The biggest Mini ever is now on sale in SA. The 4.1m-long Countryman has four, full size doors and a 2.6m wheelbase, making it properly spacious for four adults. What’s more, it’s just about as engaging to drive as the two-door Cooper, with the added weight and higher ride not doing much to sully the traditional Mini experience. The looks take some getting used to, like a regular Cooper after a particularly indulgent Winter-long eating binge. But you also can’t help feeling the neatly judged, ‘grown up’ sheetmetal actually suits the Countryman’s more mature audience pretty well. As ever, personalisation is not only possible, but recommended to get the best out of the chunkier bodyshell. A contrasting roof colour and just the right wheels can make all the difference. I’m not convinced by the ‘bumper-mounted bonnet scoop’ on the turbocharged Cooper S models, as it puts a sad twist on the main grille. But you definitely want the forced induction engine over the asthmatic base model if you’re a high altitude, Gauteng-based buyer.
Inside, it’s all typical Mini faire with only the odd, dog-leg handbrake lever standing out as Countryman specific. The new car is the first Mini to feature Mini Connected as an option, which seamlessly integrates Apple’s iPhone into the infotainment system. You’ll need to have also ticked either the navigation (R15000) or cheaper Visual Boost boxes to use the News/Web radio/Twitter functionality. Of course your iPhone’s stored music and videos play through the system beautifully too.
The boot isn’t massive, but the seat backs slide forward and fold individually for a much more flexible load space.
The engine line-up is as per all Minis, so you get to choose between a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre and a turbocharged one in 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions. Both are uprated versions of the familiar units, with the natasp 1600 now pushing 90kW and the turbo 135kW (up from 128kW). Range-toppers also feature ALL4 all-wheel drive, with up to 50% of the torque sent to the rear wheels under normal conditions, increasing to as much as 100% if the electronic sensors deem it necessary. In other words, it works in much the same way as BMW’s X-drive system – no surprise there really.
The Countryman is built in Graz, Austria by Magna Steyr. BMW SA is hoping to sell around 800 units in 2011, the majority in front-wheel drive configuration.
Countryman pricing including CO2 tax (auto in brackets)
Cooper R290 236 (R308 474)
Cooper S R347 907 (R365 803)
Cooper S ALL4 R397 361 (R415 000)