BMW X1 sDRIVE20i vs MINI COOPER S COUNTRYMAN
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
BOTH CARS ARE HIGHRIDING PREMIUM SOFTROADERS, WITH THE SAME 2-LITRE 8-SPEED POWERTRAIN.
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...