A little of what you don’t fancy does you good. At least, that’s my take on the Mini Countryman that’s now sitting in my garage.
Let’s not mince words here. It’s a visually challenged thing, isn’t it?
The exterior took a couple of weeks to get used to but the interior, well, it’s brown. Extravagantly, overwhelmingly slurry pit brown.
I tried to find the upsides as I was handed the keys to a car that would be my daily for the next three months, but couldn’t look beyond that brown interior. And yet, after a month with the car, I find myself rather maddeningly liking it. Call it automotive Stockholm Syndrome.
It’s economical, it’s practical, the all-wheel drive will be good for trips to the snow, and there are a whole host of electronic gewgaws to play with.
The first thing I clearly have yet to master are its indicators. I can see what Mini has tried to do here. Tap for a three-blink lane change or fully press the stalk to keep it on. Trouble is, the distance between the two settings seems to be about a micron, and changing lanes won’t cancel it. This creates a ham-fisted display of left, right, left, right, and a subsequent barrage of swearing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix, Mini.
The ride quality is firmer than it really needs to be, but the flipside of this is that it’s a hoot to hustle about.
Understeer is well telegraphed and a sharp lift of the throttle sends the back swinging round just enough to feel engaging. The stability control system is smart/slow enough to realise that you’re counter-steering and lets you play along which, when you think about it, is quite remarkable for a diesel demi-SUV.
I’ve been determined to test its off-road chops, which has thus far involved driving straight up the wall-like hillside at the end of my road, bouncing over the top and re-joining the blacktop. It’s a heck of a shortcut, but I’m going to curtail it before I’m reported by residents for bringing down the tone of the neighbourhood. It’s just good to spray a bit of mud up the side of the Countryman to make it look a little less milquetoast/suburban.
To the Mini’s list price of $51,500, this one’s saddled with $1900 worth of Chester Leather upholstery, a $600 British Oak illuminated dashboard fascia, a $200 leather steering wheel, a $300 luggage compartment net, and the $2400 Multimedia Pro package, which adds a navigation system with 8.8-inch monitor, a head-up display, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo.
That lot tots its price up to $56,900, which would easily net you Wheels’ current Car of the Year, a Mazda CX-9 in AWD Touring trim. That’s quite a vehicle, so you’ve really got to buy into Mini’s special sauce if you’re to see value in the Countryman.
Still, despite initial minor grievances, the Countryman’s irrepressible personality is winning me over. I can handle its quirks such as having expensive leather upholstery with no seat heating. I can put up with the harebrained indicators and irascible ride quality.
The brown interior? That might take a bit longer.
Heads, you lose
Keyless go presents car manufacturers with all manner of quandaries as to what the car should do when the key is no longer detected inside it. One strategy I wasn’t expecting from Mini was to close the Countryman’s electrically powered tailgate onto my head as I was unloading the car. A quick-fire beep alerts you that something might be happening, and then it’s boot latch to the back of your noggin time. Not an experience I’m keen to repeat.
I tried the Countryman’s parallel self-parking system once and it didn’t do too bad a job. I’m not sure I’ll be using it again though. Leafing through the manual, it says “the parking assistant can steer the vehicle over or onto kerbs. There is a risk of property damage.” Kerbed alloys would doubtless result in some pretty serious derision here in the Wheels office, so I’m steering well clear of parking assistant and sticking to doing it the old-school way.
First published in the September 2017 issue of Wheels Magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.