Four doors of fun. Change is inevitable. Markets change. Customers’ needs change. Trends change. In fact, the only permanent aspect about the universe we live in is that it is constantly changing. Now, with its full entrance into Indonesia under the BMW banner, even the iconic Mini has changed. By Renaldi Hutasoit
Matt Damon in Paris
The world-famous British Mini has indeed changed. The brand was well known for producing cars which were, in fact, miniature in size. How Sir Alec Isigonis found space to fit four European adults inside these diminutive cars is simply genius. The original 1959 Mini was only a hair over three meters long, which is less than half a meter longer than your average three-wheeled Bajaj. Not only was Sir Alec a genius when it came to packaging, intentionally or not, he also managed to make the Mini a decent platform for motorsport.
In the hands of a certain Mr. John Cooper, the Mini Cooper S won the Monte Carlo rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967. These wins, along with the fact that the Mini had much weaker engines, stamped the Mini as an excellent handling car. If you want some proof, go watch the original 1969 Italian Job movie and be wowed. The Mini Cooper also makes a sterling appearance in the Bourne Identity on the streets of Paris with Matt Damon at the wheel.
BMW had big shoes to fill when it took ownership of the brand and launched the MINI (now with all capital letters) in 2001 but it did not disappoint. People who drove the new MINI and had previously driven the classic Mini found that while the materials, size, power and creature comforts changed, both versions share the same spirit and character. Classic Mini purists and fans complained that the car grew too fat, but let’s be honest; today the classic Mini would not appeal to more than 1 million buyers in less than seven years because it would have been too small, too crude, too slow and would not pass emissions tests in perhaps 98 percent of its markets. The new Mini does.
BMW x MINI
Because the new Mini was such a hit, BMW decided to add a revolutionary variant to the product line. While the hatchback and convertible Minis have become quite popular, some markets favor larger cars and SUVs over small hatchbacks. There was actually a version of the Mini called the Clubman, which was slightly longer, but that never became popular. I blame unappealing design and marginal practical improvement. This year, BMW used the same recipe, but used more of the ingredients to make the Mini SUV, the Countryman.
The Mini Cooper Countryman cleverly blends design cues that make a Mini with the larger dimension. You would not mistake it for anything else. It has short overhangs, high window line, wraparound look of the windows and powerful over-the-wheel stance. Further, Mini succeeded to integrate SUV characteristics, which bring ruggedness into the design such as the hexagonal radiator grille, larger headlights and voluminous wheel arches. Mini’s already upright front fits extremely well with the SUV design while adding extra pedestrian protection.
The interior of the Mini Countryman is very much in keeping with the brand’s familiar style, but boasts a selection of new design and functional elements. The slightly raised seating position allows easy entry and optimizes the driver’s view over the road. There is also the unique Mini Center Rail, a center console that extends from between the front seats to the rear integrating storage boxes, cup holders, external audio devices and other comfort enhancing elements, which can be clicked into place and slid forward or backwards, in place of a conventional center console. It also visually connects the front and rear compartments. Many would be Mini customers would be happy to learn that the Countryman is design to fully integrate with the iPhone and other smartphones.
The Mini Cooper Countryman comes standard with only four seats, but a rear bench for three persons is available as a no-cost option. Legroom, headroom and shoulder room are generous wherever you sit. With the rear seats back-rest folded down, luggage capacity is increased from already sizeable 350 liters to a maximum 1,170 liters.
There are two versions available, the Mini Cooper Countryman and the Mini Cooper Countryman ALL4. Both are powered by the same 1,598-cc inline four-cylinder gasoline engines, but the Mini Cooper Countryman ALL4 adds a twin scroll turbocharger to the mix.
These high-tech engines feature direct injection and fully variable valve management. Direct injection allows precise volume of fuel injected directly into the combustion chamber at exactly the right time to achieve optimized power and efficiency. The more common (and lower technology) indirect injection sprays fine mists of fuel into the intake port to mix with air before entering the combustion chamber. The disadvantage of indirect injection is that less than 100 percent of the fuel sprayed enters the combustion chamber to fuel ignition and make power. To compensate this, the injection nozzles have to spray more fuel than what is actually needed.
The fully variable valve management is based on BMW’s venerable VALVETRONIC technology. By continuously varying the valve-lift, precise volumes of air entering the combustion chamber can also be achieved. The result is better throttle response and more efficient operation. By combining these two technologies, Mini managed to produce for the ALL4 a respectable 184 horsepower and 240 Nm of torque while consuming a liter of fuel for every 12 kilometers of travel distance (EU standard). This allows the Mini Cooper Countryman ALL4 to reach 100 kph from a standstill in only 8.3 seconds on to a top speed of 205 kph.
On the other hand, the standard Mini Cooper Countryman has 120 horsepower and 160 Nm of torque in its arsenal in exchange for a liter of fuel consumed for every 13 kilometers of travel distance (EU standard). The less-powerful engine still manages to pull the standard Countryman to 100 kph from a dead stop in a decent 11.6 seconds on to a top speed of 182 kph.
Both engines are 9 percent more efficient than their predecessors and are eco-friendly. The practically lag-free, twin-scroll turbocharged Countryman ALL4 engine emits 189g/km of CO2 while the standard non-turbocharged Countryman emits an even lower 177g/km of CO2. Anything below 200g/km of CO2 for a non-hybrid car is already very good. It is no surprise that both engines meet EU5 and California’s more stringent ULEV II emissions standards.
Power is transmitted from the engine via a six-speed automatic transmission, with paddle-shift-equipped Steptronic manual shifting available as an option. While the standard Mini Cooper Countryman makes do with only front-wheel drive, as its name suggests, the ALL4 is equipped with permanent all-wheel drive. In normal driving, most of the drive will be transmitted via the front wheels, but in extreme situations, as much as 100 percent of the drive can be directed to only the rear wheels. Coupled with sophisticated suspension technology, it produces the agile handling characteristics the Mini is already famous for. The ALL4 has a Sport Button (optional on the standard Countryman) that when pressed will give a particularly direct throttle and steering response while also shortening the gear-change time of the automatic gearbox.
The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts with forged control arms, while at the rear there is a multilink suspension. The Mini Cooper Countryman comes standard with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Dynamic Traction Control available as an option (standard on the ALL4).To ensure that the famous Mini go-kart-like handling is alive and well in the Countryman, it is equipped with Electronic Differential Lock Control (ELDC), which brakes the inside wheel during tight cornering so more power can be transmitted to the outside wheel, improving acceleration out of the corner. Standard safety functions also include front and side airbags plus side curtain airbags for the front and rear seats.
Individuality is part of the Mini character. Among many options on the list, I am pleased to report that the John Cooper Works power upgrades are also available for the Mini Cooper Countryman, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels and sport suspension that lowers the car by 10 millimeters. Customers can also opt to have a large panoramic sunroof for a spacious view skyward or the Mini Visual Boost radio, which has a 6.5-inch, high-resolution display in the center of the speedometer and a Bluetooth hands-free facility. When the car is stationary, this system allows video files to be stored on your iPod or iPhone and viewed on the monitor.
So with the Countryman, we now have a Mini that is not miniature anymore. Then again, Billy Ray no longer sports a mullet. Things change, often for the better. The ingredients for success are all there. Sadly in the Indonesian market, European premium small SUVs have limited appeal, which is why you don’t see too many of the BMW X1s, Audi Q5s or VW Tiguans roaming the roads. Only time will tell how the Mini Cooper Countryman will be received here.
Video Preview courtesy of MINI UK
Specs for the MINI Countryman
Engine: ALL4 1,598-cc inline four-cylinder gasoline engine
Power: 120 horsepower
Top speed: 182 kilometers per hour
This article appeared in DA MAN’s ‘WHEELS’ column in the August/September 2011 edition, to buy back issues click here.
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