Refreshed vibes: Driving the Mini Cooper S Countryman LCI

I don’t know about you dear reader but for me, 2020 flew by in the strangest way possible. It was not uneventful though I’m pretty sure most of you would have preferred it to be so, but at the same time, the days, weeks and months repeated themselves into such a blur it wouldn’t even matter if we cancelled out the year entirely! Taking away that dreaded year might maybe also allow the second generation F60 Mini Countryman to linger around for a little longer before an update. Launched back in 2017, the F60 Countryman is still a relatively new car, but BMW, not a company to rest on their laurels, have put in plenty of work and we now have the Countryman “Life Cycle Impulse”. While that might be BMW-speak for a facelift, the changes on the least mini-sized Mini reflect more than just a simple nip-tuck.

Speaking of which, the revised Countryman now looks slightly more chunky with more pronounced vertical design touches giving a stronger stance than before. The entire front bumper section has been redesigned along with the grille which has thankfully lost the previous iteration’s frowning fish-like visual. As seen on here, Piano black can now be specced as an exterior trim level, working very well on our car’s new “Sage Green” paintwork. For those opting for a Cooper S Countryman, this trim level comes as standard.

Switching over to the rear, the Countryman is now the latest Mini to feature the Union Jack tail-light graphic but unlike its smaller stablemates, the Union Jack motifs are now lit in a reverse fashion. Similarly to the redesigned front bumper, the rear bumper has also been given stronger lines, giving the entire car a more purposeful stance which at the same time ups the premium aesthetic quotient from its predecessor.

Rounding off the exterior flourishes are a set of new 19-inch alloys dubbed the “design variant Turnstile Spoke 2-tone” wheels. Looks like a stylised chunky Union Jack to me, but a pretty big design change from the original F60 Countryman which even in Cooper S form had wheels that always felt too small.

Inside, the biggest change is the inclusion of the new digital instrument display we last saw on the Mini Cooper S Electric. While it might not be the largest screen in the business, it is one of the clearest, cleanest and best designed screens I have seen yet, giving legibility and readability a higher priority against overtly fancy styling resulting in a clear to read UI with little to distract drivers. As always, the Mini’s speedometer moves accordingly when you adjust your steering wheel, a thoughtful feature we wish other cars would implement.

One could argue that with a digital screen, drivers should have the option to further customise what they want to see and how (and when) to see them, but perhaps that is something we can look forward to in the near future.

The centre display has also been updated with a permanent 4G LTE equipped 8.8-inch display showcasing a myriad of Mini Connected Services including Real-Time Traffic Information, MINI Online and preparation for Apple CarPlay, allowing you to send your end destination from your smartphone to the onboard navigation system. Sitting against the display is a series of touch-sensitive bookmark buttons in high-gloss Piano Black. While this Piano Black finish worked perfectly on the exterior, I don’t think it works quite as well on the inside, coming across as a little too shiny. Perhaps a cold black brushed metal surface might work better?

Two new seat upholstery options have been added to the new Countryman, Chester Indigo Blue and seen on our test car, a beautiful Chester Malt Brown. Space-wise, it remains the same as before with decent space for 5 adults and some luggage to spare with 450 litres of space available in the boot.

If 450 litres of space isn’t enough, the rear seats can be folded down with a 40 : 20 : 40 split arrangement to extend boot space up to 1,390 litres. More than enough for a week’s worth of groceries, or maybe a bicycle or two.

With 178 horses and 280Nm of torque from our Mini Cooper S Countryman’s 2-litre Twin Power Turbo unit, progress is keen and feels positively quicker than the numbers suggest with strong mid-range pull when performing quick overtaking manoeuvres. There is a slight hesitation from standstill if you are in anything other than Sport mode but once woken up, 0-100 comes up in a respectable 7.4 seconds and the Cooper S Countryman pulls willingly with a pleasant soundtrack to match. Unfortunately, with the current rules and regulations regarding noise levels and emissions, pops and crackles no longer emanate from the rear pipes when you let off the throttle.

With Sport mode selected, the throttle is sharpened up, gears are held a little longer and the steering gains some added heft for a more “Mini-like” driving experience. Interestingly, I did feel that Mini could have gone even further with a Sport+ mode to liven things up even more as this chassis does feel like it can cope with even more vigorous inputs.

While the Cooper S Countryman can easily outdrive most of its rivals in the same class and price segment, there is no escaping the fact that it has a kerb weight of 1,555kg and in relation to all other Minis, rather generous dimensions. It’s not an issue that could ever be a deal-breaker if you are in the market for a Countryman but perhaps something to take note of if you are the sort of driver who gets into the “driving mood” regularly.

Ride comfort is pretty decent for drivers coming in from other premium marques and is rather comfortable if you are used to driving other Minis. There is still an underlying stiffness which provides for a more entertaining drive but bumps and road imperfections are well dampened and easily soaked up with the Countryman’s larger chassis. Striking a good balance between everyday usability and for those moments when you want to travel a little quicker than usual.

Coming in at S$186,888 (as of 4th February 2021), the LCI-ed Cooper Countryman S does not come with a price bump from the original second-generation variant. Which, considering its decent list of upgrades and styling tweaks is a refreshing way to kick-off 2021.

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