Es­cape from the Coun­try

Aes­thetic ex­cesses, va­por­ised road­kill, a torched per­ineum ... but Mini’s ju­nior SUV emerges vic­to­ri­ous

Wheels (Australia) - - Our Garage - ANDY EN­RIGHT

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

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