A midlife facelift gives the biggest of the Minis a fresh new look and some choice internal upgrades
How big should a car called a Mini get? In the case of the Countryman, we’d say pretty big. If you didn’t already know, the Mini brand has been owned and operated by the BMW Group since 2000, and the Countryman is the brand’s take on a crossover SUV.
It’s really a BMW X1 with a totally different skin over the top, and the car you see here is a midlife update with the Countryman’s design dating back to 2017.
It’s now slightly boxier visually, in theme with the current design trends that seem to have gotten very tired of sleek, coupe-like profiles and designers that keep harping on about ‘sports car shaped’ SUVs like they are the new saviours of the universe.
The Countryman’s reshaped front intake grille is responsible for much of the front end’s bolder look, and the Cooper S variant driven here is the sporty version of the car with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine boasting 178 horsepower driving the front wheels. It’s actually a little less powerful than the previous version, thanks to the need to comply with Euro emissions standards.
Now, 10 years ago that amount of power would have still turned some heads but it’s frankly pretty pedestrian in a continental car these days. But despite its larger size the Countryman is still a deft handler with pretty direct steering and great feedback from behind the wheel.
A sporty variant of any car isn’t just about a simple power increase with a larger engine, but also about the way it handles itself with uprated suspension components and braking power.
In these aspects the Cooper S Countryman still ticks the right boxes despite its height and extra weight. It’s not as agile as the normal Cooper S hatchback, but it’s also many grades above a simple appliance car.
The shelf-shifting transmission feels quite lazy to row through the gears in the standard Drive mode though, seeming to prioritise fuel economy over everything else. Nudging the gear lever into Sport mode solves the problem if you’re planning for a fast overtaking move though, and flicking the drive mode selector switch on the centre console to sport mode as well gets the car into maximum attack mode.
It’s a very practical sort of car with seating for five, a large boot with a nifty fold-out bench cushion for use over the rear bumper, and lots of clever compartments to store stuff inside the cabin.
And that’s where most of the updates can be found in this new car. The old signature round meter cluster on the steering column has been replaced with a multifunction instrument display.
At first glance it looks entirely digital, but it’s actually a clever hybrid design. The small inset centre 5-inch screen is a high definition digital screen, but the two half-round dials flanking it for the fuel gauge and speedometer are back lit analog items designed to look like part of the digital landscape.
The big round centre touchscreen which displays all the usual navigation and entertainment information remains, and now features even more Mini Connected apps. There’s a learning curve to using the interface, as many of the options are buried under a few layers of menus.
It’s a product that should sell well on paper, given that the crossover SUV craze is in full swing right now, but at S$186,888 with COE it’s also very much luxury car money. The new Toyota Harrier is a much bigger car and costs S$30k less, for example. Or if you really must shop for a continental car, the seven-seater Mercedes-Benz GLB 200 gets you more space for a little extra outlay.
That said, it’s still cheaper and more powerful than the similarly sized BMW X1 sDrive 18i.
Then there’s also the Cooper Countryman one step lower down the scale if the sporty engine isn’t a priority for you and at S$167,888 it’s a S$19k saving.
As it stands, the Cooper S Countryman is a product that occupies an interesting niche. Not a luxury crossover SUV in the traditional sense and not really an enthusiast’s car either, but more of a styling exercise that’s also quite practical in this case.
Mini Cooper S Countryman
|Engine||1,998cc, in-line 4, turbocharged|
|Power||178hp at 5000-6000rpm|
|Torque||280Nm at 1350-4600rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||B / 138g/km|
|Price||S$186,888 with COE|
|Verdict||As practical and sporty as a Mini can get, but ultimately still a lifestyle accessory|