Mini gets more-ish
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.