Four doors and still called a Mini? Does this quirky Mini suit our family needs.
If you’re going to pick a Mini as a family car, then the biggest version – the Mini Countryman – probably makes the most sense.
That’s what I figured anyway, opting for a Mini Cooper S Countryman as the choice for my young family of three living in inner Sydney.
Priced from $44,700, the Mini Cooper S Countryman automatic is one of 78 (yes, that’s not a typo) different Minis you can buy in Australia. Then there are the personalisation options, which are so vast that if you had a different Mini for each day of your life, you’d have to live a few thousand years to sample the range of possibilities on offer.
What that really means is that no two Minis are ever really the same. Mini buyers usually love to stand out and own something others don’t have. Given the brand sells about 2750 cars a year in Australia, they’re not exactly common cars, let alone the variations.
Each year about 500 Australians buy a Countryman of some flavour, of which there are 16 variations, and our pick of the lot was the turbocharged Cooper S version with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The four-door Mini Cooper S Countryman is a Mini for grown-ups – those who want the funky nature of a “Mini lifestyle” but with four doors and more space for extra practicality.
Measuring a good 4110mm in length, the Countryman is a good 41cm longer than a standard Mini and most of that goes into the rear seats, which can easily accommodate two adults – or in our case, a child seat for our two-year-old boy and all the toys that go along with it.
From the outside the Mini Countryman does its best to maintain the quirkiness of the Mini brand without looking like a mini SUV (no pun intended). It’s certainly different though the visual appearance isn’t universally appealing.
It has a 149mm ground clearance (33mm higher than standard Mini Cooper), aiding with car parks and driveways while also allowing a slightly higher ride position.
Under the bonnet sits a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which was jointly developed by BMW (Mini’s parent company) and Peugeot Citroen. The engine has been in use for many years and all reports suggest it’s as durable as they come.
Our Mini comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, which also has paddle shifters on the steering wheel for when the wife and the boy are not on board and a twisty road happens to present itself.
Power in the Cooper S editions measures at 135kW with 240Nm of torque to boot (260Nm with overboost). That allows our Countryman to go from 0-100km/h in a very reasonable 7.9 seconds while sipping a claimed 7.5L/100km (we found our Mini using well above 8.5L/100km for city commutes)
Behind the wheel, power figures are basically irrelevant. The Cooper S Countryman is torquey and pulls hard in each gear, creating a dynamic driving experience without being over the top. Highway overtakes and quick bursts of acceleration are Cooper S hallmarks and the Countryman doesn’t disappoint.
Unlike the ALL4 variants, which are equipped with all-wheel drive, our front-wheel-drive model does present moderate torque steer when pushed (or in the wet) – in true Mini fashion – which is easily controlled and even fun, at times.
The ride is firm, as one would expect from a Mini on runflat tyres, and the suspension setup is certainly not designed to deal with inner Sydney’s rather terrible roads.
It tends to bounce around a bit and you can feel almost every pothole resonate through the cabin. In that sense, it’s perhaps not the ideal car if you frequent poorly surfaced roads, but push it hard around a corner and the ride compromise makes sense.
The Countryman is fun to punt along a winding road, and there’s virtually no body roll despite the higher ride height, though in the Mini world there’s nothing to beat the close-to-the-ground sensation of the regular Mini hatch that most matches the brand’s famed go-kart handling approach.
But can a Mini be truly practical?
Well, the boot measures from 450 to 1170 litres depending on the rear seat configuration, making it just big enough to fit our son’s pram and the week’s groceries while allowing for a vehicle that is still small enough to fit in tight car parks and driveways.
The interior is spacious and roomy, thanks to the high roofline and overall cabin ambience. The infotainment system with satellite navigation is basically BMW’s iDrive with a different controller, so it’s simple and efficient.
Like most Minis, the analogue speedometer is located in the centre ring around the satnav screen, while a digital readout is present in the instrument cluster. This is a good layout most of the time, until you get a fuel low warning and suddenly you no longer have a digital speed readout – which can be disconcerting.
The interior is equipped with an ambient lighting package that subtly changes light colour around the cabin as you drive along or can be permanently set a specific colour. Then there’s the centre rail concept that allows you to move cup holders or other items that can be plugged in, as you choose. Clever little features that make life easier.
It’s early weeks with the big Mini, so we’ll see whether the Countryman’s firm ride remains bearable and whether this a genuinely practical family car.
Recommended retail price (6-speed manual transmission) $42,300*
Our vehicle includes the following options:
Mini Cooper S Countryman
Date acquired: October 2013
Odometer reading: 1093km
Travel this month: 860km
Consumption this month: 8.5L/100km