Road tests / 2 November 2017, 1:36pm / Jason Woosey
Johannesburg - I wasn't going to venture down that well-worn “Shock! Horror! Look how big it is!” path with this review of the latest Mini Countryman, but it’s really hard to ignore that fact that this new Mini-badge-wearing crossover is the same length as a Mitsubishi ASX, and even wider.
But really, what’s the point of a relatively portly Mini SUV, you might ask? Isn’t it just a slap in the face of Mini tradition? Those questions certainly bounced around in my head during my week with the Countryman, but when you really think about it, it actually makes perfect sense.
Not just because SUVs are such cash cows for the carmakers these days. A lot of young folk fell in love with the Mini brand when it was reincarnated as a premium brand at the turn of the century
But since then a lot of them would have outgrown the small hatch lifestyle, many having started families, and somewhere along the line they’ve started to hanker after the whole SUV lifestyle.
You don’t have to like the Countryman, but it certainly has a place in this day and age. There’s also a rather wide range, recently expanded to include the new Cooper D Countryman on test here.
Driving the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or, as per our car, an eight-speed autobox, the two-litre turbodiesel produces 110kW and 330Nm. The resulting performance is really quite effortless, not necessarily brisk in any way but nor will you ever feel too feel shortchanged when stomping the right pedal.
Economy was quite good for a vehicle of this size, our car drinking 7.3 litres per 100km in a mixture of highway and city driving.
Indeed with a kerb weight of 1480kg it is quite a bit heavier than Mini’s hatchbacks and as a result of that, and its higher centre of gravity, it lacks the point-and-squirt agility we’ve come to love in Mini’s actual minis. And yet it handles brilliantly for an SUV of its size, and within that context the steering also feels direct and well weighted. It’s certainly more fun to chuck around than your average SUV. Sure, the suspension set-up is a touch on the firm side, meaning it’s not the plushest-riding vehicle out there, yet it is acceptably comfortable on most surfaces.
Given its premium positioning, and possibly the fact that the world might just not accept a Mini that’s any bigger than this, the Countryman is smaller than the crossovers that it competes with in price, namely the Tucsons, Kugas and Rav4s of this world. But most of those rivals have really huge interiors and though the Mini can’t compete with that kind of stretch-out indulgence, it is still quite practical. There’s enough legroom for larger teens or adults in the back, although perhaps not quite enough headroom for taller folk. The boot capacity is a decent-enough 450 litres, which should handle your average year-end getaway.
If we’re talking interior ambience, the Countryman is somewhat swankier than your average compact SUV, with plenty of premium-looking materials and that characteristic giant ‘grandfather clock’ in the centre, housing a modern touchscreen command centre and sporting some colourful lighting effects to lift the mood, providing you’ve ordered the Excitement Pack for R3050, which includes a full ambient lighting package.
However, the bloated options list could see the diesel auto Countryman’s R475 684 base price swell way past the half-a-million mark.
Forget the fact that it has a Mini badge and the Countryman is actually quite comfortably sized - big enough for all your kit, but still small enough to be easily manoeuvrable and relatively agile. An insult to its heritage it may be, but then it is perfectly in tune with modern life, and particularly likeable in diesel form. For many Mini fans that’s just what the doctor ordered.