Mini Countryman: Bigger and better
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Countryman is bigger, better
The contradiction of a Maxi Mini has never made as much sense as it does with the second-generation Mini Countryman. The new compact Countryman SUV is 20cm longer than its predecessor, the wheelbase is 7.5cm longer, and most of the extra space has gone into the rear seat space.
This means there are three full seats in the back of the Countryman, plus plenty of shoulder and headroom available for passengers.
The overall package is aimed to provide more practical space for those who enjoy the unique driving characteristics of the Mini, but who also want to use it for pursue an "active" lifestyle.
Mini marketers say the new model is ideal for "responsible hedonists".
Whether being used for responsible hedonism or whatever, our first drive of the Countryman showed it is a significant improvement on the original model.
Despite its height and boxy compact SUV shape, the Countryman handles corners with ease, and without noticeable body role.
It is also better equipped than its predecessor, with easier connectivity, a touch screen, an electric tailgate and adaptive cruise control.
There are two models available here now -- the entry-level three-cylinder 1.5 litre Cooper Countryman, which sells for $44,900 plus on-road-costs -- and the peppier four-cylinder 2-litre Cooper S Mini Countryman, selling at $52,900 plus orc.
Then there is an almost bewildering range of options available to suit personal tastes, from wheel size and styles through to roof racks, premiere sound systems, to paintwork stripes.
But although the original Countryman had its detractors (some Mini purists believe a true Mini should be restricted to a three-door, low-slung go-kart-like vehicle) about a third of all Minis sold in New Zealand in recent years have been Countryman models.
Fans will be relieved to know that although the new model may look square and have more usable space inside, the practicality does not come at the cost of driving pleasure.
This vehicle rewards enthusiastic drivers. Both the Cooper and Cooper S models handle tight corners with ease, and the steering has plenty of feel, especially in sport mode.
Drives of both models between Palmerston North and the Turoa ski field last week showed they encourage spirited driving, with the Cooper S in particular holding the road well no matter how twisty and demanding, while also having enough omph to power out of corners.
The Cooper comes with a six-speed automatic gearbox, which is so smooth and efficient it is pointless flicking to manual mode, even though paddle shifters are provided on the steering column.
The baseline 1.5 litre engine puts out 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, with a claimed 0 to 100km/h time of 9.6 seconds.
The 2-litre Cooper S engine puts out 141kW of power and 280Nm of torque, and covers the same distance in a more satisfying 7.4 seconds. It has an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The smaller engine sounds good but the Cooper S delivers the sort of power you would expect from a sportier vehicle.
The Countryman has two drive options available, eco and sport, and in three models we drove, the sports mode provided the most driver feedback, delivering a pleasant and confidence-building driving experience.
But New Zealand Mini enthusiasts already know that - the first-generation Countryman Cooper S made up around two-thirds of the models sold in New Zealand.
The Countryman is all about expanding the marketplace for the brand, beyond the traditional three- and five-door models.
There is 50mm of additional shoulder room in the rear of the new model compared with its predecessor.
There is also a 450 litres of luggage space in the rear of the new models that, by putting the rear seats down, can be expanded to a useful 1390 litres of practical space.
The electric tailgate is a useful added feature when loading and unloading the rear.
Mini says the Countryman is about the look, drive and feel of the Mini being combined with the practicality of a compact SUV.
The two models can be enhanced with optional packages that include leather upholstery, sports seats, 18-inch wheels, higher quality sound and lighting systems, and more driver assistance technology. There is even a "picnic bench" available by pulling out a cushion and sitting on the rear bumper.
Later this year a more powerful John Cooper Works edition of the Countryman will be available, with all-wheel-drive. The Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 will be powered by a motor that puts out 171 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque.
The first Mini with plug-in hybrid drive will also be here this year.