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Review: Mini Countryman Cooper S
Driven August 2012
Going by what car junkies around the world keep repeating, Sir Alex Issigonis’s must be one of the most restless graves in the world. He’s probably been turning at regular intervals every time some designer somewhere went and messed with the Mini.
He probably turned many times over when BMW took over Mini. When he was alive, he was dead against the idea of John Cooper tinkering with his car for purposes other than transportation. The angst, I am sure, was a bit misplaced. If it weren’t for BMW, there would’ve been no Mini. And if Sir Issigonis is still turning in his grave, he should seriously stop.
More so after this… the Countryman. It’s big. It has five – actually, four-and-a-half proper seats that four-and-a-half people can be comfortable in. And it has room for four-and-a-half pieces of luggage in the back. Of course, there are compromises. The Countryman takes a second longer than the hatch to touch 100. If you’re a big picture kind of person, one second is nothing.
The pictures may not show you that, but the Countryman, in the middle of run-of-the-mill hatches and sedans, looks like an English Mastiff in a pack of Labradors. Huge, intimidating and a bit of a grouch. But then, you don’t mind that when you’re actually getting a Mini that can carry your family and their luggage.
Which is where the problem begins. And to cut a long story short, also sort of ends. The Countryman is big, has lots of ground clearance, can climb over small boulders, take at least three more people than the Mini can, and stock a lot more in its boot. But the Countryman isn’t a Mini in the way it drives. The hatch, in very simple terms, is a skateboard with a cabin on top. It has no roll around corners, it doesn’t dive when you brake, and it seems built without any of the kind of mechanicals and electronics that drive a wedge between motion and fun.
On the road, the Countryman immediately makes its weight known. It seems weighed down by the rules of physics. You go hard around a long sweeping corner, and this crossover will easily make your heart skip a few beats with that roll. Ride isn’t comfortable, either. Moreover, the steering is always trying to be artificially communicative. It sharpens up, loosens down and you don’t get that feeling of being in control of a housefly like you do with the hatch. It’s best left in Sport mode, where the steering becomes tighter and the gears are held longer.
What you do get lots of in the Countryman is space and flexibility. The rear seats can seat two comfortably and three at a pinch. There’s good legroom, and if you suffer from some sort of height mutation because of which you find legroom tight, you can push That’s the best part with the Countryman, though.
The rear seat backrests can be individually folded down, and the front and back can be adjusted 60:40. Which is when you realise the Countryman is a great family car. And it’s a family car like no other family car. Show us one hatch/SUV/crossover/sedan – or anything that conventional families use that looks this funky. The Countryman is no beauty. But it definitely is an attention-grabber. And you won’t lose it in your mall car park. The engine is the same 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol that you get in the hatch.
Since the Countryman’s about 200kg heavier, it took about 0.5 to 1 entire second longer in all of our acceleration tests compared to the hatch. We won’t complain about that because despite the extra girth and weight, the Countryman is a quick car.
What we were surprised with was that the Countryman was only 200kg heavier than the hatch. If you drive it soon after driving the little hatch, it feels nearly half a tonne heavier. Which is where the Countryman loses the plot. It’s a brilliant car on its own. It’s got a spark and a verve that other premium hatches/compact crossovers lack. But there are three things that work against the Countryman. One, in India, it’s a ridiculously expensive import. You’ll get similarly-specced cars that are as spacious, versatile, bigger even, for half the money. Besides, this Countryman isn’t the all-wheel-drive one.
Two, assuming some rich bugger does decide to buy this instead of a luxury compact sedan or SUV, the Countryman doesn’t have the luxury bells and whistles that customers at this price-point expect. And three, if you simply want an indulgent and fun car, you just buy yourself the hatch and save good money in the bargain. Oh, and Sir Issigonis, if you’re still in your grave, now’s the time to roll.
1598cc, 4-in-line, FWD, 184bhp, 240Nm, turbopetrol, 6A, 8.5kpl, 0-100: 8.20s, 30-50: 1.54s, 50-70: 1.79s, 80-0: 2.94s, 27.04m, Rs 35.80 lakh (ex-India, excluding options)
A fun, practical car. But too expensive. And it's not a Mini.