11 April 2024

The MINI Countryman - the style icon takes a walk on the wild side

| James Coleman
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front of car by a lake

The Countryman has always been the more off-road focussed of the Minis, and that look and feel continues here. Photo: James Coleman.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first.

This car is not ‘mini’. The new Mini Countryman is, in fact, the same size as a BMW X1. In metres, that’s 4.4 long and 1.6 high.

And, as I discovered, this means the rear seats can easily swallow two kids’ car seats and the boot, a modern pram and the equally enormous nappy bag. No mean feat.

Of course, in a way, this is not surprising. No one buys a Mini anymore because they’re actually mini. They’re a style icon, a fashion accessory, a statement.

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There are five Countryman models – the C, the S, the John Cooper Works (JCW), the E and the SE. Pricing starts at $55,670 for the base C with its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine and will go up to $79,628 for the all-electric, all-wheel-drive SE that arrives soon.

I’ve borrowed the S ‘Favoured’ model from the Canberra Mini Garage in Phillip, with a driveaway price from $68,174, a 2-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder petrol engine, and all-wheel drive.

The range isn’t as customisable as the Minis of old, but many delightful hours can still be spent on the online configurator, choosing between 27 colour combinations, two wheel designs and three interior ‘worlds’.

I know Mini is as German as the late Queen (and there are BMW tags under the bonnet to prove it), but I do love how the Union Jack design makes its way into the tail lights. Because these lights are just a bank of LEDs, you can also alter which ones are lit by pressing a button on the end of the indicator stalk if, say, you’re a republican.

interior of car

There’s space aplenty inside. Photo: James Coleman.

Inside, green fabric along the top of the door cards dapples into beige, like someone has shaken and sprayed an iced coffee at it, but nicer. A strip of fabric forms the bottom spoke of a very thick steering wheel. At night, LED lights sprinkle different patterns across the dash.

Nearly all of the controls are located on the central touchscreen, which is round, in a nod to yesteryear’s Minis. It works intuitively enough, like a huge smartwatch, until you use something intrinsically rectangular, like Apple CarPlay, and then it looks a bit awkward.

Happily, unlike a Tesla, all the vital information is also projected in front of you via a head-up display.

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Twist a key-shaped lever to start the engine – a pleasing old-school touch – and twiddle another lever next to it to scroll through the range of ‘Experiences’.

One called ‘Balance’ will start massaging your back. ‘Timeless’ makes the screen look like a vintage 1960s newspaper. ‘Trail’ optimises everything for off-road, so the Countryman can deliver on those beefy country looks. But I spent most of my time in ‘Go Kart’, which is accompanied by a little jingle and a man’s voice yelling “whoo-hoo” (literally) when selected.

The engine’s revs hang around longer in this mode, so whenever you put your foot down, the Countryman shoots away with gusto and an addictive raspy noise (most of it might be piped through the Harman Kardon sound system, but who cares?) Fuel consumption did suffer, however. Forget the claimed 7.6 litres per 100 km – I was more around 10.6.

But it’s also here, from the driver’s seat, where the Countryman really does feel mini. The BMW X1 fades away and you could be in a hot hatch. Light but direct steering. Stiff, but not bone-jarring suspension. It feels darty.

The best of both worlds, then.

rear of car by a lake

There are three Countryman S models – the Classic, the Favoured and the JCW Sport. Photo: James Coleman.

2024 MINI Countryman S Favoured

  • $68,174 (plus driveaway costs)
  • 2-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder petrol, 150 kW / 300 Nm
  • 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive (AWD)
  • 0-100 km/h in 7.4 seconds
  • 7.6 litres per 100 km claimed fuel use
  • Not yet rated for safety.

Visit the Canberra MINI Garage for more information or to arrange a test drive.

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