Bri­tish mar­ques, it would seem, are some­what cursed by the weight of his­tory be­hind them.

Cer­tain sub­sets of fans of “clas­sic” Bri­tish mar­ques man­age to get them­selves all worked up and bent out of shape when some­thing hap­pens that re­minds them that their favourite car maker ISN’T stuck in a time bubble back around 1967 or so. Some­thing like the re­lease of a new, mod­ern ve­hi­cle wear­ing the name of said man­u­fac­turer.

Land Rover ( now owned by the In­di­ans) can’t make any­thing mod­ern with­out “purists” cry­ing that it “isn’t a proper Land Rover!” even though it very much IS a Land Rover sim­ply be­cause it is made by the com­pany called Land Rover. And Mini ( now owned by the Ger­mans) suf­fers from a sim­i­lar froth­ing, in­dig­nant rage from the “purists” when­ever it re­leases some­thing that is NOT a cramped, im­prac­ti­cal death-trap on wheels.

So just imag­ine the out­rage when Mini de­cided to re­lease an SUV cross­over in 2010 in the form of the Coun­try­man.

Good one

But de­spite the out­rage of the “purists” the big­gest Mini of them all proved re­mark­ably pop­u­lar among those who sim­ply don’t care if it is a “proper” Mini, sim­ply be­cause it was a good one in­stead.

But while the Coun­try­man was un­doubt­edly pop­u­lar, it did have its flaws. Rear seat legroom wasn’t as good as it prob­a­bly should have been, in­te­rior qual­ity was patchy in places and it did look a bit crook – slightly oddly pro­por­tioned and, well, a bit dorky.

But now there is a new Coun­try­man and it has tack­led all of those com­plaints and then some by dras­ti­cally im­prov­ing the qual­ity of the in­te­rior and – wait for it – be­com­ing even big­ger…

No com­plaints

The new Coun­try­man has an ex­tra 200mm in length over the old Coun­try­man, with 75mm of that in the wheel­base, mean­ing that the rear legroom prob­lem is no longer a prob­lem at all – I am 1.85m tall and man­aged to hap­pily sit in the back of a Cooper S All4 with no com­plaints what­so­ever.

As well as im­prov­ing the in­te­rior space, the size in­crease has helped with the Coun­try­man’s ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ance as well, the ex­tra length bring­ing far bet­ter pro­por­tions to the small cross­over, mak­ing

it more like a tall Mini five-door, al­beit with a tougher, squarer edge to it.

As al­ways, looks are a very sub­jec­tive thing, but the new Coun­try­man is now a far more suc­cess­fully re­solved de­sign, with a more con­vinc­ingly SUV-es­que shape, while still re­tain­ing its dis­tinct Mini-ness. Per­son­ally, I rather like it now, al­though the chrome rings around the head­lights re­main ques­tion­able.

The Coun­try­man will come to New Zealand in two guises to start with – Cooper and Cooper S, with the lat­ter hav­ing the op­tion of Mini’s All4 4WD sys­tem.

While the Cooper S is pow­ered by the 2.0litre en­gine, the Cooper gets the ex­cel­lent lit­tle 1.5-litre three-cylin­der petrol en­gine that pro­duces 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque.

Diesel vari­ants are be­ing con­sid­ered for New Zealand, with noth­ing de­cided on at this stage.

What we will be get­ting later on this year, how­ever, is the slightly im­prob­a­ble 170kW/ 350Nm John Cooper Works ver­sion of the Coun­try­man, as well as the Cooper S E plug-in hy­brid that shares its driv­e­train with the BMW 225xe Ac­tive Tourer.

On all fours

Now while a Mini and an SUV may seem two con­cepts com­pletely at odds with each other, the Coun­try­man IS sold as a small SUV/cross­over, so can it ac­tu­ally go off-road? Yes, it ac­tu­ally can, in All4 guise at least.

While the Coun­try­man lacks any­thing in the way of a low ra­tio trans­mis­sion or even elec­tronic off-road modes, it was still more than ca­pa­ble of tack­ling the se­ri­ously muddy off-road track set up for us in the grounds of the his­toric Hed­sor House, on the out­skirts of Lon­don where the launch was held.

The his­toric manor is now used as a posh events venue, as well as a reg­u­lar venue for film­ing TV shows and movies, a fact proudly dis­played in – of all places – the men’s toi­lets, with a gallery of framed posters of movies filmed there.

The track was noth­ing par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing in a true off-road­ing sense, how­ever, but a 2WD car cer­tainly would not have got through it.

The track it­self had been carved out of the im­mac­u­lately main­tained grounds of Hed­sor House specif­i­cally for the Mini launch and the huge amount of rain that had pum­melled the Ox­ford area in the few days prior to our drive there had en­sured it was deep and slushy enough to give the Mini’s AWD sys­tem a de­cent work­out.

Off-road record

While BMW hasn’t in­cluded any off-road good­ies in the Coun­try­man’s arse­nal of elec­tron­ics, it has popped in a lit­tle gim­mick along the lines of the Mini con­vert­ible’s timer that records how many hours the roof has been down for.

In the Coun­try­man this is a cutesy lit­tle screen that shows how many hours your Coun­try­man has spent off the beaten track, with a car­toon Coun­try­man that grows ever-more mon­ster truck like as your hours in­crease.

Yes, it is silly. Yes, it is ut­terly point­less, but it does sum up the sense of silly fun that Mini em­bod­ies. No, it is not go­ing to ap­peal in any way to a se­ri­ous off-roader, but then it was never in­tended to.

As a stylish, dis­tinc­tive sub­ur­ban run­about, the Coun­try­man is per­fect, but the fact that it ac­tu­ally does have some abil­ity to play in the mud makes it even more en­joy­able.

Of course, like all other ve­hi­cles in this seg­ment, the most lim­it­ing fac­tors to the Coun­try­man’s abil­ity to head off-road are its ride height and the tyres fit­ted.

Though the Coun­try­man’s ground clear­ance has also been in­creased for the new model (go­ing from 150mm in the pre­vi­ous model up to 165mm for the new model) it’s still not ex­actly go­ing to trou­ble a Land Rover, but it does make the Coun­try­man use­fully able in muddy en­vi­rons.

So while the idea of a Mini SUV may seem, well, point­less, the Coun­try­man over­comes this by be­ing fun on the road and use­fully ca­pa­ble off it. For­get the mis­er­able mud and rain we drove it in on the launch – belt­ing it out a wind­ing New Zealand back road to a beach and then be­ing able to head out onto the sand is what the Coun­try­man is all about.

Pro­por­tions more bal­anced than be­fore.

Launch in wet, cold, win­try UK in­cluded off-road com­po­nent.

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