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HomeZA LifestyleVehicle Reviews2024 Mini Countryman: Not Mini Any More, But Still A Mini

2024 Mini Countryman: Not Mini Any More, But Still A Mini

Image source: Mini South Africa

BMW’s version of the iconic Mini has been in production for 23 years already and it would be fair to say that, in that time, the model has gained as much affection as the original, first revealed to the public in 1959 and remaining in production to 2000.

While the first of BMW’s Minis were commendably small and compact – if still a lot larger than the original – then over the years, Minis have ceased to be ‘mini’. However, they still occupy a place among the smaller classes of cars available today.

Image source: Mini South Africa

Throughout Mini’s post-2001 history, both market demands and safety concerns have been such that Mini models have inevitably put on a middle-aged spread and nowhere is this more noticeable than in the Countryman models – designated ‘subcompact crossover SUVs’ – introduced in 2010 and fully updated for the second time for the 2024 model year.

Standing next to the brand new Countryman, if you had no idea of the identity, you might be hard-pressed to identify it as a Mini but, once the identity is revealed, then the design cues fall into place and you can see the family resemblance. Headlights and tail lights have changed in detail but there’s no mistaking it for anything else.

Image source: Mini South Africa

The Mini Countryman is not small but, conversely, it is not particularly large when compared with other SUVs that crowd our roads. The 2024 Countryman is 13cm longer and 8cm higher than the outgoing Countryman model. The idea of a ‘Mini’ being this big will be confusing for some but it was – and remains – a clever move by BMW/Mini to enhance the appeal of what is a very popular brand.

If there is one practical element that has been carried over from Alec Issigonis’ original Mini design, it is the amount of interior space available for passengers (boot space is a little limited for a family of four going on holiday), a perception helped by the innovative dashboard design, which exchanges extensive plastic mouldings for recycled knitted textiles on a pleasingly uncluttered dash, which is appealing and is an interestingly alternative design. It gives the impression of being less massive and, therefore, less intrusive.

Image source: Mini South Africa

Dominating the interior is a huge central OLED instrument (240mm in diameter), which is bright, and sharp, using the latest Operating System 9 infotainment software, is impressive and perhaps a little complex to navigate. We didn’t have the opportunity of driving the car at night but we suspect that it could be rather distracting unless the brightness is turned right down, which could lead to it being difficult to read at a glance.

The ’S’ version comes with a heads-up display directly in front of the driver, which makes monitoring speed and GPS directions much safer than constantly glancing to the left. The functionality of the central instrument is mind-bogglingly comprehensive and will take some time to learn; for full safety, a passenger should really be carried at all times to navigate through the myriad interfaces but it is fair to say that many of the adjustable parameters will be set once and forgotten, reducing driver distraction.

Image source: Mini South Africa

Overall, the interior has great individuality and style, to go with the generous leg- and head-room, and rear seat passengers aren’t treated like an afterthought, either.

For this launch, BMW/Mini SA concentrated on the entry-level Countryman C Classic and next-in-line Countryman S All4 Classic with part-time four-wheel-drive. The Countryman C is powered by a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 115kW (154 horsepower in old money), while the Countryman S is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 150kW (201 horsepower). Both engines are mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and, on the launch vehicles, at least, there was no possibility of manual shifting via steering wheel paddles although it is understood that this will be an option.

Image source: Mini South Africa

There will also be a John Cooper Works version and two full electric models but these will only arrive later in the year.

Of the two engines tested, my personal preference was for the three-cylinder engine which, in real-world driving situations, loses out very little to the more powerful four-cylinder and actually had a more attractive character, sounding typically gruff compared to the four-cylinder engine. In normal driving, both engines are extremely smooth and unintrusive. The gearbox changes imperceptibly when driven normally.

Image source: Mini South Africa

The 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine returns slightly worse fuel consumption figures than the 2.0-litre four-cylinder and this is no doubt a consequence of having to work that bit harder to maintain similar performance. However, it must be noted that all our driving on the launch was either highway or enticingly twisty roads in Mpumalanga, none of which were driven at walking pace…! Around town, no doubt the smaller engine would come into its own, where ultimate acceleration and top-end performance wouldn’t be required.

These aren’t sporty cars by any stretch of the imagination, Mini no doubt leaving that impression for the John Cooper Works version. But they are not sluggish, nor do they feel in any way underpowered.

Image source: Mini South Africa

The all-independent suspension is fault-free, refined and maintains excellent composure over bad roads. On the highway, road noise is commendably muted and it is noticeable that Mini has opted for a more handling-based set-up than comfort-based which does mean a slightly harder ride that is sensitive to road imperfections but never to the point that it becomes tiring. For the enthusiastic driver, there’s a liveliness about the road manners that might well satisfy those who view Minis as drivers’ cars but it’s also supple enough for those who really don’t appreciate riding in a go-kart.

It corners without excess body roll and grip was in no way lacking in the dry conditions in which we tackled the winding roads of Mpumalanga around Sabie and Graskop, whether driving the two-wheel drive Countryman C or the four-wheel drive Countryman S. In short, the Countryman feels less like a tall SUV and more like a medium-sized hatchback. Given its configuration, there will always be a compromise between the driving satisfaction expected of a Mini and something that appeals to a wider audience with no desire for any kind of athleticism.

Image source: Mini South Africa

Overall, in the Mini Countryman, in either ‘C’ or ’S’ guise, there is a lot to like and very little to quibble about. It’s sufficiently dynamic without being too nervous or twitchy or for experienced drivers only. The design is distinctive, the character a good way on the cheeky side of normal and it wears its Mini identity with justifiable pride.

For someone looking for practicality with personality, both in appearance and driving, the Mini Countryman makes a very good case for itself.

Image source: Mini South Africa

Pricing:

Mini Countryman C – R724,819
Mini Countryman S All4 – R795,000
Mini Countryman JCW – R965,000 (arriving latter half of 2024)
Mini Countryman SE All4 (electric) – R1,086,000 (arriving latter half of 2024)

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
From an early age, Harry was obsessed with anything that moved under its own steam, particularly cars and motorcycles. For reasons of a financial nature, his stable of fine automobiles failed to materialise, at which point he realised that motorcycles were far more affordable and so he started his two wheel career, owning, riding, building and fixing many classic bikes. Then came the day when he converted his love of bikes into a living, writing, filming and talking about them endlessly. The passion for four wheels never left him, however, and he has now converted his writing skills into singing the praises of cars in all their infinite variety. Bikes are still his favourite means of getting around but the car in its modern form is reaching a level of perfection that is hard to resist. And they're warmer in winter....
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