Countryman is the name given to the latest from the Mini stable. This is a huge change from the original Mini, yet keeping the overall style and fun factor intact. The biggest change is the fact that this Mini has four doors and can seat up to five comfortably. It's almost as though the teenager Mini has grown up into a more practical Mini.
Although the vehicle has grown it still retains its overall retro youthful looks. The height of the vehicle has gone up, but this is more in keeping with the concept that this vehicle is meant to take on the country roads.
At first glance you will be forgiven for not noticing the two additional doors, as we all have become so accustomed to Mini's having just two doors. From the front, the large grill and roundish headlights, which incorporate the indicators, take up most of the front. The one change that Mini has made is that the “S” models no longer have a bonnet scoop for additional air, rather an additional slot at the bottom of the grill is added. This makes the vehicle look more aggressive and sporty. From the rear one immediately notices that something is different with this Mini, as the rear lights are huge and so is the Mini Badge. Overall, I do like the shape. I think Mini have done an excellent job for a first attempt at something new.
Inside, the vehicle is surprisingly spacious and thanks to the high roofline and the optional panoramic roof there is a definite sense of airiness. The dashboard layout is typical Mini, with the speedometer in the centre of the dash. The rather large (almost flying saucer size) speedometer now incorporates the navigation, radio, Ipod and onboard computer display.
There is also a small controller just behind the gear shift. This system is very similar to the BMW i-drive but in a fun design. The rev counter is just above the steering wheel and includes (thank goodness) the speed in a small digital display, as one almost never looks to the centre to get a speed reading. The centre consol is quite unique in that it is two parallel aluminium bars that incorporate a sunglasses holder with the Mini emblem.
This holder can be removed and carried with you when you leave the vehicle almost like a sunglasses pouch, except that it is rather large. The interior lighting can also be changed depending on your mood, from red to blue and all the colours in between (approximately five colours). This includes the lighting in the doorpanels and the inside of the roof.
The seating arrangement has been well thought out as the rear seats can be moved forwards or backwards depending on the choice of for luggage space or rear legroom. Even with the seats fully front two adults can sit fairly comfortably. The boot is surprisingly big for Mini standards. The vehicle I tested had the optional flat loading, what this does is split the boot space into two. So that, when you fold the rear seats, the load bed is flat. I have to admit, the space was sufficient for a family trip, excluding the pram and the kitchen sink!
The ride of the vehicle is typical Mini, with go-kart style handling and precise turning, it makes you feel young every time you get behind the wheel. The one I tested was the all4, which means it has permanent four wheel drive as opposed to two wheel drive. This did take some of the fun away from the usual Mini drive, but added so much more in maneuverability, it's like the vehicle is on rails.
On the downside, many people may see this as an alternate to a 4x4 or an off-roader. It is not. This is meant to be a runabout that can take you on gravel roads to the farm or the nearest stables. It was not designed to go off road.
All in all I think Mini has done a superb job in creating a vehicle that is more practical without losing any of the funky design or fun of the original Mini. This is definitely a vehicle that will appeal to both males and females. So, let the fun begin. asa
Engine: 1598cc four cylinder turbo
Power: 135KW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 240Nm @ 1600rpm
0-100km/h: 7.9 seconds (Claimed)
Fuel Consumption: Average 7.3l/100km
Vehicle courtesy of BMW SA.
Azim Omar CA(SA) is a member of the SAGMJ.