Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: October 25, 2020
MINI’s largest vehicle, the Countryman, receives a slight nip and tuck for the 2021 model year. Along with standard all-wheel drive and five-seater capacity, the front fascia has been redesigned with a new radiator grill with hexagonal contours. LED headlights and LED fog lights are now standard, as well as rear lights shaped in a Union Jack design, giving it a unique light signature. New wheel designs and paint colours like this Sage Green featured in our photographs give some extra zest. Inside, the Countryman receives a digital instrument cluster that replaces the outgoing analog dial. There’s also a new range of leather trims and an updated 8.8-inch center touchscreen unit. Performance and powertrains remain the same for 2021.
In all, there’s nothing with the 2021 Countryman that warrants or necessitates a change or upgrade if you have an earlier model. It’s still the same functional, practical, and charming MINI that we were first introduced to back in 2010. In fact, it was the premium brand’s first entry into the compact crossover segment. With a jacked up suspension, raised seating position, and available all-wheel drive, it was an instant favourite among young families. Fast forward a decade later, and this large MINI formula has proven to be ever more popular.
We love the look. Butch, muscular, yet distinctively MINI. Car enthusiast or not, there’s no mistaking this is a Fiat or any other generic brand. The interior design is also unique. The boldly round steering wheel is fat and substantial, but stylish with thick grips at the 9- and 3-o’clock positions. The new digital instrument cluster brings MINI up to modern standards, but we miss some of that nostalgic character that the analog example brought with it. We yearn for that old, massive, and round speedometer mounted in the middle from classic MINIs as well, but with the BMW and Rolls-Royce overlords ditching everything for digital real estate, I guess it was only a matter of time. The driver’s screen still moves up and down with the steering column, and the large fonts and crisp graphics make it easy to read.
The Countryman sits at the perfect height for most people to find ingress and egress effortless. You won’t have to bend down to crawl into the cabin like you would a MINI Cooper, but you won’t have to climb up like you would a BMW X5. Interior space is its strong suit, with a vast array of storage cubbies and pockets for small items. Though my knees do slightly grace the front seatback (which has a dedicated alcove that creates some extra room for the knees), headroom and space to wiggle around are quite impressive for the Countryman’s small stature. The rear seats have the ability to slide fore and aft, and are foldable too, allowing you to pull the seats flat for extra cargo space. A rear center armrest is optional too.
But one of the biggest joys of owning a MINI is the drive. Yes, the Countryman is the largest, heaviest, and most portly vehicle in the range, but it’s still a hoot to whip around at speed, especially in Countryman S trim. It receives a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Forward propulsion feels just right for this kind of vehicle. Never underpowered, but not overpowered either. There’s enough vigour and spirit to give some straight line confidence, and turbo lag isn’t too noticeable. There’s plenty of torque in the mid-range when overtaking is required, but it becomes lethargic in the higher range, and it runs out of breath fairly quickly. 0-100 km/h comes in 7.2 seconds - nothing to write home about. The 8-speed transmission shifts behind the scenes without much fuss, and is polished and gentle even when rowing the gears manually via the shifter.
With the raised-up suspension over the regular MINI Cooper, road clearance is never a worry. And despite a heightened center of gravity, the body motions are very well controlled, and the Countryman S stays wonderfully flat when chucked around corners. The Countryman rides really well actually – pockmarked roads are not very intrusive and there’s an overall sense of structural refinement, which we found lacking in prior generation models.
The Countryman hides its weight well, and the magic of its suspension translates that extra heft into just a bit more body roll. The tight and communicative steering keeps you at one with the road, and the sheer amount of grip is impressive. The bane of understeer still shows itself when you push the Countryman S beyond its grip limits, and the brakes aren’t very linear, springy in fact under application, but these factors hardly hinder the excitement you will be having behind the wheel.
With decent cargo space and a heightened seating position, MINI’s largest vehicle will continue to be popular for those seeking charm and functionality mixed into one clever, unique, and athletic package. It’s not the fastest horse in the stable - look for the JCW variant if speed is your priority - but the ride quality is exceptional, the build quality is excellent, and there are enough personable options to run your jaw to the floor. It’s one of our most highly recommended premium subcompact crossovers, and the updated exterior and modernized cabin amenities only serve to strengthen its global appeal.
Model: 2021 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4
Paint Type: Sage Green Metallic
Base Price: $35,990
Price as Tested: $44,430
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,314 / 1,822 / 1,557
Curb weight (kg): 1,665
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 189 hp @ 5,000 - 6,000 rpm
Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1,350 - 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD