Car Review: Cooper S Countryman ALL4

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Car Review: Cooper S Countryman ALL4

'It's bigger, faster and more practical'


George Kuruvilla

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Published: Thu 16 Nov 2017, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 17 Nov 2017, 1:00 AM

In MINI's near 60-year history, there hasn't been anything like the Countryman. It was the first one with five doors, five seats and an optional all-wheel drive. Not surprisingly, over 540,000 units were sold worldwide, clearly indicating people desired a MINI that served a multitude of purposes. Following its success in the largest growing segment - the crossover SUV - the German-owned brand has launched an all-new 2nd generation vehicle. It's bigger, faster and more practical. To second those claims, we took the top-spec MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 for an outing. And this is our testimonial of the auto industry's favourite four-letter word.

In 2011, generation one broke tradition when MINI got its extra size and an extra set of doors. The 2nd generation is even less MINI-like in that respect. At 4,313mm, it's another 200-plus mm longer, some 30mm wider and 10mm taller. While the charm of dinky vehicles may have dissipated, the Countryman is a MINI that fits people. It has grown, but they've managed to string together familiar proportions and signature styling cues to keep it recognisably MINI. It maintains the 3D trapezoidal shape of the headlamp clusters, except this time, they've done something funny with it. It also gets a chrome band around it. On the side, the plastic trim connecting the A-pillar to the wheel arch has been replaced by a vent, and the detailing of the luminaires of the rear-lamps has been changed to concentric circles. The licence plate has moved from the bumper to the tailgate.
The power dome on the bonnet is standard on Countryman. But with the Countryman S, the slatted trapezoidal grille gets replaced by the arching mesh grille, the number of exhaust tips go from one to two and go all the way up to 19-inch in diameter as opposed to 16-inch. And to propose off-roading prowess, it's got plastic wheel arches, and roof rails.
The extra detailing has helped the funky Countryman gain an air of sophistication. That said, the current range of MINIs are cute as heck; this isn't a winner in that lot. However, the extra practicality does add poise. No need for a monogram stamp or an overly-magnified horse to let people know it's a MINI.
There's plenty of change on the inside, but much of that abstract architecture remains. The A/C vents, previously circular, are now rectangular. as are other surfaces. The speedo has been moved back to the conventional spot behind the new 3-spoke steering wheel. They've also replaced the pointy pen-style infotainment controller to the flat and circular iDrive unit, pilfered from BMW. Accommodating handwriting recognition will likely reduce cost.
The ambient lighting gives the interiors a cool, discotheque vibe. More importantly, the injection of quality by the parent company input has been the highlight. It's almost like a BMW on the inside! Nothing rattles. and the fixtures and switchgear are high quality.
The front seats accommodate taller folk easily and provide good visibility. At the rear, door cavities are bigger, and they've rid the Countryman of that jazzy central compartment slider to add a middle seat; it can now accommodate three abreast in the rear. The rear seats can be slid forward by up to 130mm and tilted too.

With the gain in size, there is a gain in engine displacement. The first-generation Countryman had a pair of 1.6-litre engines, with a twin-scroll turbocharger on the S model. Now, even the base 134bhp 1.5-litre 3-cylinder is force-fed. Our test car had both the letter 'S' and the 'ALL4' on it, which meant that it gets the Twin Power Turbo 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine that churns out a respectable 189bhp and a meaty 280Nm of torque - all relative to size, of course. Press the red starter button and the engine comes on, sending a slight resonance into the cabin. It's eager to move and will sprint from standstill to 100km/h in just 7.3 seconds - quicker by a second over its predecessor.
It's not just the possession of ample power. Somehow, you feel the horses flowing first as a thought from your brain to your muscles, then from foot to pedal, and, finally, from crank to the spin of the wheels. And the effect is quadrupled when you turn the steering wheel; accuracy is commendable. The ALL4 all-wheel drive system, besides eliminating chirpy starts under heavy acceleration, also distributes the torque for each wheel optimally and has the tyres clawing at all four ends for more grip.  
I'm not particularly fond of the operation of the circular toggle around the shift lever that lets you shift between the many driving modes (MID, SPORT and GREEN). But what it does is more important. It remaps throttle response, adjusts the dynamic dampers etc, whether you want to get sporty or save fuel. MINI claims the Countryman S can deliver a commendable economy of 7.3L/100km. So while the discussion on sustainability, green cars and hybrids continue, you can drive this petrol-powered MINI for a good cause and still look good. Also, all that intimacy with the tarmac means that you will feel some of the bumps and potholes, but MINI has ensured you'll survive.

Being bigger has its perks. The luggage compartment volume is 450 litres and can be extended to 1,309 litres when you drop the 40:20:40 split rear seats flat - a 220-litre increase over its predecessor. There is a camera-based active cruise control, pedestrian warning with brake function, high beam assistant, road sign detection, parking sensors, parking assistant and head-up display. What people tend to ignore is the Euro NCAP crash test rating - and this one has 5 stars!
Keeping your priorities in place, there is a central 6.5-inch colour display upgradable to an 8.8-inch colour screen. Through this, you can access music, car, light setting etc. And the UX design is pretty darn funky, while being ergonomic. You get a Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system that sounds good but isn't spectacular. The useful navigation system has cheery graphics. Then, there is MINI Find Mate, which lends you a bunch of tags with a wireless tracking function that can be attached to frequently-used objects and travel items - just in case you lose track of them.

The 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 is a brilliant piece of art and engineering - a lifestyle vehicle for the city dweller: iconic in its fashion and playfully dynamic in town or on the track. It's economical and relatively affordable too. It's grown in size, but the MINI essence remains. now with an added dash of quality. Ignore multi-terrain talent the Countryman name suggests and you'll do just fine.

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