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Car Review: The new MINI Countryman

The Countryman is all grown-up

The new MINI Countryman is the biggest in MINI’s history and although some may find the fact that the brand chose to go bigger somewhat contradictory, there’s quite a good reason behind it…

The aim of the second generation Countryman is to cater towards families and MINI owners looking to stick with the brand but expand in size. And so, a focus on space for family-orientated customers is exactly what the brand has brought to surface.

“The new MINI Countryman has essentially grown in size. But it was still possible to retain the typical MINI proportions,” says Julius Schluppkotten, MINI Countryman project manager.

Getting to know the new Countryman

It boasts increased dimensions and versatility, according to MINI, while three engine variants with a standard six-speed transmission are available.  In June, a sportier version based on the John Cooper Works comes out as well as a diesel variant. An eight-speed Steptronic transmission is also available for the new MINI Cooper S Countryman.

At the launch I got to see a lot of what the new Countryman can do while spending quite a bit of time with it in and around Durban on highways, passes and gravel.

Outside

In terms of its size the new Countryman is 20 cm longer, 3 cm wider and 13 mm higher than its predecessor while its wheelbase has been extended by 7.5 cm. Higher roof rails, which MINI explains is to benefit camping enthusiasts, are also noticeable from outside and firmly places it in the SUV segment. So it’s now an ideal car for a growing family. A bulky front with new angular headlights might not be everyone’s favourite feature, but I liked its distinct and muscular look. It just gives it more character.

An electric tailgate (which is an optional extra) makes touchless opening and closing of the tailgate possible – a useful feature when your hands are full while packing and unpacking your family’s luggage on road trips.

Also read: The MINI Cooper S – not just for posers

The Cooper S trim has some nice sporty touches like the bonnet stripes and sports bumpers.

Inside

The growth of the new Countryman contributes to its increased space inside a comfortable five-seater.

There are some nice touches in the new Countryman’s boot. One option is the Picnic Bench but perhaps Picnic ‘Cushion’ is a more suitable description for it. It’s a flexible surface that folds out of the luggage compartment and provides seating for two people. Bootspace has been increased to 450 litres and 1, 003 litres with the rear seats down.

Speaking of rear seats, these can be shifted longitudinally by up to 13 centimetres while the folding rear backrest offers a 40:20 split. While sitting on the back seat I was immediately impressed with head and legroom space, even when sitting behind a tall driver. While it’s extremely comfortable at the back, I doubt you’d be able to seat five adults comfortably for long journeys – two adults or three kids on the back seat would make for a much more spacious road trip.

Door pockets that hold a one-litre water bottle are seen at both front and rear of the new Countryman along with Isofix child seat points.

Tech

MINI claims that a strong emphasis to the solid character of the new Countryman is supported by a distinctively designed cockpit. When sitting inside there’s no doubt that you’re sitting in a MINI. ‘Quirky and cute’ is probably the best way to describe it. The instrument cluster (which moves up and down along with the steering wheel when adjusted) is based around BMW’s iDrive system and can also be controlled by a rotary dial just below the gear shift lever. The LED light colour-changing ring is still available around the central instrument cluster.

For the first time in the new Countryman a touchscreen interface on the central instrument  is available as an upgraded option. The MINI Connected App (which links your phone to your car’s VIN number) acts as a personal assistant when travelling and can remind you about things like scheduled meetings by synching your calendar.

Driving impressions

Steering on the new Countryman is super comfy and sharp and makes it a really good car to chuck around mountain-passes. I don’t think those who enjoyed smaller MINI models are going to feel like they’re missing out on the fun-to-drive element here. It’s also rather quiet on the highway, but stick it in Sports Mode and you’ll get that attention-seeking growl you’re looking for. Dynamic Damper Control is optionally available.

Engine options

Two petrol and one diesel engine of the latest generation will be available to choose from, each with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology:

MINI Cooper Countryman: 3-cylinder petrol engine, capacity: 1, 499 cc, output: 100 kW, maximum torque: 220 N.m

MINI Cooper S Countryman: 4-cylinder petrol engine, capacity: 1, 998 cc, output: 141 kW, maximum torque: 280 N.m

MINI Cooper D Countryman: 4-cylinder diesel engine, capacity: 1, 995 cc, output: 110 kW, maximum torque: 330 Nm *available in the third quarter of 2017.

Depending on the engine, MINI claims that the reduction in fuel consumption amounts to as much as 1.4 litres per 100 kilometres.

“The front-runner in terms of efficiency among those model variants powered solely by a combustion engine is the new MINI Cooper D Countryman, with a fuel consumption of 4.5 to 4.3 litres per 100 kilometres and a CO2 emissions figure of 118 to 113 grams per kilometre (EU test cycle figures, dependent on tyre format selected).”

If you’re looking for a quick and punchy drive and you’re willing to spend a bit extra I’d suggest going for the 4-cylinder petrol engine, but if it’s long road trips you’re after, the diesel is a no-brainer.

Pricing

Pricing is higher than the previous model and starts at R423, 824 for the Cooper 6-speed manual (100 kW and 220 Nm). Automatic: R442, 052

The Cooper S 6-speed manual starts at R493, 306 (141 kW and 280 N.m). Automatic: R512, 806)

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