Known for being tiny but big on function, Mini Cooper S Countryman’s new SUV packs a punch for being both nimble yet rugged

It is undeniable how popular sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have become on our roads these days, as virtually all car brands have one in their line-up. But should they all be making SUVs?

This question is usually targeted at supercar brands like Lamborghini and Maserati, who have launched their own SUVs in recent years to mixed reviews. But what about the humble and small Mini brand launching its own version?

BMW-owned Mini would not be the obvious choice as an SUV maker, given it is known for its smaller and compact size. However, two trends would actually make Mini a good choice to build an SUV. Firstly, Minis have been getting bigger in size over the years and most are now comparable to a normal-sized car. Secondly, there is a growing tendency for compact SUVs which are smaller and more nimble while remaining rugged and with a high seating position.

This puts the new Mini Countryman in the sweet spot as it is best described as a compact SUV. The model I was test driving is officially called the Mini Cooper S Countryman, a sportier version.

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Under the bonnet, the Countryman is largely unchanged and is still powered by BMW’s 2-litre engine. Photo: MINI

On first approach, it looks much chunkier than a normal Mini, but it still manages to retain its cuteness and quirkiness. The Countryman — not to be confused with the Clubman — was launched in 2010, and the second generation came along in 2017. This second generation has been given a facelift in an effort to draw in a new crowd.

Updates include a new front grille with a striking hexagonal pattern. Roof rails and chunky 19-inch wheels help give the Countryman that SUV look. This revamped Countryman looks capable and versatile — and on looks alone gets a big thumbs-up.

Looking inside

But it is on the inside of the Countryman that you will notice the biggest changes, notably on the digital front. There is now a new instrument cluster (behind the steering wheel) that includes a 5-inch digital display, which I found easier to read than its predecessor. Then there is an 8.8-inch colour SatNav and entertainment screen to complement it on the big round centre display that is synonymous with Mini. A lot of the interior chrome has been replaced with piano black materials while soft leathers make a welcome treat.

Under the bonnet, the Countryman is largely unchanged and is still powered by BMW’s 2-litre engine, although this too has been given a little tweak. The engine actually produces a little less power than before to meet European emission standards. Horsepower is now 176bhp which reads on the low side but in reality is more than enough to maintain that “go-kart” feeling that we know and love from Minis. And this is the S version, so just put it into Sport mode and get a little extra vroom.

This makes the Countryman even more go-kart like as it zips around urban environments. It also has a green eco-mode if you want to improve fuel efficiency. Regardless of being a compact SUV and a crossover, this Countryman S still drives like a Mini. It still looks like one too, complete with a few new additions like cool Union Jack rear light designs.  

Mini is a brand that has been through some radical changes from its humble beginnings back in 1959, when it truly was a small car. As it has evolved over the decades it has managed to retain its fun and cool driving dynamics while its size gets bigger and bigger.

So, it was only a matter of time before an SUV came along, riding the sport utility vehicle wave of popularity. SUVs tend to appeal to parents and middle-aged drivers so the Countryman may face less competition in its pursuit of the younger and trendier motorists among us.

While I may not be young and trendy anymore, it is still a car I would feel comfortable driving on a regular basis. Not just for its chic status, but because it is a hugely versatile car.

There is actually space for five people plus there are also a host of small and handy compartments dotted around the cabin. The Countryman helps shatter Mini’s image as lifestyle accessory for the hip and fashionable and makes it more of a driver’s car.

While it brings out the fun and youthfulness in motorists, the price could be a sticking point for some younger drivers at $200,888 including COE. If you are not worried about the Sportier version, the standard Countryman is a bit cheaper at $182,888.

Whatever model you get, this is unmistakably a Mini, which means features you just will not find in other cars.

Mini Cooper S Countryman
$200,888 including COE
Engine: 1,998cc, in-line 4, turbocharged
Power/torque: 178hp/280Nm
Fuel Efficiency: 5.9L/100km
0-100kph: 7.4 seconds Top Speed: 223kph