First model from the brand to be built in Germany

LAUNCH | Big Mini Countryman is practical and charming

Brenwin Naidu Motoring editor, reporter and presenter
New model boasts larger dimensions than its predecessor.
New model boasts larger dimensions than its predecessor.
Image: Rob Till

In 2010, the Countryman made its debut: a sizable five-door creation peppered with the typical Mini aesthetic hallmarks.

Although critics might have lamented the creation of such a product at odds with the values of the dainty original, the model was well-received by shoppers with more practical mindsets.

Now the third iteration of the Countryman has landed in Mzansi. We tested it on a journey from Midrand to Graskop in Mpumalanga last week, which saw us tackling the smooth N4 freeway – and the twisty, pocked surfaces of provincial back roads.

Visually, the massive Mini retains many of those long-standing design hallmarks, with friendly eyes and a gaping grille. Variable lighting signatures are another highlight. The rear lamps can be switched from a Union Jack pattern to a more conventional layout; the front headlamp gives a wink when you lock it. It rides on the platform used by the current X1, a car we rated quite highly in past assessments.

The new Countryman is 13cm longer and 8cm higher than the vehicle it replaces. It is also the first Mini to be built in Germany.

With the rear seats folded, you get a maximum luggage capacity of 1,450l – quite useful. The standard 440l with the seats in place is respectable too.

In typical Mini fashion, the interior is uncluttered, with a decidedly playful ambience – including varying colour schemes and interesting textures. That includes fascia and door panel upholsteries crafted from recycled plastic. The seat material is of a synthetic leather variety that is quite convincing in grain and appearance.

At the centre of the dashboard, the Countryman retains that distinctive, circular cluster, a nod to the original.

In this case, it is massive and lays claim to being the first and biggest circle-shaped OLED display screen to be used in a car.

Interior is clutter-free, ditigised and cheerful.
Interior is clutter-free, ditigised and cheerful.
Image: Rob Till

Clarity of the display is exceptional, but it does not rate highly for user-friendliness and simplicity.

Basic information like fuel consumption is hidden in a maze of menus. You often find yourself distracted trying to make basic adjustments, such as tweaking climate or audio settings. There is no information shown ahead of the driver, unless you add on a head-up display unit. It is frustrating to have to turn your head to the left – away from the road – in order to keep tabs on speed.

There are eight driving experience modes that change the appearance of the central screen. Each has a specific, accompanying sound – this grew tiresome as it interrupted the radio. One of them is named Go Kart; offering a sportier, red-themed layout with analogue gauges. A Trail setting brings up an off-road display showing gradient, among other details crucial for outdoorsy forays. Of course, the Countryman is best used for light gravel rather than out-and-out bundu bashing. Ground clearance is 202mm, which is not bad at all.

There are two petrol engines and the option of an electric powertrain in the Countryman line-up. We spent our time with the internal combustion engine models exclusively, both use seven-speed, dual-clutch automatics.

The standard C model is powered by a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged-petrol (115kW/240Nm); it is front-wheel drive and has a claimed 0-100km/h time of nine seconds. It is acceptable provided you temper your expectations, planning your overtaking manoeuvres, taking advantage of rolling momentum.

Rear clusters incorporate dynamic illumination signatures.
Rear clusters incorporate dynamic illumination signatures.
Image: Rob Till

We expected the more powerful S model to be more of a firecracker. But its quoted 0-100km/h time of 7.4 seconds felt a bit less expedient in reality. Could have been the all-wheel drive system encumbering its sense of zest. The on-paper outputs are strong, with 150kW/320Nm courtesy of a boosted 2.0-litre, four-cylinder.

Road manners are quite grown-up, with a stable feel and planted handling abilities. Ride quality errs on the firm side, but not uncomfortably so. Both models took the undulations, rippled asphalt and sneaky potholes of Mpumalanga in stride without incurring damage.

Pricing kicks off at R724,819 for the base C, the S goes for R795,093. You can also have a more potent John Cooper Works iteration, which will be available soon after this introduction, for R965,767.

Meanwhile, the imminent electric SE version will be the first Mini to be priced over the R1m mark.


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