Road test: the 2021 Mini Cooper S Countryman is a zippy if pricey ride

At a starting price of Dh209,000, the car offers up premium design and a positive ride quality

The Mini Cooper S Countryman has mild off-road abilities, and can take on rutted trails and shallow wadi crossings
The Mini Cooper S Countryman has mild off-road abilities, and can take on rutted trails and shallow wadi crossings

The story of how the original Mini came into being – via a sketch on a napkin by its creator, Sir Alec Issigonis – is one of the most celebrated anecdotes in the automotive industry. Such was the Mini’s affordability and ingenious practicality that more than 5.3 million cars were sold during a long and illustrious lifespan from 1959 to 2000.

The brand was reborn in 2001 under a different guise as BMW, which by now owned the marque, and it positioned the Mini as a premium product, rather than the cheap-as-chips runabout that the original was. The “new” Mini was also substantially larger, dwarfing its ancestor if you parked them side-by-side.

The recipe has worked a treat for BMW, as it’s managed to sell more than five million of the British-German Mini over the past 20 years. Cleverly, the line-up has been hugely diversified, with petrol, diesel and electric powertrains (the last two not in our market), and hatchback (3-door and 5-door), Convertible, Clubman and Countryman body styles. This proliferation has broadened the buyer demographic far beyond what the original Mini was able to target.

The Mini Cooper S Countryman has a digital dashboard and a cleaner infotainment screen compared to its predecessors 
The Mini Cooper S Countryman has a digital dashboard and a cleaner infotainment screen compared to its predecessors.

The 2021 Mini Cooper S Countryman we’re testing has mild offroad capabilities, thanks to a slightly raised stance and permanent all-wheel-drive (“All4” in Mini-speak). Don’t expect to go out and tame towering dunes, but the Mini is up to the task of tackling rutted trails and shallow wadi crossings (and even snow-covered roads, it ever comes to it).

The Countryman has received a midlife facelift that brings a new-design grille, front and rear bumpers and fresh wheel designs. LED headlights are also now standard. For those seeking added bling, there’s a piano black exterior option that applies mascara around the headlights, as well as colouring the bumper trimmings.

Inside, the Countryman features a digital dashboard and a much cleaner infotainment screen. Personalisation has always been a Mini forte, and the new Countryman benefits from an expanded range of options, so there’s plenty of trim choice for the cockpit.

The Cooper S Countryman starts at Dh209,000 – a sizeable spend for a car of this size – but you can begin to see where your money goes when you take in the quality of all the details and how premium all the touch-feel elements are. There’s a real sense of solidity to the car, with a satisfying “thunk” when you close the doors, and weightage to the switchgear and controls.

The Countryman zips from from 0 to 100kph in 7.4 seconds and has a top speed of 225kph
The Countryman zips from 0 to 100kph in 7.4 seconds and has a top speed of 225kph.

The positive impressions continue as soon as you hit the road. The steering has a heft to it, conveying the impression that you’re driving a much more substantial car than a wagon that spans less than 4.3 metres from bumper to bumper (that’s shorter than a Toyota Yaris sedan). The Cooper S Countryman is heavy for its size at 1,570 kilograms, yet it’s decently sprightly, zipping from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in 7.4 seconds and hitting 225kph flat out.

The 2.0-litre turbo engine has a nice snarl to it, too, encouraging you to work it hard. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto is occasionally a tad slow, but you can take charge of the transmission via steering-mounted shift paddles.

The Cooper S Countryman is fun to fling around, as grip levels are tenacious, and its chassis stays relatively flat and composed even under heavy cornering loads. Ride quality is on the firm side but, given that roads in the UAE are predominantly billiard-table smooth, that’s not a handicap in our region.

The rear is spacious enough for two adults, and luggage capacity ranges from 450 litres with seats in place and 1,390 litres when the rear bench is folded 
The rear is spacious enough for two adults, and luggage capacity ranges from 450 litres with seats in place and 1,390 litres when the rear bench is folded.

There’s a surprising amount of head and legroom in the rear, and even a pair of tall adults won’t have anything to complain about in the back. Luggage capacity measures 450 litres with all seats in place, while folding down the split-fold rear bench boosts load space to a cavernous 1,390 litres. So that’s an emphatic tick for practicality, then.

All in all, there’s much to like about the Cooper S Countryman – it’s perky, zippy and exudes quality. However, its hefty starting price puts the Mini up against some tough competition, including its own BMW X1 cousin.

Updated: March 16, 2021 04:10 PM

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