Every major automobile brand has had to reinvent itself based on what it’s customers want. If it is a global icon stuck within the cozy confines of its niche, evolution can be a painful process. The MINI is one of them. The imagery and the purpose of a MINI is so unified that it is impossible to conceive of (for example) a sedan from the brand. But, its current owner, BMW still managed to build a family-sized, SUV-like bodystyle model - the Countryman, for buyers who want the essence of a MINI built into a larger car.
MINI buyers don’t rationalise their purchase. It is all heart that leads them to the brand. But the Countryman attempts to strike a bit of a balance. It is practical, with usable extra room. It sports the iconic elements and design language of MINI and has that key go-kart like driving character of the original. A few weeks ago MINI India launched the 2021 Countryman. Here’s what has changed and how it feels like to drive.
The 2021 Countryman continues to be largely the same familiar design of the outgoing model. Tall, almost SUV-like, but squat and strong with its prominent haunches, it still manages to exude that impish charm of the MINI Cooper brand. For its 2021 avatar it has been launched in two trim variants - the Cooper S and the Cooper S John Cooper Works or JCW inspired (in pics). With its similar floating roof design and contrast colours and racing stripes adorning the body, the Countryman was unmistakably part of the tribe. Its appealing set of body paint colours and exterior trim options continue even with the 2021 model year.
The exterior design changes in the new Countryman are largely cosmetic. The bonnet grille gets a mild tweak with the honeycomb pattern and chrome bar. The front bumper is new with an aerodynamic fog lamp housing and air intake on either side. My test mule sported a JCW exclusive solid grey/ green body paint, black contrast roof and racing stripes. The light elements have changed with a new LED package for the headlamps and the eye-catching Union Jack configuration for the tail-lamps. The rear fender also sports a new design, a slightly more aggressive, sportier build, that pairs well with the roof-mounted spoiler. The JCW-inspired variant also gets larger, 18-inch, 10-spoke alloys. All the special chrome bits that identify its lineage - door handles, shoulder line etc. are there in the 2021 Countryman too.
Inside the facelifted Countryman, the cabin gets a few upgrades and some additional equipment. A panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, powered front seats and a reversing camera are part of standard equipment. The JCW-inspired variant gets some additional kit like a pop-open head-up display, a larger than standard 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment display in that classic circular housing at the top of the centre stack and a Harman Kardon music system.
The special trim variant also gets a oval, 5.5-inch digital instrument cluster with a matt finish and is mounted right behind the steering wheel; another classic MINI feature. Wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay, steering-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection and an adjustable rear seat backrest are some of the other additional features in the Cooper S JCW trim.
There are a few spots inside the cabin that help identify the JCW variant, including the drilled aluminium pedals, the badging on the steering wheel and the door sill plates. The leather upholstery and the ambient lighting serve up some more special features for buyers of the JCW trim variant, including the classy, change in mood style variation of the LED ring surrounding the display based on drive mode chosen. All the switchgear are inspired by MINI classics, including the flickable engine start knob.
MINI is set to become a fully electric brand by early 2030s. But for now, the Countryman continues to be offered with only the turbo petrol engine. The 2-litre, turbocharged petrol engine delivers 192hp of power and 280Nm of torque. The engine is paired to a 7-speed, dual-clutch, steptronic sport automatic gearbox. The powertrain is expectedly peppy, though it doesn’t feel as quick as the MINI hatch. It is heavier and taller, and that has to count when it comes to on road performance. Yet, that MINI character is not entirely lost, including that distant, throaty exhaust note accompanying every hard jab at the throttle.
The initial response from the powertrain is a bit under-enthusiastic and the gearbox feels a tad hesitant, but once the engine climbs up to the midrange and the turbo is in full spool, there is enough power being fed to the wheels.
Manual gear selection and Sport mode can make the drive more engaging. The ride is firm and the Countryman does bounce over some of the really bad patches of road in and around Mumbai. Of course, the suspension is set up to fit the typical MINI format. So it won’t be unnerving taking corners on a track.
The new MINI Countryman will be up against a bevy of entry SUVs in the luxury class. But it has that mix of practicality and MINI genes going in its favour. MINI India has also loaded some convenient service and ownership packages into the equation. Prices for the 2021 MINI Cooper S Countryman start at ₹39.5 lakh and go up to ₹43.4 lakh for the JCW inspired trim variant.