‘BIG’ Mini Countryman conquers Thai countryside
More News from Jason K. Ang
There’s no reason that a MINI Cooper, renowned for being compact and nimble, should be big. Unless you want to carry more stuff and people, in which case MINI has you covered, too.
About a year ago, the brand launched a four-door version of the hatchback, and afterwards, the all-new Clubman wagon: size M and L, if you will.
Now comes the second-generation Countryman, an addition to the MINI stable that has become a successful nameplate in its own right.
The new MINI Countryman is even bigger than the car it replaces, and it manages to keep the unique appeal of owning a MINI even in this XL guise.
The new Countryman is spot-on as a MINI, retaining the stance and squat appearance that’s become the hallmark of the new MINI.
The Countryman has grown, by quite a lot: 200 mm in length, with a 75-mm longer wheelbase.
Thankfully, the increased dimensions have translated into a palpably larger interior. There’s adequate rear kneeroom for adults, even with a tall adult sitting in the driver’s seat.
Ingress and egress are also easier thanks to the bigger door openings.
Our drive of the MINI Countryman started out on the highways of Hua Hin, Thailand. The access roads in the Thai countryside are well-paved, given that these are the provincial areas about 300 km southeast of the capital.
On the highway, the Countryman exhibits enthusiastic on-road behavior. The steering wheel feels quick but not twitchy.
Buttons for phone, audio and cruise control are on the two horizontal spokes.
The suspension, front struts and multi-link rear, are firm but never harsh.
The brakes feel up to the task of hauling down the 1400-kg Countryman from high speeds.
We soon turned to secondary roads, with the pavement becoming rougher and then disappearing altogether.
This is where the Countryman’s 165 mm (6.5 inches) of ground clearance comes in.
The Countryman proved to be quite capable in light off-roading. It had rained heavily a few minutes before we reached the grassy knolls. The tracks had turned muddy, with deep ruts showing up.
The MINI, with just front-wheel drive, managed to traverse with minimum drama. Some side-slip on a particularly treacherous section was a reminder of how slippery the trail was.
The All4 all-wheel-drive system that actively splits the torque between the axles is available as an option.
When we reached the lakeside destination, we stepped out to tall weeds and muddy ground. The MINIs were splattered with dirt but seemed to be comfortable.
To accentuate the Countryman’s leisure credentials, there are accessories such as a picnic cushion, allowing you to sit on the car’s rear bumper without dirtying your clothes.
Then there’s the Autohome roof tent, a pop-up camper that bolts on to the Countryman’s roof rails: you can camp out literally on top of your MINI.
The MINI Countryman comes with three driving modes: Sport, Mid or Normal, and Green. Green cuts the power and shifts early to provide better fuel efficiency, while Sport sharpens the throttle response. The available variable damping also firms up when in Sport.
An SUV is expected to carry a large amount of luggage, and the MINI obliges with an enlarged cargo area. There’s 450 liters with all seats up, expanding to 1,390 liters when the rear seat is folded.
In practical terms, it can take medium sized luggages behind the rear seat with ease.
The standard Cooper has a 1.6-liter inline-three engine, while the Cooper S has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
Both are twin-turbo petrol units, with the Cooper getting 134 hp and 220 Nm, and the Cooper S, 189 hp and 280 Nm.
The three-cylinder is a pleasant surprise, being enough to propel the Countryman on road or rough. The four is even more sprightly, with more immediate throttle response.
Thanks to turbocharging, peak torque comes at just off idle at 1,250 rpm. This gives the Countryman pair an alert response to the accelerator.
The Philippines gets an all-diesel lineup, with a different pair of engines.
The standard transmission is an eight-speed automatic, with available paddle shifters.
The gearbox proved to be responsive as well, with crisp shifts.
The Countryman is priced right up there with premium offerings from other European brands.
What you get for the money is nearly all possible equipment as standard, a high degree of customization, and bogs of character, both quirky and endearing.