All-new Mini Countryman goes fully digital

BY ANDREW MUZAMHINDO

Likes

Roomiest Mini;

Distinct looks;

Fits a fun family; and

Varied powertrains.

Dislikes

No Android Auto;

No standard Apple CarPlay;

Overmatched turbo-3;

Mismatched features; and

Encroaches on luxury price range.

 

The XL-sized Countryman gets some minor, yet significant, changes. So, can it still drive like a Mini?

It competes with its parent company’s BMW X1 and X2, as well as the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40. Based in England, owned by Germans, built in the Netherlands, the bestselling Mini model leans into the small SUV segment while retaining Mini’s hallmark cosmopolitan cues.

Mini energizes peoples’ lives with maximal experiences and a minimal footprint. Small in size and iconic in design, the first Mini, built in 1959, delivered a thrill all its own. Today, Mini is applying these ideas across urban life. I had access to one for years as a teenager courtesy of my uncle, Lot Nembaware. I can testify to that. It just energizes you.

I have always thought the Mini Countryman to be a bit contradictory. It is after all an XL-sized Mini. But for those who love the quirky retro-modern design language of a Mini, and want rear-seat space for the family, the Countryman has always made a strong case for itself. And despite its larger size and added weight, the Countryman has never really lost the fun to drive Mini DNA that we have all loved over the years.

Size matters, yet the Countryman still delivers better than average handling for cars in this class. Available adaptive dampers soften the cruise and tighten up in corners, as long as you avoid the available 19-inch wheels. Direct steering retains Mini’s magic and keeps the driver connected to Countryman and road.

Mini has now brought in the refreshed Countryman and it gets subtle updates to the exterior and the interior, and a new transmission under the hood. Is this 2021 Countryman still true to the Mini badge on the hood? Read on to find out.

The 2021 Countryman has been reworked on the sketch board and now gets some mild changes to the exterior design that make it look a little more muscular. Not much is new on the inside too, the overall layout remains largely unchanged.

From the steering wheel, vertically stacked air-con vents, toggle switches in the centre console to the circular door handles, have all been carried forward. But despite being the same, they do not quite look outdated as they add that signature Mini touch to the cabin. The gear lever has been changed and it is now shorter and sportier.

The biggest change, however, is the switch from the old analogue instrument cluster to a fully digital unit. It continues to be mounted on the steering column though. The Countryman also flaunts a longer list of features including a touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay, automatic tailgate, head-up display and more.

The seat upholstery is now quilted and it not only magnifies the style quotient but also offers more comfort. There’s good side bolstering and the under-thigh support can be adjusted too. Overall, the cabin exudes a great sense of quality, space, comfort and style that is typical of a Countryman.

On the international market, the Countryman is on offer with a range of engine options. This one makes 141kW and 280Nm. Considering that the Countryman tips the scale at over 1 500kg, it only results in a power-to-weight ratio of about
90kW/ton.

Although the numbers may not paint the picture, the engine is quite involving. The torque kicks in low in the rev range which gives you that initial surge, but it only starts to feel spirited when the tacho needle is pointed at its mid-range or upwards. It does the 0-100 sprint in 9,3 seconds which is slower than competition. The 2021 Mini Countryman comes with a top speed of 200kmh. The three other variants of the countryman — Countryman Cooper S, Countryman John Cooper Works, and the Countryman SE Plug-in Hybrid are faster.

However, the base 2021 Mini Countryman ALL4 is a bit slower with the all-wheel-drive system with a 0-100 time of 9,5 seconds and a slightly lesser top speed of 200kmh. With either of the drivetrains, the 2021 Mini Countryman is still slower than the Kia Soul, Subaru Crosstrek, and the Audi Q3.

Despite it being front-wheel drive, the Countryman is filled to the brim with that innate Mini DNA. The wider front track ensures that it remains surefooted, and there is a heft to the steering wheel that adds to the involving drive experience. Plus, the firm suspension setup makes it an absolute hoot to drive. Thankfully, it is even damped well to even out most of the surface undulations.

The only fly in the ointment is the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. While it is fairly smooth, it does feel a bit slow to downshift, especially in comparison to the seven-speed DSG that I have experienced in the Audi Q2 and other VW Group cars. In fact, this could very much be the factor that holds it back from delivering a better acceleration time too.

Things do not improve a whole lot when you use the paddles either. The only saving grace is that you can correct the lag by downshifting a split-second sooner than required.

The Countryman, then, is surely not for the hard-minded but for those who live a life beyond reason. It offers the practicality of a crossover, with the dominant and quirky persona of a Mini. And with that in mind, it sits in a rather sweet spot unthreatened by anything else on sale in the price range.

Specifications

Engine: 1,998cc/four-cylinder/ turbocharged;

Fuel: Petrol;

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic/front-wheel drive;

Power: 141kW at 5 000-6 000rpm; and

Torque: 280Nm at 1 350-4 600rpm.

Email: andrew@muzamhindo.com