Road Impressions – MINI John Cooper Works Countryman All4

It had been far too long ago since a John Cooper Works MINI had graced my test schedule, so the prospect of a latest generation offering was something I was looking forward to – a chance to reconnect with a nimble and feisty performer with more than just a hint of the mischievous.

That the car in question was a Countryman, brother to the more standard version tested not so long ago and described by me as “MINI gone Maxi” mattered little – it was the race face I was most interested in.

The second generation of the MINI Countryman is the biggest model in the entire range of the British brand and the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman comes with an output of 170 kW – the most powerful engine ever to be fitted in a MINI.

The car sprints from zero to 100 km/h in 6,5 seconds with both the standard 6-speed manual transmission and 8-speed Steptronic sports transmission. Combined fuel consumption is claimed at 7,4 l/100 km with CO2 emissions at 168 g/km, however we found the average consumption edged closer  to the 8,0 l/100 km.

The all-wheel drive system has a sports suspension with 18-inch John Cooper Works light alloy wheels and Brembo sports brake system, special body features to optimise aerodynamic properties and cooling air intake, and a model-specific cockpit with John Cooper Works sports seats.

Dimensionally and in terms of basic standard equipment, the JCW version is identical to the Countryman previously described, but it does come with a harmonised package of engine, suspension, aerodynamically optimised exterior.

The distinct vehicle character is given additional emphasis with model-specific standard features including LED headlamps, MINI Driving Modes, Park Distance Control, Comfort Access, Radio MINI Visual Boost, multifunction buttons on the steering wheel and cruise control with brake function.

Up front is a  2,0-litre petrol engine developed for John Cooper Works models with the new generation of the all-wheel drive system ALL4.

The 4-cylinder turbo-charged engine offers 170 kW, some 29 kW higher than that of the MINI Cooper S Clubman.

It does not have to be in ‘Sport’ mode to feel – or hear – the differences. It fires up with a suitably throaty roar and, even at low speeds, keeps this burbling boogie comfortably audible in the background, changing instantly to a full-bodied bellow when the throttle is pressed to the floor.

Always feeling as if it wanted to be someplace else, the throttle response is instant and even more impressive in ‘Sport’ mode, when the whole car seems to tighten up and the ‘Maxi’ previously discussed ceases to be a factor and it hunkers down to encourage being pressed to its limits.

With all four wheels being driven it was easy to carry more speed into corners and to accelerate out of them much more quickly without upsetting the car and the initial understeer tendency is easily adjusted with the accelerator.

The power steering provides good feedback and is extremely accurate, perhaps even a smidgen too sensitive at times.

I came away impressed with the overall stability of the car in all situations, the taller profile not really a factor at playtime.

In terms of the look, the front section has especially large side cooling air inlets instead of parking lights and fog lamps; model-specific side sills; wide rear apron with integrated, tapered dual tailpipes of the sports exhaust system; John Cooper Works rear spoiler; hexagonal radiator grille with honeycomb pattern and cross member in Chili Red; John Cooper Works logo on radiator grille, side scuttles and rear; body finish in Rebel Green, red contrasting finish for roof and mirror caps, sport stripes in red or black as options available exclusively for John Cooper Works models.

It has five and a luggage compartment volume of 360 litres. By folding down the rear backrest, optionally available in a 40 : 20 : 40 split, this can be expanded to 1 250 litres.

In terms of safety it has a weight and crash-optimised body structure and standard safety features include front and side air bags, side curtain air bags, ISOFIX child seat mountings at the rear and optionally also on the front passenger seat, tyre pressure display as well as Intelligent Emergency Call and collision warning with city braking function, LED headlamps with LED daytime running light, white turn indicators and LED rear lights as standard adaptive light distribution and turning light as an option.

All driver assistance systems offered for the new MINI Clubman also available for the John Cooper Works model including rain sensor with automatic driving light activation, Parking Assistant, rear view camera and Driving Assistant including camera-based active cruise control, collision and pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high beam assistant and road sign detection.

Standard comfort features including air-conditioning and Radio MINI Visual Boost with 6,5-inch colour screen, USB socket, AUX-IN socket and Bluetooth hands-free facility.

Options include 2-zone automatic air-conditioning, panorama glass roof, seat surfaces in Dinamica/leather, seat heating, MINI Excitement Package including LED ring for the central instrument, ambient lighting with adjustable colours and MINI logo projection from the exterior mirror on the driver’s side when opening and closing the door, heatable and folding exterior mirrors, interior and exterior mirrors with automatic dip function, heatable windscreen, Harmon Kardon hi-fi speaker system, alarm system including red LED status indicator in the fin antenna, MINI navigation system and Wired equipment package including navigation system Professional, operation via MINI Touch Controller and 8,8-inch colour screen with touch function.

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Road Impressions – BMW 520d M Sport Package

While one can understand executives want to feel…well, executive, and the visual statement of this is the large luxury company car, there is a question of practicality.

Given the conspiracy by architects to design underground parking bays in townhouse complexes and shopping malls with spaces barely wide enough to fit a motorcycle let alone a behemoth luxury vehicle, the pressure is mounting to go smaller in the city.

The BMW 520d is just such a car and, while its CO2 at 124 g/km does not impact the pocket greatly considering its R834 900 price tag, there is quite a hefty perks tax consideration.

Large used to be a requirement of luxury, but there are so many medium and small cars around today offering exactly the same levels of luxury, safety and driver convenience features.

Naturally there are counter arguments – the space is needed to transport business colleagues and/or family  and…well, that is where they kind of run out or, I cannot think of any more.

The BMW 520 is a big car, no question. However, it does not feel like a big car on the road and this, perhaps is a reason cars of this size still hold that popularity. It is easy to drive, easy to manoeuvre and, despite the attempts by the architects, easy to park.

In fact, the more I drove the car the more I became absorbed into that luxury cocoon and the more it became a natural experience as opposed to the feeling I was piloting the Queen Mary – it is a kind of insidious seduction, and we are not even close to the over-the-top levels of luxury of a 7-Series.

The 5-Series recently underwent an upgrade and specification tweak with  new functions and additional options in the areas of light technology, operation, comfort and connectivity.

The 2,0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine for the BMW 520d remained unchanged with 140 kW at 4 000 r/min and 400 Nm at 1 750 r/min returning an overall fuel consumption of 5,6 l/100 km. It rushes to 100 km/h in 7,5 seconds and has a top speed of 235 km/h and drives through an 8-speed Steptronic transmission.

Torque delivery is near instantaneous and delivered across a ridiculously wide rev range, providing a relaxed perambulation and effortless overtaking.

A 70 kg weight loss achieved thanks to the use of much more aluminium in key components such as body panels and suspension is responsible for reducing the 0-100km/h time by two-tenths to 7,5 sec.

However, this is the quietest I have ever experienced it, whether at start-up, idle or on the move; certainly an improvement on the previous 5-series. Road and wind noise kept well in check. Past the 2 000 r/min mark there is a touch of diesel clatter in normal drive mode but, click into Sport and this becomes more of an earthy (and pleasing) rumble.

The seventh-generation BMW 5 Series may not look all that different to the old one – a deliberate move translated into design speak as ‘evolutionary’ – and tweaks see the side bead line and rear Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar linked for the first time, the drag co-efficient drops to 0,24 thanks in part to auto-closing grille shutters and there are some very slight dimensional increases.

As with most BMW models, a genuine ‘base’ unit is hard to find and there are a host of option packages such as the Comfort Package that adds (must have) power boot lid, high-beam assist and heated seats for example.

The test unit came with the M Sport Package with mixed Run flat tyres on 19-inch wheels, electrically adjustable sport seats for driver and front passenger and M Sport suspension with Dynamic Damper Control.

There is a fully loaded i-Drive system with touchscreen, gesture control, touch pad and click-wheel operation along with 360deg surround cameras, hands-free parking, four-zone climate control, ‘Dakota’ leather seats, paddle shifters, adaptive LED headlamps and a sunroof.

Rear seating has been rejigged and the seat position is not as low as previously, enhancing headroom – leg and knee room remaining just what one would expect from a large luxury sedan.

On the road, the Comfort mode certainly does result in a bit more float and bounce at higher speeds – along with the nicety of the extra cushioning over rougher surfaces and around potholes. Sport tunes up the suspension and steering and makes the twisty bits a lot more fun, although having grown in size since the iconic E60 version, it is not quite the point-and-squirt it used to be.

However, it really is a luxury cruiser and most owners will not be trying to shave milliseconds off a time en route to the office.

If large luxury is the primary reason for purchase, the BMW 520d satisfies in all departments.

(images: BMW – spec may different to vehicle tested)

 

Road Impressions – MINI Cooper Countryman

The ‘Mini’ name hardly seems relevant applied to the new Countryman that is 20 centimetres longer and three centimetres wider than its – already biggish – predecessor. This is Mini gone Maxi!

To younger car buyers this is immaterial, as they did not have the pleasure of the acquaintance of the original Sir Alec Issignonis Mini or any of that heartstring tug to ‘the lekker old days’ born from a deep affection for that iconic creation.

The proliferation of Mini derivatives is testimony to its widespread appeal in markets around the world and the fact it does look different, does offer a funky and unique dashboard layout helps this appeal considerably considering the boring sameness of so many ‘popular’ brand cars against which it competes.

The new Mini Countryman is the biggest and most versatile model in the brand’s 57-year history. Having been completely newly developed, it now reflects considerable advancements in the areas of space, functionality, athletic flair and premium characteristics.

The bigger car results in increased space on the five seats as well as an increase in storage volume and luggage transport versatility.

The luggage compartment volume is 450 litres and can be extended as required to a total of 1 309 litres. This constitutes a maximum increase of 220 litres as compared to the predecessor model.

The car does have its heritage rooted in British history and the  Austin Seven Countryman had a highly versatile interior and the version with wood frame panelling – popularly known as a ‘Woody’ – attained cult status that it continues to enjoy to this day.

Easy to spot on the road, the latest generation of the Mini Countryman is defined by an extended ground clearance and raised seating position, further emphasised by the Mini ALL4 exterior look and high roof rails.

Inside, the increased size of the car is particularly evident in terms of rear seat legroom and the easier ingress and egress made possible by slightly large door openings compared to the outgoing model.

Both driver and front passenger benefit from extended head and shoulder space, while the adjustment range of the seats has also been enlarged.

The Mini Cooper Countryman is the base model in the range and is fitted with a 3-cylinder petrol engine with a capacity of 1 499 cc, producing 100 kW and 220 Nm and driving, in our case, through a 6-speed Steptronic transmission..

Depending on the engine, the reduction in fuel consumption from the new generation power plants amounts to as much as 1,4 l/100 kilometres according to BMW. Our test route took us a couple of hundred kilometres with mixed speed driving and the overall average achieved was 7,4 l/100 km.

While the Countryman is a big car, it still feels small car with plenty of that impish aura of mischief that made its forebears so dear to many hearts. It just feels designed to zip through gaps in the traffic, to handle like a go-kart and continue to flip the bird at conventialism.

The zippiness and its general road manners come from the tried-and-tested principle of a single-joint spring strut axle at the front and a multilink rear axle with a design that is optimised for weight and rigidity.

In addition to this, there is an electromechanical steering with Servotronic function, powerful brakes and Dynamic Stability Control DSC. 16-inch light alloy wheels come as standard with the new Mini Cooper Countryman.

The standard fittings include the Radio Mini Boost with four-line display in the central instrument and a Bluetooth hands-free telephone facility. Options include the Radio Mini Visual Boost with 6,5-inch colour display, the Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system, the Mini navigation system and the Mini navigation system Professional.

The standard collision warning with city braking function can be extended to include the Driving Assistant system with camera-based active cruise control, pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high beam assistant and road sign detection. In addition to this, Park Distance Control, rear view camera, Parking Assistant and Head-Up-Display are also optionally available.

At the heart of the connectivity in the Mini Countryman lies Mini Connected, the personal mobility assistant that includes individual mobility planning to enable punctual, stress-free arrival at appointments. And mobility does not start in the car: Mini Connected informs the driver of the optimum departure time based on calendar entries and current traffic data.

Address data and appointments saved by the driver previously on a smartphone via Mini Connected are automatically transferred to the car and do not have to be entered in the navigation system again.

Mini Connected can also save regularly visited places as favourite destinations and it detects frequently covered routes such as the daily run between home and work so as to be able to inform the driver in the event of unexpected traffic delays.

Despite the raised height of the Countryman, it feels well planted on the road even during speedy direction changes. Top speed is a shade more than 200 km/h and it will dash to 100 km/h in 9,8 seconds.

Pleasing and comfortable to drive the Maxi, err Mini, is evolutionary in the line – and we all know, you cannot argue with evolution.

(Note: image is of the Cooper S)