Over the years, MINI has experimented a great deal with more-or-less psychedelic spin-offs of its classic three-door hatchback. The more noteworthy models include the Clubman (wagon), Countryman (sort of wagon) and Paceman (God knows what). The latter was discontinued because of its incomprehensibility but the two first ones mentioned still thrive. Roughly a year ago, the new Clubman was introduced while the new Countryman has had to wait until now. We have been on the press drive in the Norwegian mountains where we enjoyed frozen lakes and stunning sunrises.
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Exterior-wise, a lot that has changed from the previous (and first) generation which debuted in 2010. The Countryman now looks like a hybrid between the predecessor and various Fiat-models, more specifically a 124 Spider from the front and a 500X from the rear.
The interior changes are enormous compared to the old generation but pretty much non-existent compared to other current MINI-models. When it comes to the interior, that entails whimsical shapes and details which are reminiscent of an airplanes cockpit. The quality feel is astounding, just like the number of options for individualization.
According to Robert Strängberg, product manager of MINI Sweden, the customers can “go bananas” something we at High Velocity encourage fully since most cars on the road are rolling sleeping pills. An update, however, is the implementation of a touch screen, just like the updated BMW’s. I have always thought that touch screens in cars are completely useless. The advantage of having buttons is that you can use them without taking your eyes of the road, a touch screen lacks the tactility and nothing’s ever where you left it. Thankfully, MINI has been clever enough to let the customer choose whether they want to use the touch screen or the classic, control-based user interface by integrating both. I certainly know which one I prefer.
All the test cars on location in Norway were equipped with ALL4, an all-wheel drive system which only utilizes the all four wheels when its required. Cooper S ALL4 grips nicely but at the same time it loses some of its buoyancy. Although, on Norwegian, ice-laden roads I was ever thankful for sitting in a car with all-wheel drive. At one point, I stopped to check how slippery it in fact was. My conclusion was that I should have packed ice skates instead of boots. Despite these glistening conditions, the Countryman never felt uncontrollable. On wash-board roads, it became apparent that the car is more sport-oriented as it wasn’t as comfortable as a cloud. Even if the new Mini Countryman hardly is mini, it’s still an absolute joy to drive.
After the first day’s driving through Norway, we got the tremendously pleasant opportunity to drive like maniacs on a frozen lake. The morning welcomed us with open arms with a sunrise which radiated a fantastic cascade of colors across the lake and test cars. The day was split up into several activities which were designed to let us get a feel for what the Countryman was like on the absolute edge. The most exciting part was the slalom/drift track where we were supposed to drift the car between cones. Moreover, the race-track, with the incredibly creative name “Track”, was incredibly fun to drive on, especially considering that the instructors had completely different opinions regarding my ability. The first one basically showered me with praise while the other one, based on his constant stream of instructions and comments, seemed to think I was the worst driver that Norway had ever seen. Obviously, I chose to believe the first one.
The new MINI Countryman is a great-handling car with a sprightly design. Prices start at tad under $35 000 (in Sweden) which hardly can be considered cheap. The Countryman is about as rational a purchase as a boa constrictor compared to a border collie. Despite that, there are numerous individuals who buy frozen mice on a weekly basis. Per usual, the MINI speaks to the heart as opposed to the mind, as long as you appreciate the cars appearance and size.
The Countryman can be had with a number of different engines which all are pretty boring so long the designation doesn’t include the letter “S”. Soon, a pretty dreary plug-in hybrid version based on the BMW 225xe Active Tourer (which the US doesn’t get) and a not at all dreary John Cooper Works version with 231 horsepower will be launched. It’s up to you to figure out which one we’ll be testing first.