The new Mini Countryman is stunning just as it is functional. FUNKE OSAE-BROWN was in Durban, South Africa to experience the car.
On the morning of Friday March 31, I woke up to the rushing sound of the Indian Ocean at the Beverlyhills Hotel in Durban. The yellowish rays of the sun, flickering through the line between the curtains, fell radiantly on my sleepy face. It was 6am. Climbing slowly out of bed, I made to get ready for what would be a long but interesting day, test-driving the all new Mini Countryman.
Breakfast for me was baked potatoes, baked beans, egg and tea. After breakfast, I moved to the hotel lobby with other colleagues from Nigeria and South Africa. Our test drive of the Mini Countryman was about to begin. Eight Mini Countryman Cooper and Cooper S cars lined the short hotel drive way. Two drivers were assigned to each car. I took a walk round the car to discover the new model had a more powerful proportion. It is 20 centimetres longer than its predecessor and it is more spacious.
My drive partner was Mike Ochonma, BusinessDay Motoring editor. He chose to make the first go at car. He sat behind the wheel while I settled comfortably on the passenger seat. The car seat was too low for me. However, with a touch of the button by the seat, it moved up. There was an additional extension of the seat which allows for leg support. The new car comes with five fully-fledged seats, and a clear increase in space.
Before long, our seat belts were fastened. Edward Makwana, group communications manager, product, BMW, South Africa told us he would lead the convoy with two other patrol cars in the rear. We hit the road, driving through the calm yet busy streets of Durban. While Ochonma was busy behind the wheels, I preoccupied myself with the interiors of the Mini Countryman Cooper. I was fascinated by the car’s noble interior in particular the dashboard. I gently placed by hand on the LED screen. It is a circular central instrument on the dashboard that comes with touchscreen function. I scroll around surfing the playlist for music. I was told earlier by Makwana that it is the first time a Mini will come with a touch screen function. There is a Connected App that serves as a personal assistant on a day-to-day basis and when travelling, the timer measures driving fun. This, we put to good use all through our four hours’ drive. I finally decided to listen to a radio station sharing an early morning drive time experience.
Our route that morning was from Umhlanga through Wartburg, Pietermaritzburg, Harrismith, Howick, Nottingham Road to Blueberry Café, where we had lunch. We drove through bends, hills viewing interesting landscapes and experiencing the townships and villages, in a car that drives effortlessly on the road.
No doubt, the new generation of Mini Countryman is many steps ahead. With a tradition-steeped in Britain, it is a game changer in the premium compact segment. The new Mini Countryman is the biggest and most versatile model in the brand’s 57-year history. Having been completely newly developed, it now reflects considerable advancements in the areas of space, functionality, athletic flair and premium characteristics.
After driving for a few kilometres, we could hear some whizzy sound from the car roof. We were surprised and curious to know where the noise was coming from. I looked up the car roof only to discover it was half-opened. I told my drive partner to concentrate on the road while I resolved it. Just a little above the windscreen were two buttons. I pressed the black one and the roof glides to a close, effortlessly. It was like magic! For us, it’s not that we were not used to an open-roof car. What we found amazing was a compact car would offer that kind of option. Truly, the Mini Countryman does have it all.
We moved on driving through Tongaat, the Bruyns Hill and Wartburg where we stopped for a driver change at the BP Filling Station. It was my turn to have a feel of the car. I moved over to the driver seat. With a touch of a soft button the seat glides forward. After raising the car to a comfortable level. I pressed the start button, and the engine revved to life. I never had to use the key. I wasn’t expecting a car in the compact segment to have a start button. But then, it’s the all new Mini Countryman, I thought to myself. It has been a car full of many surprise functions as most of its new features are available in higher premium range like a Ford Explorer.
I stepped on the accelerator. The car heeded my command. I could feel it. As I drove the car, I knew the Mini Countryman has a great driving agility. We drove 214.2 kilometers on a full tank, the fuel level was only three bars down. It is a car that combines fuel consumption at the ratio of 7.0 – 2.1 l/100 km and combined CO2 emissions at 159 – 49 g/km.
“The car achieves its unique standing among direct competitors Mercedes-Benz GLA250,” explains Makwana. “Due to its powerfully expressive design, efficiently shaped bodywork and in particular its unmatched driving agility.”
If you are lover of great car interior like me, then you will find the Mini Countryman attractive. I love so many things about the new car. They are: the striking helmet roof, the upright rear lights, the hexagonal radiator grille and the large headlamps. Also, the side turn indicator surrounds known as side scuttles which show a new arrow-like shape whenever I indicated to turn or move to another lane.
We later did two driver changes after lunch at Blueberry Café. It was time to test the Mini Cooper S. This time, I drove the car on rough terrain putting to test the suspension of the new Mini Countryman. We veered off the smooth asphalt road into a dusty, sandy and bumpy road. The cars ahead of me left thick cloud of dust in their wake.
I could tell while driving, that the suspension is of high quality as it combines the tried-and-tested principle of a single-joint spring strut axle at the front and a multilink rear axle with a design which made it to be fully optimised for weight and rigidity.
With all the sand and stones on the road, the Mini remained agile and stable on the bumpy roads a testament to its precise handling properties and maximum agility. In addition, it comes with an electromechanical steering with Servotronic function, powerful brakes and Dynamic Stability Control DSC. 16-inch light alloy wheels come as standard with the new Mini Cooper Countryman, while the other model variants are fitted with 17-inch light alloy wheels. The program of optional extras includes other light alloy wheels in sizes of up to 19 inches.
The car comes with a dynamic damper control which is optionally available for the new Mini Countryman. There are two program maps that can be activated for the electronically controlled dampers via the likewise optional Mini Driving Modes. The rotary switch at the base of the gear or selector lever allows a selection to set it up according to one of the three modes Mid, Sport and Green. This also influences the accelerator pedal and steering curve, the operating mode of electrically powered comfort features and the engine sound.
And so, we returned to the city of Durban driving through villages and farms. I pulled the car to a stop at the King Shaka International Airport departure terminal handing it over to a man holding a Lolli Pop with the Mini sign on it. It was an interesting seven hours plus romance with the two Mini Countryman car. Like a woman would miss her new love, it was sad to let them go. As I moved to enter the departure hall to catch my flight to Johannesburg, I looked back to take a final look at the cars. Waving goodbye, I disappeared into the large departure hall.