Flag­ship model not so Mini, but it looks the part for town or coun­try

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - MOTORING - Fred­eric Manby Road test RE­GIONAL AU­TO­MO­TIVE JOUR­NAL­IST OF THE YEAR

WHEN THE Mini Coun­try­man first ap­peared in 2010, crit­ics (guilty) said it’s not re­ally a Mini. That it doesn’t drive as sweetly as the Mini hatch be­cause it’s loftier and heav­ier. Now there’s a new one, and it’s big­ger, the largest Mini so far.

It shows off its sta­tus – some eight inches longer, slightly wider, with a three inch longer wheel­base. There are alu­minium roof rails and match­ing door sill caps. Even the head­lamps have a dif­fer­ent shape from those on other Mi­nis, mark­ing its flag­ship sta­tus. In­side, there’s more room in every di­rec­tion, greater seat move­ment, and the rear door aper­tures are larger. The back seats have a five inch travel. When folded, this new Coun­try­man of­fers 220 litre more cargo space.

My demo car was the Cooper D – for diesel. It doesn’t en­joy – ac­tu­ally, you don’t en­joy – be­ing hurled into twists and hum­mocks, far off the way you (may) en­joy do­ing that with the reg­u­lar Mini. The sportier Coun­try­man S mod­els are bet­ter equipped for such things.

It is though a Mini in that it looks like a Mini, al­beit in­flated. The in­te­rior has the same bright de­sign, the over­sized cen­tre in­stru­ment dis­play car­ry­ing all in­for­ma­tion and the nav­i­ga­tion screen – and now the first Mini with touch­screen op­er­at­ing. It’s ex­cit­ing and fun.

It has the nice touches – the tog­gle switches and the red flip switch for on and off. De­pend­ing on what kit you add, it glows with coloured bands and back­light­ing, with pin­point sparkly re­flec­tions. The cir­cum­fer­ence of the dial changes colour de­not­ing the re­sponse mode cho­sen, from gen­tle greens for sen­si­ble to red for vroom vroom. After dark the driver gets a Mini logo “pud­dle” light shin­ing on the ground. The whole Mini thing is a sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.

Coun­try­man is the most ex­pen­sive Mini and be­ing the largest is the most prac­ti­cal. It may also be the most likely to at­tract the woman about town and coun­try (yes, I see it as a woman’s car) who could af­ford an Evoque but wants some­thing slightly hand­ier or cheaper.

Nav­i­ga­tion, Blue­tooth phone con­nec­tion and emer­gency call out is stan­dard­ised. New op­tions in­clude a pow­ered tail­gate with fob or “foot­wave” trig­ger­ing. There’s a clip-on cush­ion so you can sit on the rear open­ing and eat sand­wiches while you sur­vey what­ever is out there.

It brings the lat­est en­gines and trans­mis­sions and the ALL4 4x4 grip op­tion on all mod­els. Prices start at £22,465 for the 134bhp three-cylin­der 1.5 litre petrol Cooper with a re­spectable 0-62 time of

9.6 sec­onds. Add £1,495 for au­to­matic gears and £1,730 for the ALL4 sys­tem.

A petrol ALL4 au­to­matic ver­sion is of­fered with plugin elec­tric hybrid as­sis­tance which gives a claimed (and un­likely) 134mpg, 49g of CO2 and 0-62mph in 6.8 sec­onds: you can get one in June from £31,585. There’ll be a slightly quicker John Cooper Works model, price from £30,675. There’s also a tempt­ing Cooper SD diesel au­to­matic with 187 horse power and up to 295 lb ft of torque. Its head­line claims are 0-62mph in 7.7 sec­onds, 64mpg and 113g CO2. Price from £27,965.

Petrol 189bhp Cooper S mod­els cost from £24,710, or £26,410 with au­to­matic gears. Diesel power – still strong de­spite health probes – opens at £24,425 for the 148bhp Cooper D – tested here. By the time my demo car had been dressed with ex­tras the bill had bus­tled from £24,425 to £32,145. The prin­ci­pal cul­prits were “is­land blue” paint, up­rated sys­tems for nav­i­ga­tion and con­nec­tiv­ity and Blue­tooth with wire­less phone charg­ing, 17 inch spe­cial al­loys with run­flat tyres which al­low travel after a punc­ture, heated sports seats in the front, slid­ing rear seats, driv­ing mode se­lec­tion, cli­mate con­trol, adap­tive LED head­lamps, a leather wheel, a pow­ered tail­gate, the “picnic bench” and a larger fuel tank.

Be­cause three in four Coun­try­man buy­ers have cho­sen an en­hance­ment pack, the Pep­per kit is now stan­dard – help­ing hoist the price of the car. Most buy­ers of the new model are ex­pected to go for the Chilli pack. It in­cludes au­to­matic air con­di­tion­ing, driv­ing modes, sports seats and LED head­lamps. The price is £2,980, but the sav­ing for the cus­tomer is £1,150 over buy­ing the items sep­a­rately.

De­spite its pro­lif­er­a­tion of ac­ces­sories there were times when I couldn’t achieve the ideal rain wiper set­ting. Must have been the wrong type of rain. The man­ual gear change was re­sis­tant com­pared with, say, the ri­val Mazda CX-3. En­gag­ing re­verse, top left in the gate, was an ache with­out a liftup col­lar on the shaft. Still, with the Coun­try­man you get all that be­spoke Mini sat­is­fac­tion.

It’s not yet a joy to drive. It’s far from nim­ble. There was too much tyre noise on some sur­faces – though not as bad as with the Mazda, nois­ier than the Qashqai and that bright new­comer in the SUV class, the Audi Q2. Emo­tion­ally, though, you’ll fall for the Coun­try­man’s im­age and that cabin.

Ver­dict: Not cheap. A bit bum­bling. Lovely in­side.

SEN­SORY EX­PE­RI­ENCE: The Coun­try­man Cooper D has all the at­trac­tive de­sign touches you’d ex­pect from the Mini fam­ily.

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