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MINI Countryman UK launch

Sporty driving on Buckinghamshire’s open roads

Sporty driving on Buckinghamshire’s open roads

MINI has finally taken the wraps off its second-generation MINI Countryman small crossover sport utility-vehicle in answer to the growing demand for these small, all-around premium vehicles worldwide.

The first generation Countryman had a very successful seven-year run which saw it sell 550,000 units, far more than what MINI had ever imagined.

The second-generation Countryman is based off of the BMW Group’s modular UKL2 platform which it shares with the all-new MINI Clubman and the BMW 2-Series Active Crossover.

MINI envisioned the all-new Countryman to be more versatile, practical, roomier and safer than its predecessor, thus truly allowing the Countryman to become a typical garage’s first/primary and only vehicle, an option previously unimaginable and possible with previous generation MINIs.

The all-new Countryman is 20 cm longer overall than its predecessor, with a 7.5 cm increase in wheelbase, a 3 cm increase in width and 1 cm height increase, yet you only need 11 meters to make a full-circle turn.

The increase in size truly improves the Countryman’s overall interior space, comfort and refinement, but does come with a weight penalty: MINI claims the Cooper S All 4 automatic weighs in at 1,545 kg, which seems a bit portly.

For the most part, you don’t feel the gain in weight in dynamic maneuvers, but it will blunt fuel efficiency in the long-run.

Thankfully, you can forgive this as the MINI Countryman still has that blood-hound sensitivity and willingness on winding b-roads in and around Hedsor in Buckinghamshire and through Oxfordshire, near MINI’s headquarters.

On the highway, the Countryman displays far better straight-line stability, comfort and relaxed gait when following the legal limit on the Queen’s Motorways.

The Countryman has four major variants: the Cooper, Cooper S, John Cooper Works and as a first for the company, a Cooper S E-Hybrid with plug-in ability.

The Cooper S, in All 4 (all-wheel drive) automatic variant, is expected to be the volume seller worldwide, and especially in the Philippines.

A 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine will power the Cooper and Cooper S E-Hybrid, while a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine will power the Cooper S and JCW variants.

A 3-cylinder diesel is also available for the Cooper. You have a range of 6-speed manuals and 8-speed automatics, with a mix of front-wheel and all-wheel drive transmissions.

Interestingly, the Countryman as well as the Clubman are built in the Netherlands, in the same way the first generation Countryman was built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria.

For now, MINI doesn’t see production of the other MINI variants (save the 3-door hatch) going into Oxford.

Also new is the MINI Connected App. This app connects your mobile phone to your MINI, and informs you of a number of things: appointments cross-referenced to pre-programmed destinations plugged into your GPS, a tracking device for your MINI.

It can also locate regularly used items with your MINI such as bags and luggages, so long as MINI-branded luggage tags are attached to them.

Looks-wise, it retains much of the visual cues of its predecessor and current generation MINIs so it hasn’t strayed far from the family.

Only the rear windows look stretched from its predecessor. There are a range of alloys from 17 to 19 inches in size.

MINI has also just launched its new MINI Yours customization program that gives you the choice of a variety of exterior colors, interior wood and plastic colored panels, leather seats with special stitching, piping and patterns, and of course different grades of leather.

The MINI on the off-road

The MINI on the off-road

While MINI gave no data on ride height/ground clearance, break-over angle and angles of approach and departure, the British brand felt confident enough to let loose a number of international motoring journalists and lifestyle media to sample the MINI’s off-road prowess through a very muddy and wet off-road track around Hedsor House before letting off the main test-drive route consisting of B-roads, A-roads and motorways for a good mix of driving conditions totaling 165 kilometers on the first day, and another 150 kilometers on the second day.

Off-road, the Countryman is very impressive: despite wearing highway-terrain tires, the MINI’s impressive traction and stability control allowed the tiny ’ute to conquer the very difficult 1.6-kilometer off-road terrain with ease and confidence, negating the need for traditional low-range transfer cases and locking differentials.

Aside from traction and stability controls, the MINI Countryman also comes with ABS-EBD brakes with cornering brake control to help slingshot you through corners, and the electronic differential lock control to help conquer the slippery stuff.

The open road was next. The UK has one of the best driving roads if you like sporty driving.

The mix of greasy, off-camber, broken tarmac and winding, ribbon-like road network has created many world driver champions from F1, WRC, Le Mans/GT Racing, and the like.

These roads show why the Countryman, despite its compact SUV tag, is still a driver’s car.

Throttle response is immediate, the brakes are powerful and well-modulated, while brimming with feel.

The steering, despite being an electric-affair, offers decent feel and feedback to give you, the driver, absolute confidence.

Throw in light mud, slick greasy roads, and the continuous light and misty rainfall, and you end up with a recipe for a truly epic driving experience with loads of slight sideways and squirrelly driving.

Let’s not forget the jumps and crests on unknown roads. Truly, the MINI felt like a rally champ!

And did I mention that we were driving on the wrong side of the road—with the steering wheel in the wrong place as well?

All these make for a fun, memorable, and sometimes worrying and even manic driving experience.

On the highway, the MINI is a relaxed cruiser. Interior space is truly spacious, and the rear can accommodate three adults for short- to medium-length journeys.

Suspension has softened in feel considerably, due mostly to the extended wheelbase and stiffer chassis architecture. This helps improve comfort on the highway.

The longer nose also improves its NCAP crash rating, exceeding 5-star rating in terms of occupant safety as well as exceeding current pedestrian crash impact regulations.

The boot is huge, with a built-in picnic table, while the front seats have that ergonomically pleasing and orthopedically correct position.

The steering wheel and column aligns perfectly with your hands and shoulder, while the instrument cluster is easily seen and read.

Of note, the central LCD display seems to have gotten smaller, but displays information just as readily as before.

Unfortunately, MINI’s version of the BMW iDrive Multimedia Infotainment System seems to have become less intuitive to use compared to previous iterations.

Overall, MINI has successfully transcended its typical MINI buyers looking for something fast and fun, but without alienating them.

The all-new Countryman is more versatile while retaining much of its fun handling and prowess.

In the Philippines, the MINI would be a perfect candidate for a long drive into unfamiliar territory that would entail some light off-roading and a bit of shallow river crossings.

There is also an electronic tow-hitch option that folds out when needed, and depending on the variant, can tow between 1,500 kg to 1,800 kg, perfect for towing a small boat, motorcycles, or a race car to the track.

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