Mini Countryman

Sense more common in superior second-gen

TONY OíKANE

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mini Countryman Cooper 1499cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v, turbo 100kW @ 4400-6000rpm 220Nm @ 1400-4300rpm 6-speed automatic 1390kg 9.6sec (claimed) 6.0L/100km $39,900 Now

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

PINNING a ĎMost Improvedí ribbon upon anything may be an acknowledgement of growth and development, growth and development, but itís also an admission that the ribbon-bearer was previously, well, a bit ordinary.

And thatís the situation we have here with the Countryman.

The outgoing model was far from segment-leading due to suboptimum packaging that put an emphasis on style ahead of more practical concerns, but its boxfresh replacement lands so much closer to the bullseye that Mini deserves praise.

For starters, it now represents better value when you balance its price against its spec sheet. Mini Australia says thereís now $6500 worth of extra equipment in the entry-level Countryman Cooper (see sidebar), which is handy given itís also $3400 dearer than the outgoing auto base model.

But the bigger news is the packaging. Thanks to a 75mm wheelbase stretch, a 33mm width increase and an 11mm taller roofline, those in the back now enjoy plenty of sprawling space.

The rear bench slides fore and aft, while the backrest reclines for extra long-distance comfort.

The rear doors open wider to ease entry and egress.

Front seaters in even the base Cooper score well-bolstered and supportive seats clad in an appealing corduroy-esque fabric.

The front hip point is also 90mm higher than in the Clubman, but compared to other SUVs, itís still comparatively low-slung. The absence of power front seats on top-end Cooper S and Cooper SD may raise your eyebrows considering their $45K-plus pricetags, though itís perfectly acceptable theyíre not part of the base Cooper package.

The interior takes on a cleaner, more modern aesthetic than the self-consciously retro design of the outgoing model.

The circular central infotainment housing still pays tribute to the Mini brandís origins but the execution and material selection is more contemporary and of better quality.

Driveability is another area in which the Countryman improves on previous form. The outgoing 90kW/160Nm 1.6-litre atmo petrol makes way for BMWís now-familiar 1.5-litre turbo triple, which produces 100kW/220Nm and delivers a 9.6sec 0-100km/h sprint according to Mini, almost a second quicker than before.

A six-speed auto, rather than the increasingly unpopular manual, is the standard gearbox, and it works well with the willing, refined three-pot.

All other variants get an equally well-sorted eightspeeder and your choice of a 110kW/330Nm 2.0-litre turbodiesel, a gruntier 140kW/400Nm version of the same engine, or a zingy 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with 141kW and 280Nm. Only the 140kW Cooper SD Countryman diesel gets all-wheel drive; the rest are FWD.

Happily, the Countryman rides with more compliance than its platform-sharing corporate cousin, the BMW X1. (Both, however, need the optional adaptive dampers to give their best.) Steering feel is better than in the Bimmer too, though optioning 19-inch alloys gives the ride a sharp edge and introduces more road noise.

But the foibles are few, and the second-generation Countryman delivers broader appeal on the back of vastly more sensible packaging and an improved value equation. Weíd take one over an X1, and thatís not the conclusion we were expecting to arrive at.

PLUS & MINUS

High-end nav optional; ride still firm, especially on 19s; no spare tyre Engaging chassis; spunky three-pot; interior packaging and finish

Fresh fruit

Key additions to the standard specification of the previous base Countryman include a hands-free power tailgate, autonomous emergency braking, keyless entry and active cruise control, many of which are usually only standard on range-toppers, not entry-level variants. More prosaic Ė but no less useful Ė new features include front parking sensors (in addition to previously standard rears), DAB radio, and a reversing camera, the last being an SUV must-have. Though the modelís entry price is up, so is the entry-level Countrymanís inherent value.

OR TRY THESE...

Audi Q2 1.4T Design $41,100

Countrymanís closest rival also happens to have German DNA, an options list as long as the Hume, and a sportily youthful demeanour, albeit of a less retro nature. But the Q2 is yet to sire a Cooper S equivalent.

Fiat 500X Cross Plus $38,000

Like Countryman, Fiatís rangetopping AWD crossover trades on nostalgia, yet the execution, while stylish and fully featured, lacks the finish, drivetrain polish and driver appeal of Miniís more modern SUV.