Today tough, Mini offers a range of three and five-door models, a convertible, a larger station wagon-type Clubman variant and even, a small SUV, the Countryman, which is now in its second generation. I travelled down to KwaZulu-Natal to sample this latest Mini creation.
Not so Mini
The Countryman is the largest Mini within the range as consumers continue to demand SUVs and crossovers, which ironically makes the Countryman the most relevant Mini within the ever-expanding range.
The Countryman shares its UKL2 platform with the BMW X1 and is some 200mm longer and 30mm wider than the previous generation. That means, in terms of dimensions, it’s larger than the likes of the Mazda CX-3 and aimed squarely at rivals such as the Audi Q2 and upcoming Volvo XC40.
For those acquainted with the current crop of Mini derivatives, there aren’t any surprises in the engine department, yet at least. Powering the Cooper Countryman is the familiar three-pot 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre mill which is available with a six-speed manual or six-speed Steptronic transmission.
The current top-of-the-range Countryman Cooper S gets the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor as the rest of the Mini range, with an output of 141kW/280Nm and the option of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
All models will be front-wheel drive-only as the All4 four-wheel drive model offered previously didn't sell as well as the brand might have hoped for. Having driven both derivatives equipped with the automatic transmissions, I have to concede that if you’re after a Countryman, the Cooper will suffice.
It is no longer as frustratingly lethargic as the previous generation was, while the Cooper S does little to excite on the performance front. However, for those not too interested in these middle-of-the-road models, there is hope as a 2.0-litre 110kW/330Nm diesel Cooper will be added to the range later this year, while the rather potent John Cooper Works version equipped with the All4 system is also on its way.
Premium inside and out
For those shopping within the small premium SUV segment, the Countryman will likely satiate the ever-growing need to be different with its chunky soft-roader looks and more practical dimensions.
From an exterior profile, the big Mini strikes a unique crossover silhouette while up front, there are the obligatory round headlamps and at the rear, the traditional squared-off tail lamps. There are also lashings of chrome and brushed metal surfaces to remind the owner that this is a Mini for a buyer with a more active lifestyle.
The interior is typical Mini with a large, circular infotainment screen dominating the cockpit, while the usual customisation options meant that at launch, all eight cars available were different in terms of their exterior treatment and interior colour combinations. All of the varying surfaces and materials used throughout the cabin creates a space that is unique, as only Mini seem able to do.
I am certain that this retro-modern theme used inside the Countryman will either be a hit or miss affair, much like the rest of the range. However, for the Mini faithful, it will certainly be seen as a resounding success as it appears to be like a regular Mini, but with space for five occupants and a rather large 450-litre boot.
Watch those options
As with many vehicles these days, the Countryman has quite an extensive optional extras list, which can inflate the price tag quickly. It is not to say that the Countryman range is badly specified as standard, however, buyers looking to customise their car may find themselves paying thousands over the list price with a few desirable options ticked.
The new generation Mini Countryman is a massive improvement over the car that it replaces in terms of quality, refinement, performance and practicality. It presents something unique within the premium crossover segment and can compete with key rivals in the areas that count. Just be wary of the specification as the price can creep up dramatically.
Cooper Countryman - R423 824
Cooper Countryman Steptronic - R442 052
Cooper S Countryman - R493 306
Cooper S Countryman AT - R512 806