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.
You're a clean car person, or you're not. While Andy saw mud and dirt as a badge of honour, the Countryman's versatility may be seeing him convert
I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re either a clean car person or you aren’t.
I know of colleagues who take an almost disturbing pleasure in getting all hot and sudsy with their vehicle, and others who prefer to wear constellations of bug splats and baked-on brake dust as badges of honour.
I thought I was in the latter camp. I used to love seeing Le Mans cars arrive at Goodwood, still scarred with rubber streaks, oil stains, and with bits of pheasant stuck in their grilles.
Now I think I’m turning to the other side and becoming a regular at the jet-wash. I enjoy getting the Mini Countryman dirty, but among the acres of gleaming metal in the Wheels car park, I’m getting filth-shamed.
Despite being grey, the Countryman is a hard car to hide in. It’s noticeably bigger than most Golf-sized hatches and on a cold morning, the diesel engine doesn’t do its stealth credentials any favours. Once warmed up, it’s a bit smoother but it’s never going to be one of those cars that has people surprised that it drinks from the black pump.
Talking of pumps, this month I’ve been using the sport mode more often and I’ve seen a bit of a dip in fuel economy, from 6.3L/100km last month to 7.3 this month. The sport mode keeps the transmission one gear lower, making it feel a good deal more responsive.
I also discovered late in the month that the tyre pressures were uniformly 3psi below placard. With a bit more air and a lighter right boot, I’m aiming to bring the fuel economy back into the sixes.
The adaptive cruise control has been a boon on the freeway, but it is prone to the odd moment of indecision and, like Ryan’s AMG E43 long termer, is occasionally prone to dropping the anchors with a perfectly clear road ahead. As with most semi-autonomous systems, it’s a case of getting to know its idiosyncrasies and in such situations, a little manual intervention pays dividends.
The head-up display, which keeps you informed of the speed limit at all times, is something that, once sampled, I’ll find hard to live without.
The Countryman has been pressed into use as a hauler of garden waste this month and has seen countless Ikea bags rammed with dead buffalo grass and soil-encrusted roots destined for the local green tip. This, and a boot load of disintegrating polystyrene, has tested my cleaning skills to the max, and researching the most effective Dyson attachments has become my life.
Thankfully, the car’s looking pretty schmick after a bit of elbow grease and exposure to the V8 Animal cordless stick. Clean cars, eh? Call me a convert.
Watergate, Dieselgate, now Tailgate ... gate
It started innocuously enough.
The key fob button for the Mini Countryman’s motorised rear hatch had suffered a fit of pique and obstinately refused to function.
If you’ve been following my experience with Mini’s plus-size model, you’ll know that the rear hatch has taken a dislike to me, acting all innocent and then lunging at the back of my head if given the opportunity. I’ve wised up to that particular stunt but the car has now adopted an even more dastardly tack.
Returning to the vehicle after locking it in a busy shopping-centre carpark, I gazed across the serried rows of vehicles to spot the Countryman with the rear hatch raised to the skies in a triumphant ‘screw you!’ salute. I wondered how long it had been sitting there like that and was relieved to find my laptop and jacket had remained resolutely unstolen.
A week later it did it again, this time fortunately in the secure office car park. By this point, I’d taken care not to leave anything worth stealing in the vehicle, but it’s far from ideal.
These electrical glitches have put me on my guard a little, but the Countryman’s infectious personality otherwise makes it an easy car to get along with. It just has an evil tailgate and that’s something I have to take as part of the package.
It’s like my neighbour’s kitten; a lovely little thing until it craps in your shoe. But you just can’t stay mad at it for too long.
The Mini Countryman has also endeared itself to the tightwad in me. After vowing not to drive it everywhere in sport mode, fuel use on the last tank improved to 5.3L/100km which isn’t at all bad for an all-wheel drive almost-SUV.
I think I’ve even got Kirby’s Kia Picanto pipped as the most economical vehicle on the Wheels fleet. It’s almost as if we’re acting as the offset program for Ponchard’s V8 Mustang but I reckon the good ol’ boy Ford would grate on you a long time before the Countryman.
Knowing that I can return the car after four months means that the downsides of Countryman ownership are easier to shrug off.
If I’d forked out $56K for one, I’d probably be less sanguine about its peccadilloes. The most annoying thing is that I know I’d still genuinely like the car. Against all my better judgment and diligently curated prejudices, I’m sold on the thing. Your mileage may vary.
Never mind the polar opposite of consumption between the Mini and Ponch’s Mustang; there’s no contest when it comes to audio quality, the Mini’s 10-speaker Harman Kardon set-up being the antithesis to the Mustang’s Shaker system.
The audio quality is great, but it could really do with a bit more grunt. All too frequently, I find that I’m at maximum volume and there’s zero distortion, fuzz or flutter from the speakers. The spec sheet says 360 watts but it feels as if the DSP amplifier could benefit from a few additional ponies.
Chasing hypermiler rewards sees Enright fed up to the gills
Buried deep within the Mini Countryman’s labyrinthine infotainment menu is an option intriguingly titled Minimalism Analyser.
It’s not something you’d probably bother with, as you need to switch the car into ‘Green’ mode to access it, something that only communists, school teachers and me would ever do.
Nevertheless, a long freeway drive saw me shuffling through a few of the car’s different driving modes and it was then that I discovered the green fish.
There it sits in a goldfish bowl beneath a meter which measures both anticipation and acceleration. The five stars for each of these attributes are greyed out. Challenge accepted.
Gain a star and the fish does a backflip and looks slightly happier. After three stars he beams this earnest, gormless grin and you’re hooked.
At this point, you begin to realise that earning stars is turning you into a complete horror scene of a driver. Accelerate to keep up with the traffic flow and the fish docks you an acceleration star.
As a result, you pick up speed like a darted sloth while spittle-flecked Falcons fill your rear view, the drivers flashing, gesticulating and mouthing obscenities. One drew level and went berserk, his frenzied interjection only interrupted when his durry fell into his crotch/seat fabric junction.
If traffic backs up and you need to brake, the fish deletes all of your anticipation stars. The first time this happened, I was frothing too.
I’d just spent the previous hour and a half forensically managing my throttle and braking inputs like Sandra Bullock in Speed and then that gooby-eyed freak just took away all of my stars.
I stop for a drink and a Filet-O-Fish and vow never to switch the thing on again. Yes, I’d saved 10km worth of fuel over my 150km stint, but the stress of trying to ignore furious drivers, treating the throttle like a detonator and desperately willing the fish to flip just to save 82 cents worth of fuel has taken its toll. Hypermiling is just too hardcore for me. I have new respect for communists and schoolteachers.
Other than that, the Countryman has performed brilliantly this month: 8/10 – would recommend. Just don’t fall for its fishing scam.
Offered for sale in Europe is this fetching Autohome rooftop tent for the F60 Countryman. As far as I can establish, the unit weighs 58kg and the roof rails are rated to a maximum load of 75kg. Last time I checked I was tipping the scales somewhere north of 17kg...
Aesthetic excesses, vaporised roadkill, a torched perineum... but Mini’s junior SUV emerges victorious
THUS far, I’ve largely avoided driving into Australian wildlife. Yes, I’ve clouted a few birds, and have had a couple of close squeaks with myopic marsupials, but I have yet to flatten something that could inflict the sort of panel damage that would require one of those ‘unpleasantness’ phone calls to a press office.
I nearly broke my duck on a recent drive to Wangaratta in the Mini Countryman.
I’d committed to take part in a 50km cycling event called the Ned Kelly Chase but had neglected to do any training beforehand.
Crippling undercarriage destruction set in at about the 40km mark and a protracted waddle back to the Countryman only exacerbated my discomfort.
Fortunately the Mini Countryman’s seats almost seem designed for a 110kg man with an acutely contused coight, but half way through the 15km drive back to the guest house, a swamp wallaby hopped out in front of the car. I slammed on the picks as hard as they’d go and gave the little fella a 5km/h boop, which he looked a bit disgruntled about.
As my heart rate returned to normal, he happily hopped off, straight into the path of an oncoming Kenworth, which unfortunately atomised him.
Hosing a fine mist of gore off the side of the Mini that evening while sitting on a bag of frozen peas, I mentally totted up the good points of the Countryman SD All4 that I’d soon be handing back.
Good brakes were a given. It also handled well for what is ostensibly a diesel SUV. It’s genuinely good fun to punt around a hilly B-road, the eight-speed ZF transmission sharp enough in Sport mode to rarely have you flicking a paddle.
That it’s also creditably economical (I averaged 6.2L/100km, even with a fair amount of enthusiastic pedalling) ought to seal the deal for many.
It’s practical too. The two dismantled mountain bikes that represent a bit of a Tetris puzzle in my Golf VII are swallowed up by the Countryman’s cargo bay with plenty of room to spare.
Returning to the Countryman after a few days in a Volvo XC60 also reminded me just how much heft there is to this car’s steering. If you bemoan the over-assistance of modern electric steering systems, you’ll adore the way you can strong-arm the Mini through a corner.
It’s not a car that’s long on handling subtlety, but it loves being treated to a bit of clog. As always with the Countryman, so much comes back to its price.
While it’s positioned as a boutique choice, you’ll need to be the judge regarding how much you buy into that particular marketing decision. Given that we can’t compare it directly to similarly priced mainstream SUVs, such as the Mazda CX-9, you have to look at what else your $52K buys.
And it buys a lot in the ‘something cool and fun that the kids can get in the back of’ sector.
Would I recommend a Countryman Cooper SD All4 to a friend? Yes, as long as they had deepish pockets and a fairly liberal aesthetic palate.
I’ll miss its weird blend of kitschy overstyling and honest-to-goodness backroads substance. It never failed to raise a smile.
Unless you’d just lowered the driver’s window to check on a dazed swamp wallaby.