Motormouth with Gordon Hall
MINI the large: 2017 MINI Cooper Countryman Steptronic
It’s a different mindset: MINI, in all-caps, is a brand not a size. The buzzy little Austin-Morris Mini we welcomed into the world in 1959 is history.
That mental head-smack is necessary because the newest Countryman is not only larger than its sisters but is also the biggest MINI yet. It’s 20 centimetres longer, on a wheelbase stretched by 7.5 cm and about 30 mm wider than its forerunner. For perspective, it’s as long as an A-Class Mercedes yet noticeably wider and taller.
Countryman is the brand’s sporty activity range and, to emphasise its credibility as such, ground clearance is 165 mm. Although not really high, it’s just 7 mm less than that of Hyundai’s Tucson. Two of the models available now – Cooper (1500cc single scroll turbo) and Cooper S (2.0-litre twin scroll turbo) – are 4×2. JCW Countryman ALL4 has awd. A 4×2 Cooper D with 2.0-litre turbodiesel is expected soon.
Like other SUVs, Countryman is the spacious people mover of the MINI range so the added length and width gives driver and front passenger more head- and shoulder space, permits greater fore- and aft movement of the back seat and translates into as much as 220 litres more luggage volume with increased rear leg space.
Three backseat passengers is now a viable possibility while enlarged door openings make entry and exit easier. We never thought we’d say this about a MINI, but our 6’1”tester found the process quite painless. He was further surprised to find enough space to fit his big feet below the fully lowered driver’s chair.
Before loading up your nearest and dearest, you might like to know that Countryman re-earned its five-star EuroNCAP rating earlier this year. It’s built to be strong and safe; has six airbags, all the expected acronyms (ABS, EBA, EBD, CBC, DSC, DTC), hill start assistance, brake drying, brake fade support, standard collision warning with city braking and an electronic differential lock for stability. Brakes are discs at each end and the McPherson front suspension is complemented by a multi-link setup at the rear.
Our test car was fitted with the optional Comfort Access package so the luggage area boasted a variable load floor that gives about 17 centimetres of hidden depth, four lashing eyelets and a stainless steel scuff plate on the sill. Unfortunately, it let its SUV image down a bit by skipping the spare wheel and substituting a pump and sealant kit, but you can’t have everything.
What it boils down to is that this is no longer a tiny town car for buzzing through traffic, doubling up in supermarket parking bays or running on the smell of an oil rag. MINI Countryman is a fully capable only-car for (fairly affluent) young families or perfectly acceptable as a second car. Its inner space and BMW build quality is a far cry from the early originals.
Our test unit was the entry-level 1.5-litre triple that puts out 100 kilowatts and 220 Newton-metres, giving it the energy to sprint from zero to 100 km/h in 9.6 seconds and topping out at 200 with the optional six-speed Steptronic. Although performance in normal driving mode was suitably brisk, the car became much more MINI-like in Sport. That’s when accelerator response, transmission, steering and dampers all work together in raucous harmony to make you feel like a kid again. But it’s only optional, unfortunately, so you need to consciously tick that box and then convince your accountant that you deserve it.
Although this car’s Steptronic has “only” half-a-dozen gears, it does its job well thanks to the motor’s broad torque band extending from 1400 to 4300 rpm. We prefer this box, when coupled with this engine, to the eight-speed ZF unit available with Cooper S and JCW. After trying a BMW 318i with the eight-speeder a year ago we found that, although it worked nicely in ‘Mom’ mode, it wasn’t great when put under the kind of pressure that red blooded MINI drivers might subject it to.
Being essentially a BMW, the number of safety, navigation, entertainment, connectivity and P.A. options is almost endless. Speak to your dealer because we don’t have enough space to list them all.
The mission is to remember that MINI is a luxury brand with all the features, options and financial implications that go with it. Mini, the cute little buzzbox of your parents’ youth, is history.
Test unit from BMWSA press fleet
Base price including CO2 tax: R448 552
Engine: 1499cc, DOHC, 12-valve, inline three with single scroll turbo
Power: 100 kW between 4400 and 6000 rpm
Torque: 220 Nm between 1400 and 4300 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 9.6 seconds
Maximum speed: 200 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 8.1 l/100 km
Tank: 51 litres
Luggage: 450 – 1309 litres
Maintenance plan: 5 years / 100 000 km
Words by Gordon Hall
Pics by BMW-Group press