Big Country were a popular Scottish band way back in the 80’s. Their Scottish folk inspired songs brought together strong Celtic rock guitar and drum sounds with bagpipes and fiddle inclination – believe me it sounds much better than what I have just described and tunes like ‘Harvest Home, Fields of Fire or Look Away’ are hard not to jump up and do a Highland fling to. But for me, their biggest and most involving anthem was ‘In a Big Country’, an uplifting song that booms out dreams and possibilities ‘In a big country dreams stay with you’ but is equally very pragmatic about it all ‘I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert’ – and this was the tune that bounced around my head as I drove the new Mini Countryman Cooper S.
Let’s cover off one thing straight away, the Mini ain’t mini anymore – I know you were thinking it anyway. But it all goes back to perspective, after all; size is relative (what is big in a land of giants?). Even when the original mini raced around on the tarmac in the 60’s, it wasn’t massively dwarfed by some of the other vehicles back then. The Isetta, Bond Buggy and Imp (to name but a few) were not BIG cars, yes the Mini was small but not freakishly so. You see the thing is; Mini WAS and still IS more about attitude and character rather than its literal meaning. A Mini should be fun, it’s exciting and cheeky and the Countryman Cooper S takes this ‘poked out tongue’ mischief into the small SUV market. It’s powerful and noisy, while being roomy and family focused.
However, (regardless of what I have just said) being a ‘mini’ I still psychologically deem it a small car which is when it comes to calling it an SUV is quite confusing. Much of my bewilderment came from where I parked it, which again leads back to perspective. Alone on my driveway, the metallic Island blue with racy white bonnet stripes Mini; looks regular sized and alongside a ute or a 7 seater it’s almost small but at a shade over 4m long, 1.56m tall and almost 1.8m wide, size wise the Countryman stands up nicely to many of the SUV’s within its category and I’d go as far as saying, overshadows several of them when you venture within.
The cabin is spacious in the front and (with its high roofline) even more capacious in the rear. The dashboard design still includes the big round centre talking point feature (that now houses all the infotainment gumpf) but it also has a funky trim that colour lights through. The heated leather seats have Union Jack stitching, it has a sporty steering wheel with gear-shift paddles behind. My review vehicle also had a bright and informative ‘head-up’ display that slid up when the car was started (via a bright red flip switch below the infotainment in case you wanted to know)
The Countryman Cooper S’s not so big/not so small exterior sat proudly on its silver 19-inch alloys and the bright white; seemingly stepped roofline helps deflect the vehicle’s mass (the silver roof rails were a nice touch too). It has halogen headlights with LED daytime lights and enough ‘Cooper S’ badging and chrome work to make for a bright but not over-blinged finish. With the tailgate open, you get the option to expand out a picnic bench that lives under the rear luggage space floor. Calling it a bench is probably overstating its size and relevance but it’s certainly a place to park your behind and nibble canapes.
Under its cute button nose is a 2L Twin Power Turbo 4-cylinder petrol engine that produces 141kW power and 280Nm torque and when strapped to its 8-speed automatic transmission gives a reported fuel consumption of 6.5 l/100km (combined).
I got the use of the Countryman Cooper S for almost a week and couldn’t wait to take it home. With its styling and connectivity, it’s definitely happy to zap around the city but the name meant that it was a dead cert to enjoy the rural roads near my house.
From a handling point of view, the wife found the steering a little on the heavy side but I found it responsive and trigger-happy, the mere twitch of your arm and the Countryman is off in a new direction. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing to be weary of, it’s just not what you expect from an SUV. Which I guess leads in well to the rest of the Countryman’s handling. In normal or eco mode, it does its duties well. But flick it over to sport and its heritage ‘Cooper S character’ returns. The gear changes are quicker and throttle is as twitchy as the further improved steering. The exhaust joins in the fun too with a little crackle here and an attention seeking pop there. The agility deepens and bends take on a more welcoming appeal. The whole experience is smile inducing but here’s a top tip, I would recommend keeping the more excitable drives to when you are alone in the car – passengers both front and rear have a tendency not to share your enthusiasm sometimes.
Flicking back to normal and the daily family/household chores are conducted with modern aplomb. Mobile connectivity is easy, navigation is fine and the camera’s, sensors and safety aids ensure everyone (including the Mini) return in good form.
The lyrics of Big Country are filled with positivity and smiles all with a rocking tune that is as big and loud as a Cooper S powertrain itself. My advice to you is, download the song and grab the keys to the Mini Countryman Cooper S. Turn the stereo up loud and drive on some epic rural roads – you will ‘See the sun in the wintertime’.
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