Driven - April 2017

The Bigger MINI Countryman is back in South Africa and it’s better

The New MINI Countryman is back – We attended the South African launch. 

The Countryman was the car that made MINI lovers question the brands direction. How can a MINI be a four door hatchback that wasn’t “mini” by any means? That question troubled die-hard fans that only associate the car with Mr. Bean and the overused “go-kart feel” line the brand used for many years. The reality however is that the MINI audience has changed. The people who fell in love with the reincarnated post millennium MINI, probably have different needs than they did when the brand re-launched approximately  15 years ago.

Those same MINI lovers now probably have children and need more space and comfort. Before the Countryman, those people had to move on to other brands. This wasn’t the case when the first generation MINI Countryman launched and now we’re on the second generation, which keeps the same recipe but bettered of course. For starters the exterior design has been individualised, making it distinct compared to other MINI models. This is great because all the MINI models looked the same, so some variety in design is welcome. What is most notable is the front headlights, which feature standard LED lights, giving the Countryman a modern presence. The rear sees the number plate section moved to the middle of the boot (Or trunk if you’re American) and the taillights have been revised too. The overall look of the car is fuller, longer and wider, giving the Countryman a crossover stance, which is what the cool kids want nowadays.

The chicness doesn’t stop on the outside, the inside is much roomier and dolled up too. The cramped feeling you get in a MINI is completely gone, but the signature MINI feel remains. A circular infotainment hub gives you various bits of information such as driving data and media. The choice of different screen sizes is available, with the option of navigation giving you the largest screen option and the nicest too. The rear legroom has been improved greatly and the rear seats are able to move backwards and forwards by 13cm.Nice.

Powering the MINI Countryman Cooper is the 1.5 litre turbocharged 3 cylinder engine used in the BMW 318i and other modern  MINI Coopers. This small yet powerful engine produces 100kW/220Nm. The big boy S variant uses a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine which is good for 141kW/280Nm. Both cars are available with manual gearboxes and the preferred ZF automatic gearbox. If auto is what you’ll opt for, be advised that the Cooper use a 6-Speed whereas the Cooper S uses an 8-speed Sport Automatic with paddle-shift. Both variants are very smooth compared to their smaller siblings and they also offer more refinement, something needed in this segment. We’re happy to state that sharp dynamic handling is apparent in the new Countryman, but in a more grown up way.

The vehicle still has that childish get up and go manner about it, but much more civilised. The added power of the S model is a nice to have, but the standard cooper won’t leave you sorely wanting, especially during the everyday commute. The most revolutionary model is yet to come however, this being the Cooper D, a first for the South African market. Better fuel economy and more torque will probably make this upcoming variant the Countryman of choice for many.

Overall the new Countryman is a great step ahead for the brand. The outgoing car had started to feel slightly long in the tooth, so this newer model came in the nick of time. With competition like the Audi Q2, the Countryman has got what it takes to square off with the rivals whilst maintaining a unique flair. MINI lovers needing more space can happily stay in the brand with the new Countryman. With more models on the way, we look forward to seeing how it sells in the SA market. Starting at R422 000, this price point is in not unattainable for those looking at the crossover market.