Why would I buy it?
- Handling and steering feel
- Interior quality
Why would I avoid it?
- Firm seats
- No diesel option
- Pricey optional extras
The 2021 Countryman is arguably one of the most awaited models from Mini India in recent times, and is certainly the brand’s most important car when it comes to pure sales numbers. Although it’s a byproduct of the current market trends, this posh crossover – which can now only be had with a petrol engine – has always stood out from the crowd. You are not going to confuse it with a BMW X1 or an Audi Q3, that’s for sure. It’s design is way more out there than any of the small premium crossovers and because its such a niche offering, you don’t see it on the road as often either. So who would want to buy the Countryman, you may ask?
Presumably those who are thrilled with the idea of an even bigger Mini than the 5-door model, with a more spacious rear seat and a bigger boot. Also, it’s fair to say that the 2021 Countryman is good enough to take on any of the current crop of premium crossovers. It is a compelling buy and in this review we will tell you why.
Engine and Performance
With the diesel model no longer on sale in India, Mini is selling the Countryman in Cooper S guise only, meaning you get the same 2-litre turbo petrol motor that powers the 3-door, the 5-door and the Mini convertible. Featuring direct injection and BMW’s infamous VANOS variable valve timing system, this four-cylinder engine makes 192bhp of power and 280Nm of torque. It’s also got a rather throaty exhaust note that only gets better as the revs climb; however, unlike the rest of the hot Mini range, there isn’t much of exhaust pops and burbles on the overrun.
This engine, in fact, lacks a bit of theatre in terms of noise for what is a John Cooper Works inspired version. As for the actual go, you are greeted with most of its torque output early on at around 1,300rpm making it surprisingly responsive for a turbocharged unit. Push the throttle and the Countryman gathers pace easily and pulls particularly hard in the midrange. The engine pulls strong post 2,500rpm and the Countryman really does accelerate with a level of persistence. 0-100kmph takes just 7.84 seconds as tested and when going flat out there is no neck-snapping on-boost rush from this engine but a smooth freight-train-like pull.
What’s new for the 2021 Countryman is the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox which according to Mini is even more engaging thanks to a broader gear spread. In reality, this new gearbox is smooth in nearly all situations and it gauges the driver’s throttle inputs in a better manner and the upshifts are far crisper as well.
Ride and Handling
There is no getting away from the fact that the Countryman rides and handles like a sporty crossover, one that isn’t designed to be a cushy and quiet cruiser, but rather one that is totally engaging to drive and cool to look at. In this JCW inspired version, everything from the suspension tune, compliance and the way it steers are all predictable and it comes across as a really fun car to drive. That said, the Countryman isn’t the one to savagely attack the twisties, but to go round them with a certain degree of poise and comfort. Despite the added weight and the stretched wheelbase over a Cooper, the turn-in is crisp and there is hardly any body roll. Now some might find the steering a little heavy in the town but it is a point and shoot affair and overall, the direct steering and the nimble chassis make the Countryman really fun to drive.
What’s not so fun is the way the Countryman deals with different road surfaces. Undeniably there is more give to the suspension compared to any Mini with two less doors and as a result, the ride quality is more compliant but you are still bound to feel and hear most of the imperfections on the road. It is a stiffly sprung crossover, one that struggles to soak in sharp-edged potholes and rutted roads.
Interior Space and Quality
The wow factor in the cabin of the Mini Countryman is quite high compared to any other posh compact crossover. This is not just because of the way Mini has approached the balance between luxury and technology, but also because of the way the brand has typically laid out its cabin over the years. There is a great deal of character to this cabin which somehow retains that retro charm and yet, comes with the traditional albeit unconventional Mini elements such as the 8.8-inch infotainment screen fitted slap-bang in the middle of the dash along with a pile of sturdy toggle switches underneath. There is an assortment of soft-touch materials, leather upholstery and high-gloss plastics to go with the premium that Mini demands for this car – bits like the chunky steering wheel and the superbly finished air vents reek of brilliant build quality.
Seated high up in the wide and comfortable front seat, visibility outside is good thanks to the thin A-pillar. The seat itself is snug, highly contoured and offers a lot of under thigh support, thanks to the extendable base. Our test car had a heads-up display fitted to it which we found very hard to get used to – the viewing angle is not easy to come to grips with, you quite literally have to set the steering column to its lowest point and sit fairly high to make use of the HUD. We aren’t fans of the clarity of the secondary display behind the steering wheel either because the display is a lot lower resolution compared to the main 8.8-inch display.
There is plenty of space at the back and second row seat comfort is mostly good. I am 5’8” and with the front seats set to my preferred position there is ample knee room and headroom is really impressive. What’s not so impressive is the seat cushioning which is simply too firm. Even though there is plenty of space in the second row, you wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time in it because of the uncomfortably firm backrest. All in all, if you are considering the Countryman to move four adults all the time, you should perhaps reconsider. It isn’t as comfortable as a BMW X1, Volvo XC40 or the Audi Q3 for sure but if you plan to use the rear seats for certain occasions then it’s workable.
Features and Safety
The Mini Connected infotainment system that’s in the Countryman is among the most user friendly systems from the brand so far. Featuring an 8.8-inch display, it controls all of the car’s functions including media, navigation and the various driving modes. The BMW-derived iDrive-like controller and the way the car is shown in context when switching through driving modes makes the system really intuitive.
As for equipment, the Countryman S JCW-inspired edition that we have here is fully loaded and comes with dual digital displays, HUD, ambient lighting, a stellar Harman Kardon music system, all-LED headlights, dual sunroof, leather upholstery, JCW trim bits, front and side airbags, crash sensor, ESP, ABS and cornering assist. We would, however, like to add that a lot of the features from above are part of the optional extras that you will have to pay for alongside the price of the base car.
Like its predecessor, the 2021 Mini Countryman is unapologetically amusing and driver focused. It may not bode well with a lot of buyers in the premium compact crossover space but there is certainly a place for a car like the Countryman and it will carve its way against the popular choices primarily because of its looks and its amusing approach towards crossovers. Speaking of looks, it is an eye catching car, one that makes bystanders twirl their neck to get a better look, something we found out with our test car and its sedately striking Sage Green paint.
So if you are looking for a small crossover that isn’t a common sight on our roads, chances are you are a very specific buyer and the 2021 Mini Countryman (priced at Rs 43.40 lakh ex-showroom) could be the one for you, provided you are not ranking rear seat comfort or plush ride quality as top priorities.
Pictures by Kapil Angane