New MINI Countryman: Biggest and most versatile

MINI introduced the Countryman in 2010; the first MINI with four doors, a large tailgate, five seats and optional all-wheel drive. Almost immediately, it became the brand’s second most popular model after the iconic MINI Hatch launched a decade earlier. In its first year of production it sold almost 50% more units than the Clubman, Convertible, and Coupe added together.

In 2011, nearly one out of every three MINIs sold in the US was a Countryman. This trend continued through 2012, again where almost one in three MINIs sold was a Countryman (both in the US and globally). By the end of 2013, the Countryman made up 31% of MINI's total US sales. By now, a total of more than 540,000 units have been sold worldwide – such is its appeal, despite some criticisms about its physical size not literally “fitting” the MINI brand and ethos.

As it is much larger than its siblings, the Countryman offers greater freedom of space and versatility, and yet still retaining the original appeal of the iconic premium compact automotive brand. It seems that the second-generation Countryman retains those qualities and offering a more modern and sophisticated appeal. It will make its Malaysian premiere this Friday, contributing to the tradition-steeped British brand’s continuing advance into the premium compact segment.

“The new Countryman is the biggest and most versatile model in the brand’s 57-year history, and having been completely newly-developed, it now reflects considerable advancements in the areas of space, functionality, athletic flair and premium characteristics,” says MINI to the media before we were let loose on a fleet of MINI Cooper S ALL4 Countryman.

Let’s get straight to the new and innovative things packed in it:

- 20cm longer than its predecessor;
- Five full-fledged seats – You don’t need to be pint-sized to be at the back!;
- Its 450-litre luggage compartment volume can be extended as required to a total of 1,390 litres. This constitutes a maximum increase of 220 litres as compared to the predecessor model;
- Electrical tailgate control (optional) as well as touchless opening and closing of the tailgate;
- MINI “Picnic Bench” which is a fold-out load loading sill cushion that can be used as a comfortable seat for two persons on the luggage compartment lid and for general outdoor use;
- The first-ever MINI with plug-in hybrid drive – the Cooper S E Countryman ALL4;
- New generation of engines and gearboxes, with efficiency-optimised all-wheel drive system ALL4;
- Central instrument with touchscreen function for the first time;
- LED headlights with peripheral daytime driving light ring for the first time;
- MINI “Country Timer” measures driving fun over demanding terrain (yes, we kid you not!);
- MINI Connected App as a personal assistant on a day-to-day basis and when travelling;
- MINI “Find Mate”: Everything you need on board at all times – or in view.

Of course there are many more things that we can list down here, but that will never beat the experience of seeing it for yourself and test-driving it, with a VERY friendly sales representative next to you pointing out nearly every plus point the new Countryman has.

Still, I’ll share with you whatever I can, especially the few awesome days driving the Cooper S ALL4 Countryman in England, recently.

The latest version of the all-wheel drive system ALL4 ensures driving fun beyond paved roads, too. This was demonstrated during a brief-but-exciting drive in the Cooper S ALL4 Countryman on a specially-prepared off-road course located on the grounds of the Hedsor Park in Buckinghamshire, a historic park that surrounds Hedsor House, a Victorian mansion that is popular as a film location for both television dramas and feature films. The drive involved a good mix of inner roads and the motorways (we say highways and expressways) between Hedsor Park and our accommodation in Oxfordshire.

More space for premium ambience

Inside the Countryman, the clear increase in space, refined premium ambience and a modern display and operating concept reflect the progress achieved through the change of generation. Both my passenger and I benefit from extended head and shoulder space, while the adjustment range of the seats has also been enlarged. The narrow body columns and the high seating position make for optimum visibility when manoeuvring. The rear door openings have been enlarged as compared to the predecessor model, enabling a more convenient entrance and exit. In addition to interior width, leg space is now significantly more generous, too.

If you have never owned a MINI before, are kind-of-considering getting one but have mixed feelings about its (interior) size, try the Countryman. When it comes to its interior space, the Countryman has more front leg room, rear leg room, front head room (with sunroof), rear head room (with sunroof), rear shoulder room, and cargo capacity (with rear seats up) than the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA250 (based on data available on Audi USA and Mercedes-Benz USA website as of October 2016)!

“The interior of the new MINI Countryman emphasises the car‘s suitability for families and as a primary vehicle. The sense of quality in the interior has been significantly enhanced, too,” says Julius Schluppkotten, the Countryman’s project director.

Distinctive cockpit design

So many words are needed to describe the typically-cool MINI cockpit with its quirky design and features, but let’s just focus on the hallmark central instrument – it is integrated in the instrument panel and is surrounded by an LED ring that provides a lighting display in response to driving situations by way of control feedback. This forms part of the MINI Excitement Package, which also comprises the LED ambient lighting and a projection of the MINI logo from the exterior mirror on the driver’s side when opening and closing the car.

A lot of time had to be spent just sitting in the front seats to “absorb” (as in fiddle, try, test, experiment and explore) all those switches, levers, knobs and buttons, on top of the features, modes, functions and details they are made for, before driving. This is very crucial since it’s no fun fiddling with them while on the move. But it was fun!

Making its premiere on the central instrument is touchscreen display. The features of the Wired package include MINI navigation system Professional comprise not just the Touch Controller on the centre console but also an 8.8-inch colour screen in the central instrument with a new graphic design. It is also a touchscreen, allowing functions to be selected and adjusted at the tip of the finger.

Register driving fun with “Country Timer”

In conjunction with the Wired package and the MINI navigation system Professional it is possible to use another function developed exclusively for the MINI Countryman that taps into the new model’s all-round talent in a way that is both innovative and entertaining. The MINI Country Timer registers all travel over sloping, uneven, unsurfaced and snow-covered roads and tracks. As soon as you move on demanding terrain, the type and extent of the challenge are detected and shown on the display in the central instrument by means of graphics. The driver can then read off on the on-board computer how long and how intensively they have driven over this type of surface.

The driving situation is analysed based on data supplied by the control unit of the Dynamic Stability Control function. In this way it is possible to observe how fast and how persistent the new Countryman is surpassing the status of “Street Cruiser” and striving to achieve the “Cliff Champ” category!

Let’s go!

The new Countryman features newly-developed engines, all with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology. The Malaysian launch this Friday will reveal more of the variant(s) that will be locally offered. But in England, the multi-national media was given only the Cooper S Countryman which is powered by a 192hp, 280Nm, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine paired with an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. My driving partner and I agree that it has sufficient power to transport five people and a full cargo. And since there was only me and another journalist (our luggage was separately transported to by MINI), there was more than enough power for a fun drive on the English countryside.

Though we did not test it ourselves, our car is able to achieve a 7.2-second 0-to-100km/h sprint – making it 0.9 seconds faster than its predecessor model. MINI stated that in spite of a significant increase not just in sporty flair but also in space, comfort and fittings, virtually all the engine variants demonstrate further optimised fuel efficiency as compared to their respective predecessor. Depending on the engine, the reduction in fuel consumption amounts to as much as 1.4 litres per 100 kilometres. Amazing, huh?

ALL4: Fast and precise, compact and efficient

Contributing to the outstanding efficiency figures is the ALL4 all-wheel drive system, which is optionally available for all engine variants. The new version of the all-wheel drive system not only reacts quickly and precisely to changing situations, it is also compact and offers a high level of internal efficiency.

It consists of a power take-off unit integrated in the front axle differential, a propeller shaft leading to the rear axle and a hang-on clutch that ensures precisely measured transmission of the drive torque to the rear wheels. The system‘s electronic control is interconnected with the Dynamic Stability Control DSC, so it detects any need to adapt power distribution early on. In this way, ALL4 optimises both traction and stability in adverse weather and road surface conditions, as well as ensuring improved agility when taking bends in dynamic style.

So much more to tell you…

The new MINI Countryman will be launched this Friday by MINI Malaysia at the International Gallery at Alya, TPC Kuala Lumpur (formerly known as Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club Resort), in Jalan Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. On the following day and also Sunday (April 15-16), MINI Malaysia will be conducting test drives as well as activities for the whole family to enjoy there. Please drop by to know the new Countryman more!