Attention is, when a moongfaliwaala you have ignored umpteen times on a traffic signal knocks on your window, and gestures to express that it’s not about selling his nuts (no other connotations please) to you for a living. I roll down the window only after he makes it amply clear that he’s not going to pester me with his peanuts.
‘Bura mat maanana saab, pan ye gaadi kitte kee hai?’
‘Chhoti hai, pan mast hai!’
Attention is, when every vehicle you’re passing on the expressway has people either looking at your car, or taking its pictures.
Attention is, when the girl in the cafe breaks out of her conversation with her BF and stares at your machine unapologetically. The BF does too, so does the waiter and the rest of the patrons.
Attention is, when on your way back into Mumbai madness, caught in a traffic jam you realize that passengers in all the cars surrounding you have forsaken every other occupation to just look at your ride. I never knew necks could turn 180 degrees before I witnessed the man in the car ahead of me exhibiting this flexible facet of the human anatomy.
Everyone pays attention to the Mini, for this is a special car. It’s got an oddball shape, it’s draped in a unique mix of classy colors and is a rather strange being for most of the people in this part of the world. It carries forth the history of its great forbears with great pride, and the legacy of the iconic Mini brand shines through in its current form. Even more so in case of the Mini Cooper S Countryman. It’s bigger, badder, bolder than the Mini hatch – and that surely makes a difference in our nation where bigger is invariably considered better.
And just because it gathers attention, we don’t intend to mean that it’s beautiful. In fact, its got quite a menacing face. You remember the meanest bully in your middle school? The tall guy, who likely had flunked a few years to have outgrown you in height, had a moustache when you didn’t have pubic hair? The scary guy you never crossed paths with. The Countryman has that face – the angry, frowned face of that bully – unruly, stout, brash, against the order and completely unapologetic about it.
The upper edge of the Countryman’s snout extends out, and then dips in for that added aggression. The bonnet has a muscular bulge in the middle. Then you have the bumper with those angular air intakes flanking the central air dam. Along with the low ride height, low-pro tyres, and those big 18” aircraft turbine wheels, the Countryman looks ‘Definitely Male’. Hey hi! All you Pulsar fanboys! So you actually think beyond that brand. How heartening! Congrats!
There are dollops of chrome all around this car to bring home the whole retro point more astoundingly. Pop open the bonnet and you’ll realize that there is something different about it. Unlike your regulation bonnets, this one has openings for the headlights to fit in! So the bonnet essentially has two holes at the flanks of its far end to accommodate those superbly detailed set of lamps.
In profile, the S badging, again, surround by chrome, the big wheel arches in black plastic to underline the crossover DNA, the big eight-spoke alloys and the blacked out glasshouse pillars with a rather big rear quarter panel define this car. Sleek aluminium finish roof rails, chrome lining along the window sills, chrome handles and a cute looking, oval set of ORVMs are other important highlights for those of you who care about details.
The twin exhausts at the rear are more of a reconciliatory set of items for the big boys in big cars whose ego you’ll keep bruising by passing them consistently in this compact. This ain’t no slouch! In fact, it’s quite a scorcher – and those exhausts drive the point home with elan’ – a mild balm of sorts for the inflamed egos. And if it doesn’t help, it can’t be helped, for this car packs enough punch to whiz past most machines seen on our roads. The big Mini logo on the rear hatch should dispel all doubts for the discerning. How does a sub 8 second 0-100km/h sprint time sound, with 184 bhp? And here’s the clincher – from a 1.6 liter engine!
Yep, the turbo charged 1.6 liter gasoline engine is good for a whopping 184bhp at 5500 rpm and delivers a punchy top torque of 240Nm between 1600-5000 rpm. And that’s not all! The Countryman saves for a rainy day. So when you want that extra kick, defined by a sudden, extreme depression of the accelerator pedal, the engine momentarily pushes out 20Nm of overboost torque between 1700-4500 rpm by increasing turbo pressure.
More often than not you’re not going to use that little extra though – for the engine carries the punching power of George Foreman in Manny Pacquiao’s little fists. It’s rev happy and intent. From a standstill, when pushed hard, it packs enough power to make those wide 205 section tyres to break traction and make the Dynamic Stability Control light flicker on the dashboard, as the electronic mommy intervenes to keep this naughty kid in control. The sound from the engine is nice, but is too muffled for our liking. We would have liked it louder in there.
While there is enough power to keep you cruising in higher gears at 120-130km/h with the tacho needle in the 2000 revs territory, the engine really comes into its own only after the needle swings past the 3.5k mark. There is enough spunk to make you feel a jolt with every movement of the right toe, even when you’re doing reasonably high speeds. The throttle response is instant and the car lunges ahead at every command of yours, belying the small size of its engine.
The S countryman is good for a top whack of 215 km/h, though it’s a bit of an uphill climb for the car to achieve the last 15% of that speed. In-gear acceleration is strong, and the transmission system’s task is cut out as long as you’re not hitting the pedal with a vengeance. If you, however, wish to do that, you should be a rich kid, for this car consumes the golden fuel rather heavily when pushed hard. The 47-liter fuel tank was getting emptied at an alarming pace as long as we drove with a heavy foot. Thanks to the generous torque, and the low end grunt of the engine, the Mini can be driven reasonably fast without having to bury the pedal or shifting cogs. On our way back, we did exactly that, and the Countryman rewarded us with great fuel efficiency.
The engine is mated to a 6 speed auto transmission. Quick, intelligent and efficient, the transmission goes about its duty in immaculate fashion. Manual shifts are quick, auto shifts are well timed, and respond really well to throttle inputs – especially in Sport mode which further improves the car’s responses to throttle and steering inputs. Manual shifts can be facilitated either by putting the drive selector in manual mode and moving it longitudinally, or via the pedal behind the steering wheel. Now, the gearshifter pedals here are different from your usual left-upshift, right-downshift pattern. In this case, you have to push either of the pedals for a downshift and pull it for an upshift.
The steering wheel gets substantially heavier in the Sport mode, adding a sense of sure-footedness of the car. While generally the Mini S Countryman is a nice handling car, a raised suspension and heavier weight as compared with the Mini does add up to create a few chinks in the vehicle’s handling armor. The ride, though softer than the Mini S hatch, is still on the stiffer side. It’s quite harsh, the ride, to be honest, and those used to the chauffeur driven cabins of their limos wouldn’t like the backseat of the Mini too much. The road and tyre noise is quite pronounced, and undulations on the road manage to seep within the cabin without much effort.
All that stiffness, along with the countryman’s 1.3 ton weight, and bigger dimensions lend it a quite a unique character as regards handling. The car feels skittish on surfaces which are not well laid out. The cemented surface of the Mumbai Pune Expressway is level enough for the suspensions of most cars to take in stride without much trouble. The countryman, however, somewhat skips through the unevenness on the concrete surface, its communicative steering letting all the vibes pass freely to your palms, and making you rather unnerved in the process. The feeling is further pronounced when you dive into a corner hard with the outer tyres under additional load. ‘Dit-dit-dit-dat’ you can feel every little imperfection on the road, which would have been a nice thing had the suspension absorbed a bit of it, but here, with all the stiffness, it doesn’t quite inspire confidence. You’d rather let go than push your luck.
In stark contrast to its manners on concrete, the Mini behaved in a much more reassuring and sure-footed manner around the well-laid out twisties leading up to Aamby valley. There isn’t any dearth of steering feel, or grip, or balance with the Mini – just that it’s too stiffly sprung to negotiate undulations. It’ll reward the driver as long as it’s running on well paved, smooth roads, but the S Countryman hates ripples on the bitumen – even the minor ones. It tends to bounce and skip over them. We had a blast driving back from the pristine twisties of Loanavala, but treaded our way on the cemented expressway with due caution.
Inside the cabin, the Mini is a different world. For someone who has not seen it, or read about it, it’s a universe hitherto undiscovered. There’s a delightful fusion of retro elements and modern tech– picture The Beatles making a stage appearance as rappers to please the youngsters. A big analogue speedo taking most space on the central console, ribbed leather seats, oval brushed steel pedals, aircraft turbine styled a/c vents and loads and loads of chrome – the cabin wins you over in a peep.
But the most likeable design element about the cabin, for us had to be the aircraft style chrome plated, shiny stainless steel toggle switches placed between steel hooks. They may not be the most ergonomic inclusion in the cabin, but they lift the experience several notches, warping you back in time so lovingly. You want to roll down the window, or turn on a light just to use those pretty pieces of art.
The cabin is built solid with use of expensive materials and is finished immaculately. There’s enough to excite you, but don’t expect the time-tested BMW ergonomics here. The Countryman has its own idiosyncrasies. The buttons are way too low, first of all for easy operation. Secondly, the arrangement of the window buttons would make you roll down the wrong windows at least a couple of times before you get to terms with them. There isn’t any proper space to keep your bottles. But even with all those inconveniences, you somehow have a big grin glued on your face. This thing’s got charm!
The seats up front are nice and comfy with good lateral bolstering. Steering wheel is nice to hold, with buttons mounted for extra convenience. The retro looking beg central speedo console houses a modern digital interface to control various functions. Rear seats are spacious, and allow three to sit abreast, though not in complete comfort. Leg room is sufficient for a car this size, though the cabin could have done with a bit more thigh support.
Apart from all the retro bling, you get a sporty steering with pedal shifter, automatic air conditioning, auto transmission, park-distance control and driver seat height adjustment as standard. Most of the fancy stuff that we journos get on the test cars as default however, comes as options. The options list is long, including, but not limited to the Panoramic sunroof (Rs 1.2 lakh), a rocking Harman Kardon audio system (Rs 1.05 lakh), Radio Mini Visual Boost (Rs 1.05 lakh) and adaptive headlights (Rs 10k) to name a few. The complete list is much longer.
The front seats are not electrically adjustable, and you cannot have them that way, as that’s not even an option. We would have appreciated a set of blowers for the rear seat too. You get a big boot though, with a 40:20:40 spilt fold option for the rear seat to load in more bags. You can configure your car online at Mini India’s website, and customize every detail to suit your style and budget.
The Mini Cooper S Countryman in India is offered only in the front wheel drive variant, whereas in Europe it also comes with an all wheel drive. With an ex-showroom price of nigh Rs 33.5 lakh, the Mini Cooper S Countryman is quite an expensive car by any definition. Add all the taxes, some of the optional equipment etc and you are looking at a car which will cost you upwards of Rs 40 lakh before it’s parked in your garage.
So is it worth the money? For most of the guys, the answer may be a straight no, but I can argue against it all day long, probably to no consequence. The Mini, essentially, isn’t meant for the regular car buyer. It’s not meant even for the not so regular car buyer who’s got loads of money and wants the best car. We’re discussing a different ball game here.
Thing is, for someone who’s a car connoisseur, for someone who’s a discerning enthusiast, for someone who cherishes the history of the automobile, and for someone who has real class, along with money – there really isn’t any substitute for the Mini range of cars. It’s history, engineering, charm, technology and attitude wrapped in one feisty package. And it’s expensive, for it costs to get so much in a single product.
Suffice to say if one wants a Mini, there isn’t any other car in the world which could replace it. As for the price, it’s secondary. Oh, and let me assure you that for 40 lakh rupees, no other new car is going to let you grab so much attention. It’s British charm automobified!
Price: Rs 33.5 ex-showroom
- Displacement cc: 1598
- Power (PS@rpm): 186PS @5500rpm
- Torque (Nm@rpm): 260Nm @1600rpm – 5000 rpm
- Transmission Type: Automatic
- Gears/Speeds: 6Gears
- Overall Length (mm): 4110
- Overall Width (mm): 1789
- Overall Height (mm): 1561
- Front Track (mm): 1525
- Rear Track (mm): 1551
- Boot Space (liter): 350
- Wheel Type: Alloy wheels