On the Canadian market since early 2011, this Mini with “larger body type” is a testament of BMW, the parent company, that model diversification (requires royalty to the same platform) is important not only to increase the scale of production, but for the presence in the red-hot SUV segment. The “Maxi Mini”, as it is sometimes called in the industry circles, expands the boundaries of the iconic British small car. The idea of a four-door Mini was once something strange, but we all are used to it now.
On top of the four doors, the wide opening hatch makes this Mini arguably one of the “most SUV’s” on the market. Despite some extra weight, it still provides the dynamic and responsive driving of a traditional Mini. It fully deserves the first letter of SUV. With the wide opening lift gate, variable storage area up to 1,189 L and quickly folding (40/20/40) rear seats and the practicality that comes with that justifies the second letter of SUV.
If you are still not convinced, it is the bestselling version of Mini in Canada.
Probably to better serve the needs of the Canadian market, BMW discontinued the base Cooper model, the one with the normally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. Also no longer available is front-wheel drive; All-wheel version is now standard for both the (now-base model) Cooper S and high-performance John Cooper Works. Now a 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder engine powering the two versions — 181 horsepower for the Cooper S versus 208 for the JCW — mated to a six-speed manual or optional six-speed manumatic.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the automatic transmission. For hard-core fans of the Mini, this drivetrain option may steal some of the driving pleasure and avoid a closer interaction between man and machine. However, the emphasis of practicality and the preferences of our market has a winning hand. In this regard, the manual mode of the automatic transmission partly provides the pleasure of manual shifting. In manual mode, the console gear lever is properly configured to upshift with a pull, downshift with a push. The paddle shifters, on the other hand request some –get-used-to-it”. Instead of the left paddle downshifting while the right upshifts, both downshift with a thumb push, upshift with a finger pull. Apart from this configuration, the transmission shifts cleanly. By activating the Sport button and using the manual mode, most drivers will probably not miss the old-style manual shifter. Countryman weights 1,475 kilograms — relatively light in its class of compact sport-utes. Its turbo-four engine provides sufficient acceleration to 100 kilometers an hour, although we did not perform an instrumental measurement.
As it is the case with most turbo engines, the Countryman requires a higher octane, which is 89 as minimum. In terms of fuel economy, the results are not very impressive. After a one-week test drive consisting of more than 600 kilometers of mixed use, it delivered an average of 11.2 liters. I will give my more performance based and equally enjoyable driving style as a partial excuse. Nevertheless, remembering my first Mini test drive in Europe more than ten years ago, the increased weight and additional height of the Countryman takes its toll also in reduced driving pleasure. It is more impressive if you haven’t driven a Mini before.
With All4, the engine’s power is distributed between the front and rear axles by an electromagnetic centre differential. The system’s control electronics are integrated directly into the management unit of the dynamic stability control system.
Inside the cabin
The Countryman’s cabin is typical Mini, which means to me the dominance of style and design over functionality. The slightly elevated position of the driver’s seat, and extra-large windows with relatively vertical A-pillars, outward visibility is quite good all around. For a compact crossover, the room for four adults is sufficient. The rear seats can be moved fore-and-aft 130 mm independently of one another. A useful feature that is not very common in this class.
The massive centre-mounted speedometer, arguably the backbone of the interior design is big enough that the high-def screen for the optional navigation system and various other Mini Connected services fits inside its circumference. (It is obvious that BMW provided some know-how) As a speedometer, it is less functional and more paying a tribute to the old Mini. The digital readout located in the tachometer can do the job. As is typical Mini, toggle switches for a number of vehicle functions are housed low on the centre console at the cost of ergonomics particularly with the higher seating position.
I do not know why the Countryman has a two-part starting process (keyless starting is optional). The first requires taking the round transponder and inserting it into a slot located to the right of the steering wheel. Once inserted, one then pushes the start button to awake the engine. This is fine when there’s daylight and you can actually see the slot. During nighttime, finding that slot is an unnecessarily confusing step. Why not just pushing a start button.
You may argue that for the price of the test vehicle, $36,710 you can buy a larger and better-equipped vehicle within the compact crossover segment. A Nissan Rouge, a Ford Escape or a Chevrolet Equinox. You name it. Consider the price difference as a premium paid for a legendary brand under BMW wings, the world’s biggest luxury car maker.
Type of vehicle All-wheel-drive compact crossover
Engine Turbo 1.6L DOHC four-cylinder
Power 181 hp @ 5,500 rpm; 177 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission Six-speed manumatic
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Price (base/as tested) $29,950/$36,710
Destination charge $1,655
Natural Resources Canada fuel economy (L/100 km) 8.7 city, 6.5 highway
Standard features Air conditioning, multi-function steering wheel with cruise control, leather sport steering wheel, sport seats, passenger seat manual height adjustment, on-board computer, tilt/telescopic steering column, power windows, mirrors and door locks, run-flat all-season tires, rear spoiler, heated washer jets and exterior mirrors, roof rails, AM/FM audio system with RDS, USB and aux-in input ports, ambient interior lighting
Options Essentials package ($1,400) includes glass sunroof, heated front seats, sport button, LED fog lights; Loaded package ($1,100) includes comfort access, auto-dimming interior mirror, front centre armrest, rain sensor with auto headlamps, automatic climate control, white turn signals; Wired package ($1,400) includes voice recognition, integrated visual display, Bluetooth and USB audio, smartphone integration, Mini Connected, navigation system, combox controller; automatic transmission ($1,300); black headlights ($100); anthracite roof liner ($180); electric front window defroster ($190); park distance control ($500); metallic paint ($590)
Article: Varol McKars
Pictures: Varol McKars, Burak McKars
Test vehicle was provided by BMW Group Canada
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