Big mini re­lies on small en­gine

South Waikato News - - Motoring -

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.

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