The Mini Cooper is one of the most popular cars of all time, as well as one of the sportiest. Over the decades, it’s been looked at fondly by people of all ages as a fun, cheerful and engaging automobile, but there’s one thing it isn’t – spacious. Even though the Mini Cooper has grown larger with every successive edition, it’s still not a car that can be considered roomy (or, indeed, especially comfortable). For those that have always wanted a Mini but have also wanted to actually fit in it properly (along with family, perhaps), Mini offers up the Countryman, a compact SUV that is very Mini, but also… not. The 2021 version is a facelift, but it offers enough to keep a potential buyer interested. Read on:
Subtle facelift, brilliant blue shade
To begin with, you’ll have to really look closely at the Countryman facelift’s exterior to figure out the new stuff. You’ll see a re-styled front grille and bumper, LED headlights and fog lights, Union Jack LED tail-lights (Hail Britannia, and all that), a refreshed rear bumper design, and new 17-inch alloys. There’s a sportier John Cooper Works (JCW) inspired variant that has larger 18-inch alloys with the JCW logo as well as more aggressive front and rear bumpers (plus, there’s a brilliant blue shade of paint exclusive to it). I’ve always looked askance at what are essentially large hatchbacks being referred to as SUVs, but for better or worse, an SUV is what Mini likes to call this car.
Union Jack-inspired tail-lights on the Mini Countryman. (Photo via NewspressUK.com)
Roomy interior, with one weird issue
Jump into the driver’s seat and you’ll find that the cabin is quite roomy, and the sunroof gives it an extra sense of space. The front seats are brilliant, being adjustable every which way and also being very supportive in all the right places. The rear seats can be reclined, so you can find the angle that’s right for you, and there’s enough legroom to stretch out. Weirdly, the thigh support in the back seats isn’t as good as in the front seats, and the rear is good only for two adults – a third will feel very cramped.
The 450-litre boot is roughly par for the course, but since the rear seats are 40/20/40 split-folding, practicality isn’t entirely absent. With the rear seats folded fully down, there's about 1,300 litres of storage space.
Unsurprisingly, the overall quality of materials is superb, and the aircraft-style switches and toggles are not just great to use but very cool indeed. In the JCW inspired variant, there’s an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and all the rotary controls for the infotainment system under the front centre armrest are easy to use.
The overall quality of materials inside the Mini Countryman is superb. The aircraft-style switches and toggles are great to use, and very cool. (Photo via NewspressUK.com)
Plenty of equipment, but only two airbags
Equipment-wise, you get wireless charging as well as wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity. You can also get a ‘Picnic Bench’ - a fold-out seat that covers the loading lip of the boot, which you can sit on at a pit stop or at your nearest sunset point. There’s also two-zone climate control and a Harman Kardon audio system. As for safety, you get (only) two airbags, ABS with corner braking control, traction control, hill-start assist, an electric parking brake, rear parking sensors and a rear parking camera.
Turbocharged engine, 189 horses let down slightly by automatic gears
At the business end, there’s a 2-litre turbocharged inline-four petrol engine, putting out 189 bhp and 28.55 kgm, all of which go to the front wheels. You don’t get all-wheel drive, but be honest – would you really buy this thing and then take it off-roading? It’s a lively and refined unit, but I’d have much preferred a manual gearbox rather than the standard 7-speed automatic, which isn’t especially sharp, especially in eco and mid driving modes. Sport mode livens things up, thankfully, and the dual-clutch gearbox seems much more alive. The steering wheel also weighs up considerably, although you may find this a bit of a pain in city conditions, where the lower two modes give the wheel a lighter feel. Step on the gas and the Countryman will go from 0-100 kph in a claimed 7.5 seconds, which is plenty quick for almost everyone.
Ride quality: joy at the corners, but slow down for potholes
In terms of handling, the Countryman has a very sorted suspension and is a joy to throw around corners, shrinking around you nicely and never seeming like it's a large car. It’s not a Mini Cooper, of course, but you’ll surprise many others on the road with the degree of control and grip it offers, with body roll being almost non-existent. Like most Minis, however, ride quality is on the stiffer side, so you’ll need to treat bad roads, potholes and the like a little gingerly. Road and wind noise are reasonably well controlled for the occupants.
At Rs 43.40 lakh (ex-showroom), the Mini Countryman costs as much as two (and a half) Hyundai Cretas, but you’re not looking at your bank balance if you’re in the market for one of these. What you’re looking for is a well-built, high-end SUV that is fun to drive, that stands out and that has plenty of equipment – and the Countryman scores on all these counts.