Mini gets mighty up­date

Cross­over will seat five and carry cargo, but it still main­tains some sig­na­ture flash


In my dreams, a Mini is the flea-sized, im­petu­ous car you take on a coun­try road curvy enough to have been de­signed by a cake dec­o­ra­tor. The road seems to disappear un­der your wheels as the Mini arcs ath­let­i­cally from bend to bend.

Then how did I find my­self load­ing up three ho­tel-lobby-sized palms in a Mini not long after I picked it up for a week’s test drive? A trip to a big-box store and not the open road – it’s a shame­ful con­fes­sion. My per­fectly ac­cept­able ex­cuse is, I was test­driv­ing the 2017 Mini Coun­try­man.

The Coun­try­man is the big­gest Mini ever built and the com­pact cross­over comes at a pre­mium price. Though it starts around $32,000, the Cooper S all-wheel-drive ver­sion I tested pen­ciled out at $47,630. It is lav­ishly equipped and lovely to drive.

The might­i­est of the Mini lineup has 30 per cent more cargo space than be­fore, and seats five adults with ad­e­quate head and leg room. Built on the in­fra­struc­ture of the BMW X1, it’s taller, longer and wider. Nuz­zle it up against a three-door Mini and the dif­fer­ence is strik­ing. The Coun­try­man looks like a bruiser – though still kind of bite-sized – next to the lithe lit­tle Mini. The ex­tra 14 cen­time­tres of height de­liv­ers a raised driv­ing po­si­tion many driv­ers pre­fer and gives it bet­ter win­ter driv­ing cre­den­tials cou­pled with the all-wheel-drive.

With 192 horse­power and an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, the Mini Coun­try­man has no prob­lem blow­ing the dust off the open road. Though one can choose to drive in Eco or Mid (nor­mal) set­tings, the Sport mode suits the Coun­try­man’s per­son­al­ity pro­vid­ing more re­spon­sive shift­ing and sharp han­dling. The ride qual­ity is im­pres­sive and one of the Coun­try­man’s best achieve­ments. It wafts over the rough­est roads without any harsh buck­ing or bob­bing. Yes, it’s beefier and weighs more than be­fore, but it never feels lethar­gic.

Only the steer­ing de­tracted from a stel­lar driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I found it ar­ti­fi­cial feel­ing, but many oth­ers praise it.

Vis­i­bil­ity is ex­cel­lent in all di­rec­tions, and it’s easy to park and spin around in small spa­ces. How­ever, be warned that mov­ing the side mirrors up and down will make you think they are lu­bri­cated with mo­lasses.

From the very com­fort­able driver’s seat, the Coun­try­man dis­plays the sig­na­ture

Mini styling, youth­ful and gre­gar­i­ous, with orbs ev­ery­where – in the cen­tre dis­play clus­ter, the in­stru­ments gauges, di­als and vents. Throw in var­i­ous bits of am­bi­ent mood light­ing in car­toon colours, and the cabin is a cheery place to be. Through­out the in­te­rior, the fit and fin­ish, and the feel of switches have all been up­graded from the pedes­trian feel of pre­vi­ous mod­els.

The nearly nine-inch touch screen oc­cu­pies a lot of real es­tate in the cen­tre con­sole. It’s the com­mand cen­tre for the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, and all your tunes and en­ter­tain­ment me­dia. Choose from man­ual or voice con­trol to op­er­ate it, and use the log­i­cal menu sys­tem to find what you need. The $1,000 wired nav­i­ga­tion op­tion also in­cluded wire­less phone charg­ing.

Er­gonomics are spot on, with ev­ery­thing at an easy reach of the driver, in­clud­ing sen­si­ble knobs for vol­ume and cli­mate con­trols. These fea­tures keep driver dis­trac­tion at a min­i­mum.

Back­seat pas­sen­gers will ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing able to “tune” their seats with fore and aft and back­rest ad­just­ments, while the span of the panoramic sun­roof will in­crease the sense of space at the rear.

When I was load­ing in the trop­i­cal palms, I folded the sec­ond row seats flat and lifted a sec­tion of the trunk floor to nes­tle the plants in se­curely. The cargo space is flex­i­ble. It is like a cleanly de­signed box with no odd ob­struc­tions. The use­able cargo space in­creases from 450 litres to 1,390 when the seats are folded flat. These are the prac­ti­cal perks you get with the wider, longer and taller Mini Coun­try­man.

When I was park­ing the Mini the first night, I no­ticed the zany LED light­ing around the head­lights and tail­lights, and the way an­other se­cret LED pro­jected the Mini logo on the ground as the door opened. So it’s still cheeky and cheer­ful, even though it’s bulked up and grown up. The Coun­try­man re­ally is a Mini for the modern fam­ily.

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