By: Jason Woosey
If there is one vehicle that could make the original Mini's designer Alec Issigonis turn in his grave, it must be the Countryman. Yet let's be fair here, crossovers are all the rage these days and you can't blame the BMW-owned brand for jumping onto that bandwagon.
All-new, but evolutionary
It's a formula that's clearly worked for the brand, hence the investment in the all-new Countryman that you see here, and which is due in South Africa during the first quarter of 2017. Despite being “completely newly developed”, the design is rather evolutionary, although the squarer headlights and frowning grille will help you easily mark it out from its predecessor, as will the fatter taillight clusters.
A good 20cm longer than its predecessor, it goes without saying that this is the least-miniature Mini ever created, but the upside is that it's also the most practical, with more cabin space, a considerably bigger 450 litre boot as well as some nifty new additions such as a picnic bench that folds out from the loading sill, sliding rear seat bench and 'touchless' automatic tailgate.
Some interesting new gizmos
All that seems rather rudimentary next to the new Find Mate gadget, that aims to prevent you from losing valuable items such as bags, cases and keys. This option comes with Bluetooth-enabled tags, which you attach to said items so that the system can help locate them either from the car's interface or from your smartphone if need be. Should the items be out of Bluetooth range, the system can guide you to the place where a connection was last detected.
The Countryman not only helps the more scatterbrained among us, but there's also a rather gimmicky app for those that feel the need to prove to the world that their SUV ownership is not just about pavement-hopping. For that you'll turn to the Country Timer, which uses the vehicle's control unit to register how much time you've spent driving on “challenging” surfaces.
New turbo engines across the board
Note, however, that Mini's All4 all-wheel drive system is an optional extra, although it can be fitted to any of the engine variants. Though All4 has been improved since the last generation, the motors that drive it are totally new to the Countryman.
As per the latest hatchback models, the crossover is fitted with BMW's new-generation turbo-charged petrol engines. These come in the form of a 1.5-litre three-cylinder unit in the Cooper, rated at 100kW and 220Nm, and a 2-litre four-cylinder motor in the Cooper S, good for 141kW and 280Nm. These two are confirmed for the local market, but the pair of diesels available abroad are still under consideration.
One 'green' option that will eventually come our way, although timing has yet to be confirmed, is the Cooper S E plug-in-hybrid variant, which mates the aforementioned three-cylinder engine to an electric motor for combined outputs of 165kW and 385Nm.
You can also tailor the driving characteristics of the new Countryman, via an optional Driving Modes package, which includes electronically controlled dampers.