Big mini relies on small engine
Never mind the Countryman’s Suv-size, just make sure yours has the quirky three-cylinder engine, says
Should we really be that worried about the new-generation Mini getting bigger and bigger? In 17 years under BMW, Mini (or MINI as the German company nonsensically insists we write it, so we won’t) has grown in so many ways.
Mini is a noun, not an adjective. More so today than ever. As a brand, it’s going in all sorts of different directions.
The new Countryman SUV is the biggest Mini ever made. It’s actually longer and taller than a Mazda CX-3, so size-wise it’s very much in the mainstream of small SUVS.
The one real danger of a substantially upsized Mini like this is that it could lose some of the cheeky character that the brand is famous for. In the world of the Countryman SUV, there’s a simple solution: the entry-level Cooper version has BMW’S excellent 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol powerplant, as previously seen in everything from the 2-series Active Tourer to the i8 plug-in sports car to... other Minis.
So while you can still have a Countryman Cooper S with a punchy, high(ish)-performance 2.0-litre turbo, the sweet and earnest machinations of the threepot engine actually inject an endearing quality back into Mini’s SUV.
With 100kw/220nm the triplepot engine is modest but certainly not slow, getting the Countryman to 100kmh just under the benchmark 10 seconds.
More importantly, it’s a hoot. Three-cylinder engines have a distinctively thrummy sound and this one spins smoothly right up to the redline. You’ll want to take it there quite a lot.
The small engine only gets a six-speed automatic compared with the eight-ratio transmission of the 2.0-litre. Not a deal-breaker, although the more closely stacked ratios would prevent some of the around-town hesitation you get from the Cooper’s shifter as it struggles to meet rapidly changing driver demands in heavy traffic.
At speed, it’s not an issue: the six-speed steps between gears in satisfyingly quick and smooth fashion.
The Countryman has also retained a perky demeanour on the road. The steering is quick, the chassis surprisingly nimble. It still feels much more like a Mini than a generic baby-suv, in other words.
You get a Sport mode (thankfully it doesn’t produce a "go-kart" graphic on the information display like it does in Mini hatchbacks) which adds more weight to the steering and noticeably more snappy gearshifts. There’s an Eco setting too.
But the thing about the Countryman is that it’s every bit as practical as a generic baby-suv. Arguably more so. The new model has a truly useful 450 litres of boot space and the rear seat picks up a trick or two from BMW’S SUVS and Touring wagons by having a 40/20/40 split, meaning you can balance passenger and cargo space in a huge variety of configurations.
Not so sure about the continued reliance on all those idiosyncratic Mini interior details, though.
I don’t mind at all that this model has grown up so much, but it might have been nice to lose some of the blingy trim and even that massive circular central instrument panel. It was fine when Base price: $44,900. Powertrain and performance: 1.5-litre petrol-turbo three-cylinder, 100kw/ 220Nm, 6-speed automatic, FWD, Combined economy 5.4 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 9.6 seconds. Vital statistics: 4299mm long, 1557mm high, 2670mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 450-1390 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels (test car on optional $1500 18in rims). We like: Tiny engine bursting with character, fun chassis, first BMW-MINI that’s genuinely practical. We don’t like: Too many cheesy details for what’s now quite a grownup car, still very expensive.
it housed a speedometer (like it did in the classic Mini), but circa-2017 it’s reduced to being a round housing for mostly rectangular screens and buttons.
Of course, the other thing about BMW’S Mini is that it pioneered the concept of a truly premium small car. The new Countryman continues that tradition by being really rather expensive. The price for this entry-level model is $44,500, and of course that’s supposed to be just the start.
New Mini Countryman is a big deal: strong seller for the brand and its largestever model.