The BRI­TISH right of way

We drive the new­est Mini in its spir­i­tual home and the land of Top Gear

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Top Read - WORDS BY BOTChi sAN­TOs

in my 13 years of writ­ing, I’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to drive in var­i­ous coun­tries and ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent con­di­tions all over the world—Asia, Africa, close to the Arc­tic, Europe, the Amer­i­cas. Sand, snow, mud, dirt. Flow­ing A-roads, bro­ken B-roads, smooth su­per­high­ways, crowded city streets. But one des­ti­na­tion and one par­tic­u­lar type of climate has al­ways eluded me, un­til now: Mer­rie Olde Eng­land, home of Top Gear.

The United King­dom of Great Bri­tain, as the is­lands are col­lec­tively called, is home to pale peo­ple, in­ces­sant rain, punk rock, tongue-incheek hu­mor, funky fash­ion, and, of course, amaz­ing cars. Lon­don is the orig­i­nal melt­ing pot of cul­ture. I have never seen a city where Cau­casians, Africans, and Asians all min­gle seam­lessly. The food here is awe­some, too, from Gor­don Ram­say’s best, to Jamie Oliver’s chic ca­sual din­ing, to the best In­dian food this side of the con­ti­nent, to ar­guably the best Chi­nese roast duck in the world!

What’s more, Great Bri­tain is the global cap­i­tal of mo­tor­sports. It’s home to a vast num­ber of race­tracks (for­merly air­fields used dur­ing World War II), rac­ing se­ries (from am­a­teur grass­roots com­pe­ti­tions to top-tier pro­fes­sional events), and R&D, en­gi­neer­ing, and man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Many of the world’s lead­ing For­mula 1, Le Mans, World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, and World Rally Cham­pi­onship teams are based here.

So, now that I’m here, what’s the most

quintessen­tially Bri­tish ve­hi­cle to drive on the Queen’s car­riage­ways? With­out a doubt, it should be a Mini!

I find my­self sam­pling Eng­land’s most typ­i­cal win­ter driv­ing con­di­tions in and around Ox­ford­shire. It’s dark, dreary, and in­ces­santly rainy. An odd gray light seemed to cast a fore­bod­ing shadow over every­thing, and the cold is lit­er­ally seep­ing the life out of my bones. But the Mini Coun­try­man doesn’t care. Nope, it’s go­ing along its way con­fi­dently, ex­cit­edly.

The lat­est model should be a huge suc­cess. China and the US will scoop it up as fast as the VDL Ned­car fa­cil­ity in the Nether­lands can make it. The BMW Group’s UKL2 plat­form, shared with the BMW X3, pro­vides for a Coun­try­man that is 20cm longer, 3cm wider, and 1cm taller than its pre­de­ces­sor. De­spite a 7.5cm in­crease in wheel­base, you only need 11m to make a full-cir­cle turn. The cross­over is rather portly at 1,545kg, but you don’t re­ally no­tice it be­cause it’s a very ver­sa­tile pack­age in­side and out.

Power is good, courtesy of the new B48 in-line four-cylin­der en­gine that fea­tures twin-scroll tur­bocharg­ing, di­rect-in­jec­tion, vari­able valve tim­ing, and vari­able cam phas­ing. Out­put for this Coun­try­man S is rated at 181hp, but more im­por­tant, there’s 290Nm from 1,350-4,250rpm. With an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and an All4 all-wheel driv­e­train, the Mini is sure­footed, com­posed, and ab­so­lutely con­fi­dent.

As part of our route, we go through a short rally-style for­est stage with very thick mud—far thicker than what the event or­ga­niz­ers were ex­pect­ing. Con­sid­er­ing the cross­over’s high­wayter­rain tires and soft-roader stance, it doesn’t look good, but the All4 sys­tem and the elec­tronic aids make mince­meat of the thick mud. I make it out alive, with a fair bit of slow-mo­tion,

‘it’s the most quintessen­tially Bri­tish ve­hi­cle to drive here’

tail-slid­ing, four-wheel-drift­ing an­tics thrown in for good mea­sure.

Typ­i­cal Bri­tish coun­try roads could well be our provin­cial high­ways in the Philip­pines— they’re very nar­row, and the tar­mac is al­most nonex­is­tent. Worse, rain and fog com­pro­mise vis­i­bil­ity. Add to this the slight dif­fi­culty of driv­ing on the wrong side of the road, plus ca­reen­ing Bri­tish mo­torists who trail-brake around ev­ery cor­ner, and you get a daunt­ing jour­ney, to say the least. It’s only when I swap du­ties with my driv­ing buddy that I get to fi­nally ex­am­ine the Coun­try­man’s in­te­rior.

Mini is try­ing to grow up with­out los­ing its hu­mor. The cabin ar­chi­tec­ture is still shock­ingly fresh, hip, and modern, but now with a tad more re­straint as well as chic so­phis­ti­ca­tion. You can go crazy tick­ing boxes on the op­tions list: There’s a wide range of leather, al­can­tara, and fab­ric com­bi­na­tions, con­trast stitch­ing and pip­ing on the seats and steer­ing wheel, and choices of faux alu­minum, wood, or car­bon fiber for the sur­face in­lays. For the ex­te­rior, you have a wealth of paint schemes, de­cals, wheel-andtire com­bi­na­tions, bodykit, big brake op­tions, and so on. There are 15,000,000,000,000,000 pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tions of in­te­rior and ex­te­rior cus­tomiza­tions for any Mini. Yes, 15 ze­roes af­ter 15—that’s not a typo.

Seat­ing is ex­cel­lent; there’s great vis­i­bil­ity and com­fort­able align­ment be­tween the steer­ing col­umn and your shoul­ders. The driv­ing po­si­tion feels ready but not rest­less, alert but not anx­ious, re­spon­sive but not overly sen­si­tive. As mileage piles on, the Coun­try­man and I bond bet­ter even as we nav­i­gate the most con­fus­ing Bri­tish round­abouts.

For some peo­ple, the Mini brand is but a

nov­elty. But English mar­que wants to change that. Its core tar­get mar­ket is get­ting older, so it is cre­at­ing more niche prod­ucts. The Cooper five-door, the Coun­try­man, and the Club­man are all aimed at Mini fans who want a slice of the Mini life­style while still ful­fill­ing their se­ri­ous adult­ing needs.

Much like the melt­ing pot that is Great Bri­tain, the car­maker is find­ing ways to cater to ev­ery­one by cre­at­ing very spe­cial­ized mod­els, then in­ject­ing th­ese with just enough Mini DNA so that they still feel re­lated to each other and that nei­ther the traditional Mini nor the first-time cus­tomers will feel alien­ated. Even bet­ter, in­di­vid­u­al­ity and per­son­al­iza­tion are still hall­marks of the brand, be­cause in the Mini uni­verse, be­ing dif­fer­ent and unique is the very def­i­ni­tion of fun.

No won­der it con­tin­ues to thrive, in a so­ci­ety that is slowly veer­ing away from the free­dom of driv­ing. Mini re­mains to be that two-fin­ger salute to the bor­ing es­tab­lish­ment—and we ex­pect it will con­tinue to be for many more years to come.

MINI COOPER S COUN­TRY­MAN en­gine: 2.0-liter tur­bopetrol i4 Per­for­mance: 181hp @ 5,000rpm 290nm @ 1,350-4,250rpm Trans­mis­sion: 8-speed au­to­matic

hard to find an in­te­rior with this level of funk­i­ness Not small like they used to be, which is a good thing

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