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MINI to the Max

BY RORY DALEY
Observer writer

Friday, July 28, 2017

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THE MINI Countryman takes the fun of a MINI and adds the functionality and practicality of a compact sport utility vehicle (SUV).

Now in its third generation, it has moved on from the retro-styling of its forebearers into what is expected of a modern automobile. It retains some heritage cues, but the Countryman in Cooper S form continues the visual deviation. Since it has its own look, such as different headlights, the Cooper S body kit, and the overall larger dimensions, the Countryman can be best described as an acquired taste. It's not offensive in anyway. Those new to the brand will have no problem with its appearance.

You'd be wrong to judge this book by its cover. The exterior packaging is partly defined by the interior needs and they've been met in spades. There's plenty of space — front, back and trunk — for passengers to travel in comfort and a high level of refinement. Inside the Countryman is light with wonderful visibility all around. The Cooper S seats are among the best in the business. Automatic adjustment is lost, but that is a small price to pay for what are race bucket seats that are comfortable enough for the long haul. It's easy to find a great driving position.

Interior is the quality expected in a MINI. Convenience features abound — from automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, to several electronic parking assistants. The centre of all this is the large 8.8-inch screen that not only defines the interior, but harks back to a major styling detail from MINI's history. Like the seats, the infotainment is again up there with the best. It may not be touchscreen, but accessing it is a breeze, using the wheel controls and short-cut buttons found on both the middle console and the steering wheel.

Grab the steering wheel, press the engine start button and the Cooper S two-litre turbo motor comes to life. Use the drive mode ring below at the base of the transmission shifter to select SPORT and the MINI's genes shine through. The controls become more direct and immediate. Using all the 'rocket' and 'go-kart' power, as indicated on the infotainment system, the Countryman can handle everything from fast highway, to narrow out of town lanes, even with its extra ride

height over its regular siblings. Switching the transmission to manual mode pulls more fun out of the experience as, left to its own devices, the traction control gear changes are set up with the lesser driver in mind.

Switch the Countryman into MID or GREEN mode and it becomes the sedate cruiser. The stiff suspension that allows it to corner vibrantly is also able to cope with rougher roads, occasionally sending aural clues of the terrain into the cabin, but never transmitting the physical impacts to upset occupants. It has enough ground clearance, four-wheel traction and suspension travel to handle the realities of the Jamaican countryside. In these modes one can fully appreciate the refinement and luxury on hand.

The Countryman, especially in Cooper S trim, treads that fine line between driver's car and capable small sport utility vehicle. It does both on these things in isolation extremely well, and yet blends them when needed — fast SUV or a go-anywhere sports car.

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