Four metres long, four doors and four-wheel drive. Mini’s not so Mini anymore with the addition of the Countryman to the ranks.
A kilometre of what German’s consider rough terrain – or what we might consider State Highway material – was all I needed to know the Countryman isn’t a proper SUV as the photos might suggest. It’s smaller than the BMW X1 and before you ask, no, despite Mini’s BMW ownership, it’s not built on the same platform. In fact it’s a brand new chassis specific to Mini and it will underpin several new, equally unusual, Mini models.
But back to the drive impression. As I say, you should think of this as a new competitor to the compact SUV category, I think of it as being more a four-door Mini. Put the ‘shock horror, that’s not a Mini’ looks aside for a moment and this really is what Mini admirers want. A Mini with the practicality to accommodate the family.
The four-wheel drive aspect doesn’t make a huge difference at the end of the day; it’s a little tardy in its torque delivery and of most of the crossovers around a Mini-branded one seems least likely to see a gravel road. Final Kiwi specifications are still to be announced, but when the vehicle arrives here in Q1 of 2011, I suspect a traditional front drive option will be available and the more popular drive train. There should also be a mix of Cooper, Cooper S and diesel models; I drove the sporty Cooper S turbocharged version which gets along well and thankfully retains all that I love about Mini, brilliant on-road poise and handling. You certainly notice the extra weight and less rigid chassis, but it feels far more capable than the likes of the recent ASX / Qashqai / ix35 offerings. That fun-to-drive feel was priority number one though, so no real surprises there.
Inside four adults can sit relatively comfortably, there’s others that will be more appropriate if rear occupant space is key, but the sliding rear seats assist in giving what remains a compact car, suitable leg room.
Plenty of cool features will impress friends, I sampled the new Mini Connect system which integrated car and iPhone as one, allowed me to connect to the internet and perform Google searches, stream internet radio stations and update social media all via the vehicle’s satellite navigation screen. The car will also automatically select songs from the media selection that suit your driving style. The Cooper S includes a sport mode which sharpens throttle response and produces an additive exhaust cackle when you accelerate, so if Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast starts on your iPod you may be exceeding the speed limit. There is also a stylish aluminium centre rail that accessories like sunglass and cup holders can clip into and slide along from front to rear passengers.
No pricing yet I’m afraid, but the combination of undeniably smart looks will find favour with Kiwi buyers, Mini already sell well and our market typically shuns three-door hatches. Expect a topless Speedster and sleek Coupe also to add further spice to the Mini range in the near future and – potentially a modern take on the Moke (most likely a Targa Top version of the Countryman) down the line.