Sep­a­rated at birth, these twins-un­der­the-skin try to cover all the same bases in the con­crete jun­gle.


HAP­PILY, BMW owns MINI, and a whole brand’s worth of util­ity for the new front-wheeldrive plat­form ex­ists. The un­for­tu­nately named UKL (for Un­tere Klasse, or “lower class”) plat­form un­der­pins the en­tire MINI range, the BMW 2 Se­ries “bread box” and the BMW X1. Which means the MINI Cooper S Coun­try­man, a high­rid­ing pre­mium soft-roader, and the BMW X1 sDrive20i, an­other high-rid­ing pre­mium soft-roader, are ba­si­cally twins sep­a­rated at birth. They even have the same en­gine, a tur­bocharged 2-litre 4-cylin­der. But just be­cause twins have the same ge­netic code does not mean they can­not go in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, and you don’t need me to tell you that the MINI is the sib­ling with a greater ten­dency to get a nose pierc­ing. BMW’s X1 comes sharply dressed and with a pro­por­tion­ate co­her­ence that eluded its awk­ward pre­de­ces­sor. With a face that com­bines the right amount of ag­gres­sion and el­e­gance, it is one of the bet­ter-look­ing com­pact SUVs, smooth­ing off the edges of a box-like form that in­flicts gawk­i­ness on many oth­ers. As is the case with BMW’s styling ef­forts nowa­days, the fam­ily re­sem­blance runs strong, which is a good thing in an era of re­dis­cov­ered hand­some­ness com­pany-wide.

The X1 even looks ca­pa­ble of ven­tur­ing a lit­tle bit off tar­mac. Walk­ing to­wards it in the carpark, you could feel a sat­is­fy­ing welling of pride your out­lay de­serves.

Walk­ing to­wards the MINI, how­ever, does even more – it makes you grin and chuckle heartily. No doubt the Coun­try­man’s ap­pear­ance is far more car­toon­ish, and on top of that, Sin­ga­pore’s Cooper S Coun­try­mans come with the “ALL4” ex­te­rior pack­age, even if the cars re­main only two-wheel-drive. Chunky front bumpers, cheeky de­tail­ing and unmissable rac­ing stripes cre­ate an aes­thetic that is adorably ag­gres­sive in the way a growl­ing Labrador puppy is. It is a fan­tas­tic-look­ing thing, and it wears the model’s new­found size im­pres­sively well.

As al­ways with MI­NIs, how­ever, the op­tions make a dif­fer­ence. Thus this car, es­pe­cially in bright fetch­ing blue, is markedly nicer-look­ing than its stripe-less Cooper sib­ling lower down the model range. With the Coun­try­man’s length of 4.3 me­tres, wheel­base of 2.67 me­tres and boot vol­ume of 450 litres with the back­seats up, it is no sur­prise at all that I re­ceived count­less com­ments about how large the car is for some­thing lit­er­ally named “mini”.

While the in­te­rior space is slightly smaller than that of the X1, which is over 4.4 me­tres long and has a boot ca­pac­ity of 505 litres, it is not a dif­fer­ence no­tice­able with­out a mea­sur­ing tape.

Sit­ting on the MINI’s back­seat is no longer pur­ga­tory, and you can put more than just chil­dren there for trips across the length of the Pan-Is­land Ex­press­way with­out draw­ing com­plaints. It used to be that if you wanted a MINI’s spunk, you had to make ma­jor com­pro­mises in er­gonomics and use­abil­ity, but no longer.

More im­pres­sive still is the am­bi­ence of rich­ness that per­vades the Coun­try­man’s cabin. The seats are quilted and em­bossed, while the door trim is adorned with con­trast­ing

two-tone leather. Ju­di­ciously ap­plied chrome and pi­ano black flour­ishes toe the line ex­pertly be­tween op­u­lence and fussi­ness. With so much vi­vac­ity to draw the eye, the hunt for hol­low­ness with the fin­gers is a harder task.

It is hard not to draw the con­clu­sion that this is an en­vi­ron­ment well de­serv­ing of the price.

Sen­si­bly, the large cir­cu­lar cen­tre con­sole now houses an 8.8-inch in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem rather than a speedome­ter, and it is an in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem loaded with the em­i­nently us­able soft­ware from par­ent com­pany BMW’s iDrive. Only it is skinned with funkier graph­ics in keep­ing with the brand’s colour­ful iden­tity. The icons on the up­rated sys­tem of the Cooper S are also an at­trac­tive, min­i­mal­ist 2D style which hip­sters the world over would ap­prove of, cu­ri­ously dif­fer­ing from the still de­cent but less at­trac­tive de­sign of the base Cooper’s 6.5-inch sys­tem. The same 6.5-inch sys­tem, in orig­i­nal iDrive for­mat and with nav­i­ga­tion func­tion­al­ity, is the one that perches atop the BMW X1’s dash­board. Ca­ress­ing the BMW’s steer­ing wheel also re­veals the lack of pad­dle shifters and cruise con­trol, though it comes with a speed lim­iter.

None of these is an egre­gious omis­sion, and the X1 in­te­rior’s ba­sic good­ness still shines through – the asym­met­ri­cal, leather­lined bracket cradling the cen­tre con­sole is a par­tic­u­larly nice touch.

Still I can­not help but no­tice, sit­ting on the seat which is well-sculpted but lack­ing in ad­justable thigh sup­port, that the MINI is ef­fec­tively top of the line, whereas this par­tic­u­lar X1 is, ex­cept for the en­gine, in en­trylevel spec­i­fi­ca­tion. How much for the ca­chet of a BMW badge?

If you find the in­sides of a mod­ern MINI a lit­tle too ri­otous, es­pe­cially with that neon light show shoot­ing around the cen­tre dis­play’s di­am­e­ter, the BMW’s suit­ably but­toned-down am­bi­ence has the other end of

the spec­trum beau­ti­fully cov­ered.

On the road, given the two cars’ me­chan­i­cal sim­i­lar­ity, it is ab­so­lutely no sur­prise that driven flat-out, they will cover ground at a pace in­dis­tin­guish­able from each other. The tur­bocharged 4-cylin­der they share has never been short of flex­i­bil­ity or out­right strength, and so it proves here with sport­ing but not sear­ing pace.

Be­ing a bit taller, though, and tuned so the springs have room to breathe on lower-qual­ity tar­mac, the X1 al­lows more roll in re­ally en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ing. Enough to have me think­ing that if it were a con­ven­tional hatch­back and not on stilts, it would han­dle even bet­ter still.

Yet, the X1 is in suf­fi­cient charge of its fac­ul­ties that it han­dles chal­leng­ing roads and chal­leng­ing at­ti­tudes with enough con­fi­dence and com­pe­tence, let­ting go at the front end gently when grip is ex­hausted. This is still a BMW af­ter all, SUV or not. The Cooper S Coun­try­man is equipped with ad­justable sus­pen­sion, and in ei­ther of its damp­ing modes, the car dives for cor­ners with a sprin­kling more di­rect­ness than its BMW coun­ter­part. In­evitably, then, it


jolts around slightly more, though never in the spine-shat­ter­ing way a first-gen­er­a­tion Cooper S hatch­back used to.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing this ea­ger, pre­dictably MINI at­ti­tude is an ex­haust fet­tled to be full of child­ish snorts and bur­bles. How­ever, with 1535kg to haul around and a well-padded, solid feel all round, it comes closer to the 1560kg X1 in dy­namic char­ac­ter than its smaller, more ter­rier-like sta­ble­mates. MINI had a dilemma here – need­ing to re­tain enough of its fa­mous hy­per­ac­tive “go-kart” han­dling, but with­out alien­at­ing the av­er­age buyer. I think it has judged the com­pro­mise ex­pertly well with the Cooper S Coun­try­man.

For a type of ve­hi­cle well­rep­re­sented by com­pe­tent if un­mem­o­rable vol­ume-brand en­trants, the BMW X1 does enough to jus­tify its atas badge and the price pre­mium it en­tails. My re­gard for the de­sign and engi­neer­ing qual­ity of the lit­tle BMW SUV re­mains un­sul­lied. It is an ex­cel­lent small util­ity ve­hi­cle that will serve your fam­ily and pam­per you with dis­tinc­tion.

The is­sue, how­ever, with the ra­tio­nal ap­proach is that some­thing else can come along and make even more sense, such as the 2-litre Volk­swa­gen Tiguan R-Line.

If you can look past the badge and think about your car pur­chase as purely a box-tick­ing ex­er­cise, as buy­ers could in the com­pact SUV seg­ment, the BMW X1 has a prob­lem – it is now too ex­pen­sive. The Cooper S Coun­try­man may be me­chan­i­cally closely re­lated to the BMW X1 and equally pricey, but it also speaks to a part of your brain that is en­tirely ir­ra­tional. Here is a car with a greater sense of hu­mour than any other con­tem­po­rary SUV.

If Ap­ple Inc. has proven any­thing, it is that if you get that in­tan­gi­ble qual­ity right, peo­ple will pay. My fool­ish heart just might for the Coun­try­man.

EN­GINE 1998cc, 16-valves, in­line-4, tur­bocharged MAX POWER 192bhp at 5000-6000rpm MAX TORQUE 280Nm at 1350-4600rpm POWER TO WEIGHT 125.1bhp per tonne GEAR­BOX 8-speed au­to­matic with man­ual se­lect 0-100KM/H 7.4 sec­onds TOP SPEED 225km/h CON­SUMP­TION...

Coun­try­man is more fun to drive than X1, but less fuel-ef­fi­cient, less com­fort­able and barely faster.

X1 is a lit­tle roomier than Coun­try­man, but the lat­ter is much funkier and pro­vides more gad­gets, along with classier and cushier seats.

NOVEM­BER 2017 EN­GINE 1998cc, 16-valves, in­line-4, tur­bocharged MAX POWER 192bhp at 5000-6000rpm MAX TORQUE 280Nm at 1250-4600rpm POWER TO WEIGHT 123.1bhp per tonne GEAR­BOX 8-speed au­to­matic with man­ual se­lect 0-100KM/H 7.7 sec­onds TOP SPEED 225km/h...

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