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The Coun­try­man is big­ger than ever, but it’s still a Mini at heart. And that counts for a lot

C yn­ics might say the Coun­try­man is merely a badge-en­gi­neered BMW, but Mini goes to great lengths to dis­pel those no­tions.

The uniquely Mini styling, for one, is more dis­tinc­tive. Bet­ter yet, its squared­off head­lights and a brash face el­e­vate it be­yond the carp-snout look of other re­cent Mi­nis. With a tighter rear end as well as A-pil­lars pushed fur­ther for­ward than in the X1, the Coun­try­man fea­tures min­i­mal vis­ual over­hangs, and looks de­cid­edly smaller than the Bim­mer. Yet at over 1.5 tons, it is nearly iden­ti­cal in weight to the X1, and over 200kg heav­ier than its pre­de­ces­sor.

De­spite this, it still possesses Mini’s fa­mous go-kart feel. Even with the same ba­sic me­chan­i­cal pack­age, it feels pointier and nim­bler, and has more heft and feed­back in the steer­ing than the X1 does. That said, the in­ces­sant chat­ter­ing of the steer­ing, com­bined with the oc­ca­sional tug of torque steer, makes you more con­scious of the Mini’s lim­its. While a quan­tum leap in com­po­sure over the old Coun­try­man, this one’s sim­ply not as con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing as the Bim­mer.

Shorn of the BMW’s all-wheel-drive sys­tem (the lo­cal Coun­try­man is front­drive only), it’s much pep­pier, reach­ing 100kph in just a shade un­der 9sec— some 0.3sec bet­ter than the BMW. It’s a sec­ond off the 7.7sec of­fi­cial claim, but with so much ex­tra weight, it was never go­ing to match the old Cooper S. Thanks to diesel mo­ti­va­tion, it does trump both the old car and the X1 in fuel econ­omy, at around 10km/L in city traf­fic.

In­side, func­tional dif­fer­ences are mi­nor. In­stead of a speed lim­iter, you get an ac­tual cruise con­trol, and in­stead of elec­tric seats, you get pad­dle shifters. Oh, and the sound sys­tem pumps out more bass, de­spite lack­ing a bit of crisp­ness ver­sus the Bim­mer. You get the same iDrive-style con­troller, in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem menus, drive modes (Sport, Nor­mal, Eco), and as­sist sys­tems—in­clud­ing that neat self-park­ing mode that you’ll only ever use once or twice be­fore re­al­iz­ing that do­ing it your­self is much faster. The dif­fer­ences are mostly cos­metic.

This ex­tends to the cabin de­sign, which is all about the drama. There’s soft-quilted leather on the bet­ter­bol­stered seats, and the in­te­rior feels more char­ac­ter­ful. Granted, the con­trols are still wildly gim­micky, and the tog­gleswitch lay­out is still a puz­zle for the unini­ti­ated, but the mood-ring light­ing and the more var­ied tex­tures make this look more ex­pen­sive, at least.

And the lack of all-wheel drive, while a debit on the spec sheet, means bet­ter in-city fuel con­sump­tion by about 0.5-1km/L, at around 10km/L in mixed ur­ban driv­ing. Even with the vis­i­bil­ity deficit of that sex­ily short wind­shield, the Mini is hand­ier around town, too, the short over­hangs mak­ing short work of tight park­ing spa­ces.

So, it does the daily quite nicely, this Mini. Bet­ter than any Mini be­fore it, ac­tu­ally, with­out los­ing that bub­bly, buzzy charm the brand is (in)fa­mous for. But is that what pre­mium cross­over buy­ers re­ally want?

The BMW X1 goes a long way to­ward bring­ing new blood into the fold, but it won’t daz­zle own­ers of the old car—not at first blush.

In­stead, it’s the Coun­try­man that im­presses more on the odd back­road jaunt. De­spite the ex­tra size and weight, it main­tains most of the brand per­son­al­ity: go-kart steer­ing, edgy driv­ing dy­nam­ics, and quirky, over-the-top styling.

But push its lim­its and you find them much sooner than in the BMW. The lack of all-wheel drive here is not a ma­jor sin. No­body driv­ing a P3-mil­lion cross­over re­ally needs it. Its short­com­ing, how­ever, is keenly felt with ev­ery er­rant tug of the steer­ing un­der over­tak­ing. And for the top-of-the-line Coun­try­man to lack power-ad­justable seats is a rather strange over­sight. In the end, it feels like what it is: a Maxi-Mini.

For P20,000 less, the BMW beck­ons. No longer a sta­tion wagon in drag, the X1 is now a truly proper X-Over. The aes­thetic may be more work­man­like than the Mini, but the depth of ca­pa­bil­ity and com­pe­tence trumps that of the BMW’s fra­ter­nal twin. There’s also the halo ef­fect born of the feel­ing, both in­side and out, that you’re driv­ing a slightly smaller X5.

True, the Mini still sells the drama, and will ap­peal to ex­tro­verts ev­ery­where (hey, if you want it, go for it!). But the X1 turns in a dom­i­nant per­for­mance as per­haps the best small cross­over in its class to­day. BMW’s big gam­ble on front-wheel-drive plat­forms has fi­nally paid off.

‘The Mini sells the drama, but the X1 turns in a dom­i­nant per­for­mance’

Can’t ig­nore the Coun­try­man’s good looks

De­sign that goes back decades and still rocks

Es­sen­tially the same cars, but so very dif­fer­ent

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