Say what you will about the decidedly not-so-small cars from Mini, it is difficult to dispute that parent company BMW has managed a pretty impressive reinvention of the brand since acquiring it.
Looking at the wares on South African roads, it is clear that our market has quite an appetite for compact cars with premium personas. And you could argue that Mini dominates the genre — even expanding the lineup with versatile offerings such as the Clubman and Countryman.
BMW unveiled the newest iteration of the latter this week. And while we have yet to drive it, Mini proffered comprehensive specifications and photographs of the model.
Many may have scoffed at the first-generation Countryman when it was launched in 2010, but the car-buying public responded favourably, with more than 540000 of these cars finding homes.
At first glance, the refreshed version of this Mini looks much the same.
Then you notice that extra yeast seems to have been sprinkled into the mix, with the Countryman having the puffed-up appearance that defines its siblings.
However, the new Countryman lays claim to being the biggest model in the 57-year history of the Mini. Compared with BMW’s first-generation Countryman, it is longer (20cm), wider (3cm) and an extra 7.5cm has been added to the wheelbase. Perhaps more impressive when it comes to the numbers is the luggage compartment, which has increased by 220l.
This would probably equate to two extra bags — or one medium-sized pet. And just to make it pretty clear that this is a Mini for those with a leisurely lifestyle, the Countryman can be had with a picnic bench that folds out of the tailgate.
Generous storage pockets are purported to hold one-litre drinks bottles and the apertures of the doors are bigger too. Rather impressive is that the Countryman can pull up to 1800kg when equipped with the optional tow hitch.
Thankfully, the folk responsible for marketing the Countryman steered away from the usual “go-kart” description in the press materials. By now, consumers are well aware that today’s Minis emulate the maturity of BMW offerings when it comes to road manners.
But, typically, the manufacturer has sought to infuse an element of fun to the model. An interesting feature will be the Mini Country Timer. It rates the driver on a scale from “Street Cruiser” to “Cliff Champ”, depending on how vigorously he or she tackles dirt tracks. Don’t be surprised, though, if it is accompanied by a disclaimer of some kind urging you not to drive like a hooligan.
At launch, the new Countryman will be offered with the familiar assortment of turbocharged engines from the Mini stable at present.
First up is the 1499cc, three-cylinder mill (100kW and 220Nm) and those in want of more may opt for the 1998cc, four-cylinder choice (141kW and 220Nm). Buyers can still have a regular six-speed manual gearbox, but automatics are also available for both engines.
A hybrid derivative is also on the cards. The three-cylinder engine will be supplemented by an electric motor, which makes for a combined system output of 165kW and 385Nm. The plug-in hybrid Cooper SE promises a speed of 125km/h on electric power alone. Ambitiously, the automaker claims fuel consumption of 2.1l/100km. All-wheel drive (ALL4 in Mini parlance) is available as an extra on all models, which ought to help drivers enjoy the rallying promised by that Country Timer system. Or, more realistically, drive with greater confidence in a sudden Johannesburg thunderstorm.
The interior looks as if Mini has ditched the whimsical, toy-like character of its siblings. Take the ventilation slots in the dashboard, for example: they are no longer round and bulbous, but straight-cut and rectangular. However, the oversized circle in the middle of the fascia, housing the infotainment system, remains. Pay a bit more for the Mini Wired package and you receive a top navigation system, plus an 8.8-inch touch screen.
Another component is the Mini Find Mate system — which has nothing to do with Tinder, before you swipe left. Instead, this wireless tracking system can be used to tag items like bags and keys, so you never lose or forget them. Quirky highlights such as these are likely to help etch the new Countryman into the collective conscience of buyers.
It all sounds rather gimmicky, but with everyone scurrying to have the trendiest item, the Mini will certainly satisfy the hip set who also require a dose of practicality. Expect the Countryman to arrive in South Africa in the first quarter of 2017.