MINI Cooper S Countryman – Take me home

I spent a significant part of the May 1st public holiday out in the countryside where I was first sprouted; where I grew up to love nature, steak, fishing, African sunsets and even cars. Swaziland is a beautiful place and it seemed the perfect one to ask the MINI Cooper S Countryman to accompany me. We loaded the MINI with luggage for 2 adults + one 7 month-old bambino and the adults and bambino of course. In summary, the response I got was a perfect 10 in effort, but in the end, the MINI sang John Denver’s ‘Country Road’ to me and asked me to take it home. Back to the city of Jozi!     

The MINI Cooper S Countryman is everything MINI. It’s a quirky expression of design and individuality and though it may not be the most beautiful car in the universal sense of the word, it certainly turns heads. A short stop-over at the Shell Ultra City on the N4 made me realise that almost everyone who noticed it, noticed it. It’s a striking car and the combination of white alloys with the striking True Blue metallic paintwork helped with that.
It’s same story inside the 4-man cabin. The MINI eccentricity continues with the large circular speedometer that forms the dominatrix of the dashboard. The circular design continues into many other areas in the cabin, with elliptical door rings and a mixture of metal, rubber and plastics infused together to form a cabin that is the word in cool design. What I like the most is the centre rail which runs from the front to the back of the cabin catering for all 4 occupants. On the centre rail are things like branded sunglass and cup holders. These can be moved back and forth to suit your tastes – I love these - though they kept falling off at the slightest touch which made me spill my Coke a few times. Seriously.

The N4 was a pleasant experience and I got to sample the 135kW power plant that does work in the MINI Cooper S Countryman. It’s a good engine but it didn’t excite me. There was no aural pleasure from the drive nor any significant shove when you put your foot down. I missed the whine that the old Cooper S used to make as the supercharger did its business and I think that was part of the lack of excitement. I had an expectation which is not always the best way to approach a car evaluation so on that note, let me give the engine and gearbox the credit they’re due. 0-100km/h in 7,9 seconds is a fair play. However, I was disappointed with the intrusive cabin noise.
As we turned off the N4 and headed for Carolina, the corrugated roads, many corners and the repatched potholes showed me a new side to this car. Again, I had expectations that this crossover type car with raised ride heights and comfy-looking seats would have a softer side. But it had the opposite. The Countryman has a very hard suspension and you would think that this would be good when you start cornering, but the torque steer made the experience even worse. There is just way too much happening on the front wheels and every time I asked the car to accelerate hard AND turn at the same time, I felt uneasy at the wheel. Engaging the ‘Sport’ button tightened things up but it wasn’t enough to cover up the fact that something was not lakker. My wife also commented that the car felt very uncomfortable and unstable. It got so bad that the next morning I let out some air from all 4 tyres and it made a world of difference. Again, not enough difference to sway my opinion on this matter, but it was a little better to live with.

Swaziland is known for its commitment to maintaining great roads – NOT. We spent a lot of time on the farm and off the beaten track, driving on gravel roads and tarred roads that may as well be gravel. The MINI just didn’t feel at home and after 4 days out in the country, John Denver played on the radio and I likened that song to the MINI singing to me those very words. "Take me home, country road, to the place where I belong, William Nicol, Sandton drive, take me home, country road."
I spent a lot of time wondering who this car was for: Ex Mini Cooper owners who now had families? Single Moms who are still fashion conscious and trendy? Adventurous folk who still value going to art galleries and painting in their spare time? I don’t know really. If it is any of these then you weigh up the options:

- It has 4 doors, 4 adjustable seats and a boot so it’s the most practical MINI you can buy.

- It has a host of aesthetic options to suit your tastes, it’s designer-appealing and funky, so it’s still the MINI you’ve come to know and love.

- It has a great engine, punchy acceleration and fair fuel consumption. (with a small 47 litre tank)


- You can get it with 5 seats if the 4-man setup doesn’t suit you, but then you lose that individualistic style and so what’s the point?

- It does have a boot, but it lacks boot space, so unless you’re less than 4 and you can adjust the seats to increase the capacity, that too is a letdown for the family guy.

- The ride is too hard, and the torque steer is not Ayoba.

You can get a MINI Cooper S Countryman with a permanent All-wheel drive system that I believe would be the best choice in this range. However, the All-4 comes with a price tag of over R415,000 and that is perhaps on the expensive side.

The MINI Cooper S Countryman has its place for sure. That place is the city or close to it. It may be named Countryman, but it’s rather a country boy. No, not even, it’s a city boy.

AM -

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