FROM the car maker known for making among the smallest rides on the road, here comes the all new MINI Countryman, an un-MINI-like addition to the family.
MINI has made a comeback this year and unveiled the second-generation Countryman crossover sport utility vehicle which is also the largest MINI to date.
The first generation Countryman had a successful seven-year run selling around 550,000 units.
MINI, a brand under BMW, hopes that with the roomier and more versatile vehicle, this Countryman would be an option as the first or primary vehicle of the household.
BMW Malaysia recently flew a group of Malaysian journalists to Britain and they had to brave the wet winter weather to experience and test drive the second-generation Countryman.
What pops into mind is that while it still retains the distinct MINI feature, the latest model had undergone some changes to give it a sportier, edgier look.
The squared-off shape with integrated LED headlights frames the trademark MINI grille, giving it a more sophisticated and mature look.
According to Countryman product manager Klaus Mehrlich, the company aims to attract “young actives” for its versatility and families for its functionality.
“As we have developed the dimensions of the car, we’re now moving from the small car Sports Activity Vehicle segment to the compact Sports Activity Vehicle segment in the premium area and our main target group are families but also ‘young actives’ who want to bring along their leisure gear like surfing equipment, mountain bike, etc. And when they go out into the wild, they also of course, fancy the all-four wheel drive experience,” said Mehrlich.
The new Countryman’s dimensions have changed, now with a wheelbase of 2,670mm, and is 4,299mm-long (+200mm), 1,822mm-wide (+30mm) and 1,557mm-tall.
With a bigger car, the MINI now offers five full-sized seats, but bear in mind that three full-sized adults sitting at the rear seats might be a bit of a squeeze.
The rear seats also feature a convenient 40/20/40 split arrangement which can be adjusted to accommodate a nice mix of cargo and passengers.
To embrace the fun side of the vehicle, MINI added a clever “picnic bench”, a padded seat that folds from the boot floor for one to enjoy the outdoors in comfort while soaking in the scenery with a cup of, perhaps, teh tarik.
For those who can’t seem to travel light and keen on carrying a week’s worth of luggage, the boot size has been increased from 350 litres to 450 litres and can be extended to a total of 1,390 litres with the rear seats folded.
All Countryman variants come with a standard 6.5-inch screen infotainment system.
A new addition is the optional 8.8-inch navigation setup with touchscreen display that offers crisper graphics, where maps can be zoomed in or out via the pinching of fingertips, much like how it works on smartphones.
The new Countryman comes in four variants namely Cooper, Cooper S, John Cooper Works and for the first time a plug-in Cooper S E-Hybrid.
The all-wheel drive Cooper S automatic variant is expected to be the hot seller worldwide.
The entry-level Cooper variant is equipped with a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo engine (136PS/220Nm) and the Cooper S with a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo (192PS/281Nm).
The Cooper D gets a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel (150PS/330Nm) and the Cooper SD comes with a more powerful 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel (190PS/400Nm.)
The petrol-electric hybrid will be offered in selected markets.
Combining a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo engine (134PS/220Nm) and synchronous electric motor (87hp), the Cooper S E provides a combined output of 224PS/385Nm.
We were among the lucky few to test drive the all-wheel drive Cooper S All4 in the muddy and slippery roads of England.
Our journey started from Hedsor House, a gorgeous Georgian style mansion in Hedsor, Buckinghamshire to Soho Farmhouse in Chipping Norton where the driving route was a good mix of driving conditions spanning 160km in all.
When I was given this assignment, it didn’t cross my mind that I had to tackle some sharp corners and bends with huge oncoming trucks on narrow rural roads and an average speed limit of 110kph.
I was in for a rude awakening.
As a woman driver, I don’t quite enjoy the rush of speeding but the MINI proved me wrong.
You just need the right car to enjoy the ride.
Its powerful brakes provided me with plenty of confidence in stopping this quick car while the electronic differential lock helped control manoeuvring on the slippery slopes.
The Countryman also comes with anti-lock braking system, electronic brakeforce distribution and cornering brake control to help tame tricky turns.
Driving the MINI was tremendous fun despite the drizzle and fog.
The car handled the dips and bumps fluidly, making it a comfortable drive and was a lot more refined with minimal tyre roar and engine noise.
Overall, the latest Countryman is a big improvement over the last one.
With so much cabin space, it’s also the most practical MINI yet.
Being a MINI, the fun-to-drive DNA is very evident in the Countryman. -SUHAILA SARIFUDDIN