer-rel­e­vant — in this new Mini.

Typ­i­cal English win­ter weather — mist, driz­zle, rain and fog — pre­vailed through­out our test drive. Fast driv­ing was out.

The Coun­try­man seemed ag­ile and safe in these con­di­tions but it wasn’t al­ways as com­fort­able as it should have been. It’s sus­pen­sion feels stiff and, es­pe­cially at low speeds, jig­gly. It may prove un­ac­cept­able on Aus­tralia roads.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.