A diverse model range
Initially only available as a three-door hatch, it very soon grew to include a cabriolet, the somewhat awkward-looking Clubman estate, the Coupe and its Roadster offspring, the short-lived coupe-like Paceman and off course the Countryman SUV.
While the regular three-door is likely to remain the quintessential Mini for many, the ongoing shift towards SUVs has seen the Countryman emerge as the new favourite by virtue of its traditional Mini qualities and pseudo off-road looks.
A diesel Mini?
In a first for South Africa, Mini has bolstered the Countryman range by the addition of a turbodiesel model known as the Countryman Cooper D. Although nothing new in Europe where oil-burning Mini models have been on sale in various forms since 2003, the newest model in the recently refreshed Countryman range does beg the question, has the perfect Mini finally arrived?
Although the Countryman debuted back in March, the exact availability of the D remained unknown until a Light White example, finished with optional (R1 100) black stripes and contrasting Jet Black roof and mirrors, recently arrived.
More maxi than mini
More worthy of the title “Maxi-Mini” by virtue of switching to the same UKL2 front-wheel drive platform as the hatch, the internally designated F60 Countryman arguably strikes a clearer SUV identity than its rather compact R60 predecessor.
Aside from this, differentiating the new Countryman takes a keen eye with the changes mostly confined to more rounded headlights, a thinner grille, and square-sided taillights. While minor, the Countryman has kept its cheeky image likely to not only please the Mini faithful, but attract those who found the rather squashed nature of the old model off-putting.
Thoroughly modern techno-savvy interior
It is a different story inside with an interior layout more focused on tech-savvy Millennials than ever before. In addition to the now vertical air vents, redesigned facia and a new instrument cluster, the circular touchscreen display now exclusively houses the Mini Connect infotainment system with Bluetooth, USB, App Connect and satellite navigation, without doubling up as a rev-counter like the previous model.
Despite the use of solid feeling, premium materials with a range of customisation options available, it is the infotainment system that rates as a hit-and-miss affair. It’s biggest frustration is that it can be a bit confusing to scroll though, not helped by the touchscreen inputs being a trifle slow. Once you get the hang of it though, it becomes plain sailing.
The ace of space
Blending quirky with ordinary is however part of what makes a Mini, a Mini, with the latter more true than ever when it comes to space. With premium levels of head and legroom in the front and rear, boot space is rated at 450-litres or 1 309-litres with the 40/20/20 split rear seat folded down.
What lies underneath its bonnet is of course the biggest talking point and one where the Cooper D shines. Displacing 1 995 cc and producing 110kW/330Nm, the B47D20 oil burner not only pulls strong, but it is also a refined and quiet unit with only a hint of diesel clatter audible on start-up.
Entrusted with sending the power to the front wheels, the optional six-speed Steptronic gearbox is both smooth and slick, although the inclusion of paddle shifters would have been welcomed.
Still a go-kart at heart?
Thankfully, the Countryman can still handle and despite being a diesel and only two-wheel driven, it continues to feel like an oversized, if slightly more sensible, go-kart, which becomes the opposite when you select Sport mode from the three mode (Mid and Green) selector lever placed at the base of the gear lever.
Prolonged spells in this mode and mainly town driving over the D's short spell therefore resulted in fuel consumption topping out 9.8-litres/100 km, nowhere near Mini's rather optimistic claimed figure of 4.7-litres/100 km.
As editor Sean Nurse noted in his launch recap, Mini has made a considerable effort in taking the Countryman to the next level in the search for something different. At R475 000 sans options, the Cooper D Steptronic offers the ideal balance of power, efficiency and looks for buyers seeking more than the standard Cooper model. Choose your extras wisely and if you can go without all-wheel drive, the Cooper D, rates as best Mini of both worlds.