Fam­ily guise

Mini makes its pre­mium com­pact SUV big­ger and more prac­ti­cal. Value — and price — get a boost, writes Hamish Miles

The Courier-Mail - Cars Guide - - First Drive -

THE fam­ily Mini has ar­rived — it’s a big­ger, plusher and dearer Coun­try­man. This sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion SUV from Mini has mor­phed into a more size­able, more com­fort­able and more com­pe­tent wagon — more fam­ily friendly, even.

It brings the usual front or all-wheel drive, plus petrol and diesel op­tions, but trans­mis­sions are now six or eight-speed au­to­mat­ics. Much of this is shared with its BMW X1 sta­ble­mate.

Mini Coun­try­man prices have also grown, now start­ing at $39,900 for the Coun­try­man Cooper (up some $5000) and run­ning via four vari­ants ini­tially to $51,500 for the range-top­ping Coun­try­man Cooper SD with all-wheel drive and turbo diesel. A hot John Cooper Works edi­tion, with 170kW, is due later this year.

As with oth­ers in the pre­mium com­pact SUV class, it’s easy to op­tion a Mini Coun­try­man past the $60,000 mark with pack­ages rang­ing from a $750 “road trip” col­lec­tion to a $4900 John Cooper Works Chili pack­age.

Mini Aus­tralia gen­eral man­ager Tony Sesto says the price in­crease of the Coun­try­man Cooper re­flects the size and so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

“The value is much greater than the nom­i­nal price in­crease,” he says.

Among fresh ad­di­tions to the front-drive Cooper ver­sion are the six-speed auto, re­vers­ing cam­era, park­ing as­sist, ac­tive cruise con­trol, driver as­sist (in­clud­ing for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing), dig­i­tal ra­dio, 18-inch al­loy wheels with run-flat tyres and an au­to­matic tail­gate.

Mini Aus­tralia val­ues the ex­tra stan­dard kit for the lat­est Coun­try­man at about $6500 and is con­fi­dent it has the road pres­ence, dy­nam­ics and value equa­tion to take on class ri­vals such as the new Audi Q2, BMW X1, Volk­swa­gen Tiguan and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

The com­pany now re­gards the Coun­try­man as a vi­able fam­ily car, al­beit up-mar­ket, rather than a sec­ond or third ve­hi­cle in sub­ur­ban sta­bles.

The first-gen­er­a­tion Coun­try­man wagon tal­lied 3000 sales since launch in 2011. How­ever, some cus­tomers sought more space and prac­ti­cal­ity from this big­gest mem­ber of the five-model strong Mini fam­ily.

Still un­mis­take­ably a Mini, the 2017 Coun­try­man mea­sures 4.3 me­tres in length, is 199mm longer than its pre­de­ces­sor, and rides on a longer 2670mm wheel­base. It is also 33mm wider and 13mm higher.

Up­front there’s a new grille — as found in the lat­est Mini Hatch mod­els — plus a wider rear door pil­lar and a re­designed tail­gate.

In the cabin, there is the full swag of com­fort and con­ve­nience gear from nav­i­ga­tion to dual-zone air­con with rear vents. Er­gonomics up­front are fine but it is a rather busy cock­pit of switches and but­tons.

There is lit­tle ar­gu­ment about cabin com­fort, though, with de­cent room for four adults. The front seats are well­bol­stered and the rear seat split­folds. In­tru­sion of road and wind noise is low and all Coun­try­man wag­ons feel sub­stan­tial on the road.

At en­try-level, the front­drive Cooper with 1.5 litre three­cylin­der turbo (100kW/220Nm) may feel a lit­tle un­der­whelm­ing when com­pared with the 2.0-litre diesel Cooper D. The lat­ter adds 10kW but its hefty 330Nm of pulling power aids drive­abil­ity in town and on the high­way.

Move up to the Cooper S Coun­try­man and its 2.0-litre turbo pro­duces a handy 141kW.

Fam­i­lies, and oth­ers, will have plenty of choice.

On first im­pres­sions the pick of the bunch for driv­ers is the all-wheel drive Mini Cooper SD All4 Coun­try­man. The driv­e­line works with sta­bil­ity con­trols to ap­por­tion drive 100 per cent to the front when cruis­ing and up to 100 per cent to the rear when trac­tion’s an is­sue — best of all it is quick to re­act to stop the front end push­ing wide or the back end step­ping out.

The Coun­try­man is most as­sured when press­ing on over back roads, whether tar or gravel.

VER­DICT

A sub­stan­tial com­pact SUV, Mini’s Coun­try­man comes with pre­mium ap­peal as well as pre­mium prices.

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