Mini Cooper Countryman: Stunning retro looks and luxury

Many may cavil that the Mini Cooper Countryman is the antithesis of what the iconic car maker stands for: a responsive engine, go-kart like handling and an engaging driving experience. But the truth is that they are just nitpicking. The Countryman can put to shame many cars in its segment, and this lifestyle vehicle will not really count many others as competition. Of course, when you first looked at it, the Countryman would have you wondering about its identity. Is it a hatchback? Is it a compact SUV? Well, it is actually Mini's answer to a crossover. Besides, it is the first ever from the Mini stable to have been fully assembled in India.

The Countryman retains the evergreen yet classic looks of the Mini Cooper - which means that it stands out on the road. You realise how striking it is when everyone stares at it from one's steering wheels. I am sure I was the envy of a lot of them; cool, because that is the privilege of being an auto journalist.

The Countryman, of course, is not an identical twin to its legendary sibling. Its redesigned headlamps are polygonal, unlike the Mini Cooper's round ones. And instead of the imposing spilt grille of the coveted Cooper, it has large straight bars with chrome finish. It also lacks sporty features like dual exhausts and air ducts. But the 18-inch alloy wheels do add some character to the entire set-up.

Step inside, and the fashionable interiors make you realise why the Page 3 population and headline grabbers all crave for the Mini. The cabin's quality level is definitely right up there. The infotainment system's 6.5-inch screen hogs the attention of the beholder. I don't want to be a killjoy, but if you look carefully, the huge display in the centre and the round air-conditioner vents on the upper two sides will remind you of Mickey Mouse.

Before I embarrass Mini further, let's move on to the rocker switches. These switches, which don't "click" into position but roll like a rocking horse, appropriately fit in with the excellence around. I simply loved their placement on the central console and overhead for the cabin lights.

The all-white analogue rev meter, positioned behind the steering wheel, imparts a very retro feel to the dash. It also shows mileage, distance to empty and trip in kilometres. Having said this, I do have a bone to pick. This luxury car lacks electric seat controls. And how could Mini have designed the outside rear view mirrors to fold manually, not electronically? Plus, the car doesn't come with a rear parking camera. For a lifestyle car, these seem important omissions.

The Countryman comes with a lot of goodies, like a stylish sunglass holder that lies under the unique aircraft-inspired hand brake. A stand-out feature is the mood lighting around the cabin, which can leave you with the feeling of being in a trendy lounge chilling out after a hard day's work. You can change the colour of the lights but I stuck to blue as it had a soothing effect on me.

When it comes to comfort, the front seats provide excellent support. Though the Countryman is meant to be a four-seater, rear passengers who are over six feet in height will feel the lack of leg and headroom. But shopaholics need not worry, for there's more than reasonable 350 litres of boot space.

The Mini is powered by BMW's 2.0-litre diesel engine but it lacks the pull of its German cousins. A power output of 112 hp isn't earth shattering or something to boast about, but its torque of 270 Nm at 1,750 rpm makes a difference. At low speed, the Countryman is a fire cracker ready to burst. So you have to be careful with the accelerator because a slight nudge means it will start sprinting. As it weighs only 1,310 kg, it crosses the three-digit mark without much ado. However, the ride quality is where everything goes downhill - it keeps crashing into anything uneven on the road. Blame it on the run-flat tyres and the stiff suspensions. Suddenly practical doesn't really feel practical.

The fun begins when you start taking sharp turns or zig-zag through traffic. Sure its dimensions and extra height can reduce the fun-driving quotient, but trust me, it holds its line to the T and refuses to meander an inch away from the intended path. It is, therefore, quite practical in city traffic.

The price of the Mini Countryman diesel starts at a steep Rs 28.55 lakh. I am sure a potential buyer will say that at that price he can get a luxury sedan and, yes sir, you are correct. Also a sedan will offer more cabin space, a bigger boot and seating for five people. But then the Mini is not for everyone. This is for someone who already owns, say a couple of saloons or so, or at least an SUV. This Mini will be a plaything that will be the talk of the season. With its stunning looks, amazing balance of retro and contemporary cabin features and still excellent driving experience, what better badge to make you the toast of the town?

Engine: 1995 cc diesel
Power: 112 hp
Torque: 270 Nm @ 1,750 rpm
0-100 kmph: 11.3 seconds
Top speed: 180 km/h
Tank capacity: 47 litres
Price: Rs 28.55 lakh Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX