After all the rumors and teasers, the new Honda CR-V is finally here.
The Countryman is bigger than ever, but it’s still a Mini at heart. And that counts for a lot
C ynics might say the Countryman is merely a badge-engineered BMW, but Mini goes to great lengths to dispel those notions.
The uniquely Mini styling, for one, is more distinctive. Better yet, its squaredoff headlights and a brash face elevate it beyond the carp-snout look of other recent Minis. With a tighter rear end as well as A-pillars pushed further forward than in the X1, the Countryman features minimal visual overhangs, and looks decidedly smaller than the Bimmer. Yet at over 1.5 tons, it is nearly identical in weight to the X1, and over 200kg heavier than its predecessor.
Despite this, it still possesses Mini’s famous go-kart feel. Even with the same basic mechanical package, it feels pointier and nimbler, and has more heft and feedback in the steering than the X1 does. That said, the incessant chattering of the steering, combined with the occasional tug of torque steer, makes you more conscious of the Mini’s limits. While a quantum leap in composure over the old Countryman, this one’s simply not as confidence-inspiring as the Bimmer.
Shorn of the BMW’s all-wheel-drive system (the local Countryman is frontdrive only), it’s much peppier, reaching 100kph in just a shade under 9sec— some 0.3sec better than the BMW. It’s a second off the 7.7sec official claim, but with so much extra weight, it was never going to match the old Cooper S. Thanks to diesel motivation, it does trump both the old car and the X1 in fuel economy, at around 10km/L in city traffic.
Inside, functional differences are minor. Instead of a speed limiter, you get an actual cruise control, and instead of electric seats, you get paddle shifters. Oh, and the sound system pumps out more bass, despite lacking a bit of crispness versus the Bimmer. You get the same iDrive-style controller, infotainment system menus, drive modes (Sport, Normal, Eco), and assist systems—including that neat self-parking mode that you’ll only ever use once or twice before realizing that doing it yourself is much faster. The differences are mostly cosmetic.
This extends to the cabin design, which is all about the drama. There’s soft-quilted leather on the betterbolstered seats, and the interior feels more characterful. Granted, the controls are still wildly gimmicky, and the toggleswitch layout is still a puzzle for the uninitiated, but the mood-ring lighting and the more varied textures make this look more expensive, at least.
And the lack of all-wheel drive, while a debit on the spec sheet, means better in-city fuel consumption by about 0.5-1km/L, at around 10km/L in mixed urban driving. Even with the visibility deficit of that sexily short windshield, the Mini is handier around town, too, the short overhangs making short work of tight parking spaces.
So, it does the daily quite nicely, this Mini. Better than any Mini before it, actually, without losing that bubbly, buzzy charm the brand is (in)famous for. But is that what premium crossover buyers really want?
The BMW X1 goes a long way toward bringing new blood into the fold, but it won’t dazzle owners of the old car—not at first blush.
Instead, it’s the Countryman that impresses more on the odd backroad jaunt. Despite the extra size and weight, it maintains most of the brand personality: go-kart steering, edgy driving dynamics, and quirky, over-the-top styling.
But push its limits and you find them much sooner than in the BMW. The lack of all-wheel drive here is not a major sin. Nobody driving a P3-million crossover really needs it. Its shortcoming, however, is keenly felt with every errant tug of the steering under overtaking. And for the top-of-the-line Countryman to lack power-adjustable seats is a rather strange oversight. In the end, it feels like what it is: a Maxi-Mini.
For P20,000 less, the BMW beckons. No longer a station wagon in drag, the X1 is now a truly proper X-Over. The aesthetic may be more workmanlike than the Mini, but the depth of capability and competence trumps that of the BMW’s fraternal twin. There’s also the halo effect born of the feeling, both inside and out, that you’re driving a slightly smaller X5.
True, the Mini still sells the drama, and will appeal to extroverts everywhere (hey, if you want it, go for it!). But the X1 turns in a dominant performance as perhaps the best small crossover in its class today. BMW’s big gamble on front-wheel-drive platforms has finally paid off.
‘The Mini sells the drama, but the X1 turns in a dominant performance’
Can’t ignore the Countryman’s good looks
Design that goes back decades and still rocks
Essentially the same cars, but so very different