This is the Mini Countryman, the fourth addition to Mini’s range – after the regular three-door hatch, the Convertible and the Clubman – and also the first current-generation Mini to have four-wheel drive and four regular passenger doors.
Is the Mini Countryman supposed to be a proper 4x4, and is four-wheel drive standard?
No, Mini says the Countryman is a crossover, and the four-wheel drive system – called Mini All4 – is an option. Think of the Countryman as a slightly bigger and more practical Clubman with a longer wheelbase than other Minis, four proper doors and a conventional lift-up rear hatch, but to make sure it looks a bit more butch Mini has given the Countryman a bigger, bluffer nose than its siblings.
As for the four-wheel drive system, it’s only available as an option on the Cooper S and Cooper D models. It's totally unrelated to the BMW X1 4x4 system (the Mini Countryman sticks with transverse engines).
Mini All4 uses an electrohydraulic differential, and under normal conditions 50% of the engine’s power goes to each axle. But in more extreme situations 100% of the output can be sent rearwards – it might not save you in the snow, but at least it should stop the scrabbling torque steer that otherwise afflicts the front-drive Cooper S.
Under the bonnet lies a choice of three familiar Mini petrol and two diesel engines. The entry-level engine is a 89bhp diesel, while the range-topping 181bhp Cooper S Countryman comes with the latest twin-scroll turbo 1.6 petrol complete with variable-valve timing and direct injection.
Mini’s take on BMW’s Efficient Dynamic tech – dubbed Minimalism – is also standard on the new Countryman and features a decoupling alternator, stop/start, a gearshift indicator and on-demand management of all the engine ancillaries. A six-speed manual is standard, but petrol models are available with an auto ‘box.
What else do we need to know about the Mini Countryman?
Although Mini’s current range offers only cramped accommodation if you want to sit in the back, the new Countryman is designed to be as practical as possible – there’s genuine space for four people. We know because we've already sat in it.
A rear bench is a no-cost option, but stick with the standard two-seat layout in the back and you also get the Mini Centre Rail. Previewed on the Beachcomber concept revealed at the 2010 Detroit motor show, the Centre Rail runs from the dashboard through to the rear seats, and everything from cup holders, sunglasses cases and armrests can be attached to the bar and slid back and forth.
Spec the five-seat layout and you can’t have the Centre Rail, but other options include sat-nav, upgraded stereo systems, a full-length panoramic roof, adaptive headlights, a tow bar and alloy wheels up to 19 inches in size. And just in case you don’t like the high-riding stance of your crossover, you can spec sports suspension and drop the Countryman by 10mm. How crazy's that? A host of John Cooper Works Performance parts are also available.
How practical is the new Mini Countryman?
It's the first modern Mini you could genuinely consider as a family car. The boot is 350 litres with the seats up, but increases to 1000 litres if you fold the pews. The rear seats slide back and forth by 130mm to juggle space for bodies and bags.
Anyone worried about the SUV stigma should hang on for the planned hybrid versions.
The Countryman will be unveiled at the 2010 Geneva motor show in March, and sales start in autumn 2010. This will be the first modern Mini not to be built in Plant Oxford, UK; the Countryman will be assembled by Magna Steyr in Austria.
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