Last week Mini South Africa launched its second-generation Countryman and invited me to drive it in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Despite it being my home province, most of the roads covered were not parts I’d been to before, which made it even better; exploring bits I never thought I would have driven on my own. We started off in Umhlanga before hitting the road in the morning, and catching bits of peak traffic. Managed to catch an ocean sunrise in the morning (it’s not like I could sleep after Zuma’s antics #cabinetreshuffle):

How does the Countryman fit into things, and who is it aimed at? For starters, the Countryman is a ‘premium compact crossover’, aimed at folks starting families but still want to drive a Mini. Not sure how I feel about a Mini in the form of a Countryman. Don’t get me wrong, I drive a Mini Cooper S. I love my Mini (even though I prefer the previous-gen shape) but to me I can’t see it beyond anything other than a fun hatch for the road (she says, selfishly). My thoughts are just that because the numbers speak for itself – the Mini Countryman is the second best-selling Mini model; and one in every four Minis sold is a Countryman (according to Mini South Africa). The people have spoken. Speaking about variants of Mini, we were reminded how the company is now focusing on a handful of models, as they killed off the Roadster, Coupé and Paceman back in 2015. That I appreciate, any company who can identify what’s not working and get rid of it to focus on what works for the market. 

Again, what works for the market… going bigger with the Countryman was based on feedback from a few key markets that Mini took into consideration. They wanted everything bigger, so the result is a vehicle with more space (definitely noticeable if compared to my F56 Cooper S, especially the backseats), increased dimensions and extended ground clearance. So in a way, the Mini doesn’t feel so Mini anymore. It’s at least 20cm longer than its predecessor, and at least 5cm wider. For those interested in these details the wheelbase has been extended by 7.5cm. And with the bulk means it now has 5 seats that are suitable for adults (my car seats four in the back but it’s a hatchback). The boot is 450 litres and can be extended to 1309 litres when the back seats are folded. The bigger legroom is very noticeable below:

The new Countryman has three engine variants: a 1.5L Cooper (100kW) ; a 2L turbo Cooper S (141kW); and a 2L Cooper D (110kW), but the diesel engine will be available later in the year. The Cooper comes come in 6 speed manual or auto; and the Cooper S comes in 8 speed with pedal shifters for those want that option (I wish my Cooper S had it, I mean ideally woulda preferred a manual). Mini claims a consumption of 1.4L/100km on certain models, with the diesel at 4.3-4.5L/100km. The new Countryman shows your consumption live as you drive (I wish my car had this feature). I can tell you for sure that the way I was driving at launch, I didn’t come close to that. But you already know I can’t drive efficiently, even if I tried. I once tried “eco” mode in my car for all of 30 seconds and I gave up. Give me all the power!

Other new additions are an electric tailgate which also opens and closes without touching it. An all wheel drive system (ALL4) on the John Cooper Works model late this year. Some models have a “picnic bench” option, located in the boot. It’s a fold out cushion that seats 2 adults if you’re not sitting the way I am here in this pic:

For the launch drive we covered some straight roads, dirt roads, off roads, annoying speed bumps (those mini/thin frequent ones), whatever you want to call it. We drove on roads that were filled with potholes (welcome to South Africa) and just about everything. The car felt comfortable throughout, except for speed bumps, but it could’ve been worse. We really put it through its paces but the Countryman handled it all. The Cooper S was our choice for the first leg of the mini road trip, and I loved every minute of it. I might sound biased because I drive the same variant (except for minor upgrades) but a Cooper S is the only way to go if you want a Mini! 😀 This was taken after three hours on the road, as we got to our lunch stop:

Regarding the interiors, the new Countryman comes standard with a 6.5″ screen, which can be upgraded to an 8.8″ touchscreen. It worked well when I used it briefly, it’s just that initially we didn’t realise it was touchscreen – lol. I mean sure we were told, but out of habit we were navigating it manually. The Countryman comes standard with Radio Mini Boost and Bluetooth handsfree calling. As you may be aware, Mini is all about customising. So you can opt for a colour display, navigation system, mood lights, Harman Kardon hi-fi system (recommended) etc. Check the Mini website for various packages available.  The Mini Connected system pairs your phone with the car and appointments on your calendar will pop-up, letting you know when to leave if there is traffic. This also needs to be paired with your VIN number to take advantage of all the features.

My blog post is by no means a full on review of the Countryman. I’m not a motoring journo and don’t claim to be one. However there are loads of reviews available online if you’re looking for something more in-depth. I’m pleased that someone I know is already interested in buying one after following my updates and looking up further online. 

To summarise my trip: I had loads of fun driving the Countryman (specifically the Cooper S). When on a roadtrip (or just regular driving), there are some things that matter, like the position of the cup holders which get a thumbs up from me; no spillage. I’m sure you know my history with them. I liked the electronic seat adjustments on the higher-spec model, it’s just convenient. With the manual controls on the base model, it was a matter of “ugh, where is this thing located”, after getting used to the fancier model. I had fantastic time driving the Countryman, and now very happy to go back to my Cooper S. 

Pricing as follows:
Cooper – from R423 824
Cooper S – from R493 306

If you’re in the market for a compact crossover, check out the Mini Countryman Cooper S!