By Nick Hodgson
The biggest car there is with the name “MINI” attached to it, the new Countryman finds itself in an exceptionally crowed segment. It’s full of great alternate options that could see this new MINI iteration struggling to keep up. That is of course unless the Countryman has an ace or two up its sleeve that’ll set it apart from the rest.
It’s not found behind the wheel though
Big disappointment straight off the bat. Our test machine was the brand new Cooper S model, sprinkled liberally with John Cooper Works paraphernalia. This gets you a healthy 140kw from the 1.5 turbo charged engine and will get you to 100 in around 6.8 seconds. Sounds excellent on paper but in practice I found it never blew my hair back. This is simply because the car feels weighty and somewhat cumbersome, characteristics that really become apparent through the corners. While it’s by no means shocking, it feels about as much of a handful as the act of saying “Mini Cooper S Countryman”. When it comes down to it the fact that the standard Mini Cooper S is such a hoot to drive (and one of my favourite hot hatches) just makes me expect so much more of the Countryman, which it ultimately fails to deliver.
All about that bling
The ace up any Mini’s sleeve is the interior. Sure there has always been the occasional quality issue when it comes to a Mini interior, by which I mean some of the parts feel rather flimsy. Quite easy to spot as they stick out like a sore thumb alongside some rather nice touches. But it’s the general quirky nature of the Mini that really makes it stand out from the crowd. Quite honestly there is nothing else quite like a MINI. Take those amazing toggle switches spread liberally throughout the cabin for example. Who else does a toggle switch these days? They’re a wonderful throwback to days past and are quite frankly just better than your bog standard button.
John Cooper Works though?
John Cooper is an automotive legend who has forever left his mark on the world of motorsport. Take one look at any of his creations and you just know they belong out on the racetrack, making history, probably in some kind of David vs Goliath titanic battle. Today I’m sad to report that name is but a brand. You can kit out any Mini these days with JCW bits, none of which makes any difference to its performance, which makes me question what the point of the name is anymore. It must make die hard JCW fans fume to see this marketing dilution take place.
Read also: Mini Cooper S: Legend or ludicrous?
So does the Countryman stand out enough?
It absolutely stands out in what is an exceptionally crowded sector. Those looks and the name MINI are going to win over many a customer in such a way that they’re likely never going to look at anything the competition has to offer. That’s just fine in my opinion as who wants to blend into the crowd? The problem is it comes at an eye watering cost. Base price for the S model is near enough R500,000 which is already on the expensive side for this segment. Then the sheer number of optional extras available will have your bank account quietly sobbing in the corner before you can say “sunroof”. Our test model had taken that 5 at the beginning of the base price and quite happily turned it into a 7. With the numbers that followed afterwards you’d be quite justified in using some street maths and rounding it to a gob-smacking R800,000. So it really depends how much cash you have to splash or if you’re content with a fairly spartan base model. Either way its quite a price to pay for some uniqueness.