Escape from the Country
Aesthetic excesses, vaporised roadkill, a torched perineum ... but Mini’s junior SUV emerges victorious
THUS far, I’ve largely avoided driving into Australian wildlife. Yes, I’ve clouted a few birds, and have had a couple of close squeaks with myopic marsupials, but I have yet to flatten something that could inflict the sort of panel damage that would require one of those ‘unpleasantness’ phone calls to a press office.
I nearly broke my duck on a recent drive to Wangaratta in the Countryman. I’d committed to take part in a 50km cycling event called the Ned Kelly Chase but had neglected to do any training beforehand. Crippling undercarriage destruction set in at about the 40km mark and a protracted waddle back to the Countryman only exacerbated my discomfort. Fortunately the Mini’s seats almost seem designed for a 110kg man with an acutely contused coight, but half way through the 15km drive back to the guest house, a swamp wallaby hopped out in front of the car. I slammed on the picks as hard as they’d go and gave the little fella a 5km/h boop, which he looked a bit disgruntled about. As my heart rate returned to normal, he happily hopped off, straight into the path of an oncoming Kenworth, which unfortunately atomised him.
Hosing a fine mist of gore off the side of the Mini that evening while sitting on a bag of frozen peas, I mentally totted up the good points of the Countryman that I’d soon be handing back. Good brakes were a given. It also handled well for what is ostensibly a diesel SUV. It’s genuinely good fun to punt around a hilly B-road, the eight-speed ZF transmission sharp enough in Sport mode to rarely have you flicking a paddle. That it’s also creditably
economical (I averaged 6.2L/100km, even with a fair amount of enthusiastic pedalling) ought to seal the deal for many.
It’s practical too. The two dismantled mountain bikes that represent a bit of a Tetris puzzle in my Golf VII are swallowed up by the Countryman’s cargo bay with plenty of room to spare. Returning to the Countryman after a few days in a Volvo XC60 also reminded me just how much heft there is to this car’s steering. If you bemoan the over-assistance of modern electric steering systems, you’ll adore the way you can strongarm the Mini through a corner. It’s not a car that’s long on handling subtlety, but it loves being treated to a bit of clog.
As always with the Countryman, so much comes back to its price. While it’s positioned as a boutique choice, you’ll need to be the judge regarding how much you buy into that particular marketing decision. Given that we can’t compare it directly to similarly priced mainstream SUVS, such as the Mazda CX-9, you have to look at what else your $52K buys. And it buys a lot in the ‘something cool and fun that the kids can get in the back of’ sector. A Volkswagen Golf R, a Peugeot 3008, a Subaru WRX or, if you’re a handy negotiator, you might well land an Alfa Giulia for a lot less than its $59K list.
Would I recommend a Countryman Cooper SD All4 to a friend? Yes, as long as they had deepish pockets and a fairly liberal aesthetic palate. I’ll miss its weird blend of kitschy overstyling and honest-to-goodness backroads substance. It never failed to raise a smile. Unless you’d just lowered the driver’s window to check on a dazed swamp wallaby.
VICIOUS CYCLE Left: Mini swallowed two partly disassembled bikes, but Enright was ready to set fire to one after 50km of bum torture