It’s the company’s biggest ever production model, but is the new Cooper S Countryman ALL4 still MINI ‘cool’ ?
|Inline 4cyl, twin-turbo, 1998cc
|189bhp @ 5000-6000rpm
|207lb ft @ 1350-4600rpm
|Aggressive looks, stylish interior, fun drive
|No torque in the lower revs, Price, price, price
Normally I expect to hate MINIs: every time I see one, my brain elicits images of corporate executives squeezing hipsters’ wallets for whatever cash they have in exchange for the elusive ‘cool’ factor. That is until I drive one and realize how fantastically quaint, quirky and quick they are.
And the new Countryman is no different. From the outset, the more muscular lines, with widened wheel arches and the aggressive front grille give an altogether angrier look: if you squint, you can actually see the Stay Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. But it works.
On the numerical side, the overall length has increased to 4,299mm and the height to 1,557mm compared with the outgoing Countryman. Alas, with the weight of four-wheel drive and the scale up in dimensions now tipping the scales at 1,510kg, the newboy is no lightweight.
So, it’s bigger, heavier and more menacing…
This has its benefits though. Unlike before, the biggest MINI yet can now fit four adults in actual comfort. Not five as stated in the brochure – the cabin is too tight for that – but four. Curiously in a model this size, the rear seats can also slide forward to increase boot capacity to 450-litres, which is almost double that of the previous iteration.
And talking about boot space – and talking about talking – many times I have found myself ranting to my editor behind the Car of the Week as a numb feeling creeps through my legs (I put that down to age, weight and lifestyle). Now though, the Countryman has a neatly stowed cushion that unfolds to turn the boot deck into a comfy bench. I now can talk for hours without strain.
Back in the cabin, the command post is quintessential MINI ‘cool’, all analogue dials and retro flick switches. The chrome inlets around the central console, which some time ago held the tachometer, have been substituted with rims of light that change colour in a pattern I’ve not been able to comprehend – there’s that MINI quirkiness again – but acts as a pleasing kind of mood lighting. Okay, the updated 8.8in touchscreen reveals a somewhat BMW-y look and feel, but overall there’s a genuine aura of quality and charm about this new cabin.
My inner pedant has to mention that the window glass does not go all the way down. Not disturbing, just annoying. And I miss the key fob, or at least the slot in which to ‘plug’ the gigantic (compensation) remote into the dashboard, a sense of drama that’s sadly lacking in this new model. Much like the drivetrain.
What about the engine? Does it still handle like a MINI?
Our ‘S’ trimmed test model comes equipped with a 2-litre twin turbo four-cylinder that produces 189bhp. A beauty of an engine that, unfortunately, needs to be kept in the high revs to really get the wagon shifting. In the lower revs, and despite there being 207lb ft to work with, torque is non-existent and the on-board computer struggles to find the right gear among the nine – NINE – available. Sending both power and the lethargic torque to all four wheels also means the Countryman has lost much of MINI’s quirky nippiness. Still, keep the engine ticking over 4000rpm, use the wheel-mounted paddles, and you can start to feel some of that quintessential MINI charisma at work. Were I the ranting type, I’d probably ask for snappier gear changes too.
If the engine only occasionally reveals that MINI playfulness, fortunately the handling is more on-point. Quick and precise steering now serves to negotiate turns like a cheetah. Fears of unruly body roll are also quickly quashed, as the suspension and steering keep the car impressively flat. There is a bit of lean – with 1510kg at work, it’s unavoidable – but there’s still an impressive amount of agility. You need only look at how many Dakar Rallies MINI has won with its largest model for proof of the Countryman’s capabilities.
So, overall verdict?
All in all, I’m left with a sweet taste in my mouth, even though the drivetrain needs more than a little encouragement to get into its stride, and that quirkily designed cabin could be more spacious given those enlarged dimensions. Plus, it’s a crossover, or MINI’s concept of a crossover at least, meaning BMW Group shareholders have crossed a MINI Cooper with a BMW X1 and launched the result to the market. It’s taking my weathered scepticism a while to get past that.
Fair’s fair though, even MINI’s biggest model positively drips with the brand’s ‘cool’ charm and charisma, the slightly more menacing looks get a thumbs up, and the handling is impressively intuitive for a vehicle of this size. Plus, there’s a hidden cushion in the boot. How can you not love that?
All’s steaming along nicely for a 4-star rating, until I stumble across the pricelist and the options. They are not for the faint hearted, given that you’ll be forking over $36,700 for the base-level Countryman, and a fairly chunky $39,500 – or one Cadillac ATS – for the Countryman S. That’s the price of ‘cool’ these days though, I suppose…
- Technical specifications available on page 2