Plenty of zip in Mini's SUV alternative

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The Mini Countryman Cooper S Rockfield has a long wheelbase, more interior room, greater ground clearance and comes with four-wheel drive. Photos: David Thomson

An all-new edition of the regular Mini has just hit the streets, but for those who want their Mini to come with a longer than usual wheelbase, more interior room, greater ground clearance and four-wheel drive, the Countryman will continue largely unchanged this year and probably next.

Special edition versions of the standard Countryman range are an obvious means by which Mini will maintain the appeal of arguably the most  sensible member of the Mini family.

Drivesouth sampled the recipe recently, borrowing a Countryman Rockfield out of Auckland for a few days.

Based on the $46,800 135kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo Countryman Cooper S, the Rockfield costs $13,000 more, but for that extra price adds an array of features which, if ordered off the standard options list, would cost more than $17,000.

So, tick the box for the John Cooper Works Chilli package of exterior and interior enhancements. These include a bold body kit with aerodynamic tweaks, twin-spoke 18-inch alloys, sport suspension and xenon headlights.

The cabin picks up Mini navigation, a premium Harman Kardon sound system, sports seats, a sports steering wheel with paddle shifts and a range of trim enhancements.

Mini's dynamic traction control system is included. When selected, this mode allows the car to be pushed far closer to its traction and grip limits before the traction control system intervenes, and improves the car's initial getaway on really slippery surfaces.

Certainly if it is poser value you are after, the Rockfield edition dresses up a visual treat; that the test car happened to be decked out in the club colours of the St Clair Surf Lifesaving Club (white with a black stripe) was a happy bonus, since the vehicle was involved in transporting two club supporters to meet the team at the national surf lifesaving championships.

The outward leg of the trip, from Auckland to the Bay of Plenty, was an urban and highway grind, where occupant satisfaction was gained through being in a cabin which, with its toggle switches, unique dials, and selectable colour mood lighting is refreshingly different in a world in which car interiors often look the same. The car was zippy in traffic, too, but once off the smooth bitumen of Auckland's Southern Motorway, sometimes intrusive coarse-chip road rumble was a constant companion.

With time in hand on the return leg, the opportunity was taken to explore some interesting byways on the fringes of the Hauraki Plains.

Here there was space to enjoy the engine's considerable zing and character, and take advantage of an increasingly rare driver's treat, manual rather than automatic transmission.

Even though the Countryman is not a patch on the standard Mini for darting nimbleness, by normal standards it is still a pleasingly agile car through the twists and turns. As part of this character it provides a connectedness between driver and road that is rare in the motoring mainstream.

With dry conditions throughout, there was no call on the car's four-wheel-drive capability on the road. On the other hand, negotiating a sharp turn on a steep driveway early one morning I managed to pop one front wheel off the concrete and into a patch of deep grass.

Extracting a standard Mini from that predicament would have been a fiddle, but with a four-wheel-drive Countryman it was a cinch.


Plenty of zip in Mini's SUV alternative
At a Glance


Rating: 3+ stars

For: Eye-catching styling, roomier and more practical than a normal Mini, value-added kit

Against: Lacks the standard Mini's performance and handling edge

Verdict: A fun alternative to a conventional premium small SUV


Price: $59,900

Engine: 1598cc four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, max power 135kW@5500rpm, max torque 240Nm @1700-4500rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, CBC, DSC, DTC, EDLC

Safety rating: Five-star European NCAP

Wheels, tyres: 18-inch alloys, 225/45 R18 tyres

Fuel and economy: 7.3 litres per 100km (on European combined cycle), capacity 47 litres

Dimensions: Length 4110mm, width 1789mm, height 1561mm