First drive: Mini Cooper Countryman
The Countryman is more of a Mini and less of an SUV says Girish Karkera...
The new Mini or the car as we see it now is nothing like the tiny runabouts of the earlier decades. Not surprisingly, it further spawned a few models that you couldn’t have imagined to be possible with the earlier Mini. The Countryman that you see here being one of them – an SUV if you like from the Mini world.
Don’t be fooled by the Mini moniker because the Countryman isn’t small. To put it in perspective, it is actually longer and wider than a Mahindra Bolero. Of course, there is no third row seating. Instead you get a decent amount of boot space, which can be increased by sliding the rear seats in front! The rear bench is comfortable for two and a squeeze for three but the Countryman can stake claim to being a proper five-seat Mini.
Interiors are unique in the way how everything seems inspired by circular design. Starting with the most obvious and biggest central speedo on the dashboard. Thankfully there is a smaller digital unit in the instrument cluster ahead of the driver which is more useful. Switches to most of the other bits like power windows and central locking are made to look like switches from a rally car – albeit more polished, literally with the use of chrome. It is a comfortable place to be in and so different from rest of the German-make cars around that it actually takes a little time to get familiarised with all the gizmos.
Not so when you take to the steering wheel. In India, the Countryman is available only in the Cooper S trim which means there is that 1.6-litre inline four belting out 184bhp and 240Nm at full blast. Unfortunately, all wheel drive is only available as a very expensive option. Still, the Countryman can zip to 100kph from standstill in 7.9sec and max out at a not so humble 220kph.
But hold on, this is not your regular Mini so the extra ground clearance means an extra dose of roll and pitch. Plus it tends get a bit nervous under panic braking – as if the front tyres want to stop and the rear want to step out to see what the fuss is about ahead. However, pick-up is a dream and you can make little work of overtaking manoeuvres simply by aiming the steering wheel and flooring the throttle. The six-speed auto box is intuitive and clever and can give even a good driver a run for his gear-shifting ability. For starters, it is quick-shifting and doesn’t wait for the revs to build or drop for eternity before getting on with shifting gears. It’s almost as if it knows what you are thinking of doing next.
This makes it an ideal city and highway runner, But all isn’t hunky dory. The biggest and possibly only noticeable chink in the Countryman’s armour is the horrible ride that will make you squirm more out of irritation than discomfort with the constant thudding and slamming rounds between the wheels and our less-than-smooth roads.
Still, you can’t help but feel special in the Countryman. Despite the slight standing on stilts stance, it gets you the attention and is reasonably playful to drive. Plus there’s enough room for a quartet and their luggage making it a one-stop fun car option you will find hard to resist.