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DURBAN, KwaZulu-Natal – The new Mini Countryman has arrived in South Africa, so we headed to KZN for a taste.

When we drove the Cooper S Countryman All4 Auto in England at the start of the year, we found that criticisms of the old model regarding the quality of the interior and the firm ride had been addressed, along with some other crucial details.

The new crossover is also quite a bit bigger than before, but it comes with a larger pricetag, too. Still, it's well worth having a look at how the entry-level turbocharged 1,5-litre three-cylinder behaves when connected to the six-speed Steptronic transmission...

The familiar engine

Now used broadly in the BMW family, the 1,5-litre turbo-triple delivers 100 kW and 220 N.m of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed manual or, in this case, six-speed automatic torque converter. The result is a claimed 0-100 km/h time of 9,6 seconds and a top speed of 200 km/h, along with a quoted fuel economy figure of 6,0 L/100 km.

What do I get for my cash?

At R442 052, the Cooper Countryman is actually quite competitive in South Africa, as it beats both the larger Volkswagen Tiguan 1,4TSI Comfortline Auto, the new Audi Q2 1,4T FSI Sport Auto and the Mercedes-Benz GLA200 Auto on base price. The Mini’s standard equipment list is also fairly generous compared to those of its rivals, and includes an automatic rear tailgate, rear parking sensors and cruise control (with emergency braking). As ever, though, there are all sorts of expensive optional extras available, from leather seats (R16 900) to a glass panoramic sunroof (R11 900).

What's it like on the road?

Like other Minis equipped with this engine, the Cooper Countryman is fairly sprightly. As with most small turbocharged units, it lacks power at the top of its rev range, but in most situations it is punchy and responsive, especially when mated to the Steptronic transmission. The small engine doesn’t seem to struggle when quick overtaking moves are required and it shows few signs of turbo-lag.

Rolling on run-flat Pirelli Cinturato P7 tyres, the Cooper Countryman offers a firmer ride than its competitors, but it is certainly an improvement over the outgoing model. The benefit of these tyres, however, is the impressive level of grip on offer. Gravel surfaces also proved to be little problem for the Mini thanks to its 165 mm of ground clearance and clever traction control system.

The electrically assisted steering system provides the driver with plenty of feedback from the road surface, which inspires confidence during enthusiastic driving stints. Despite its small engine and relatively low power output, the Cooper Countryman is a blast to drive through the bends thanks to its multilink rear suspension and highly effective front and rear ventilated disc brakes.

What's the verdict?

Positioned as a premium crossover with more space than before, the Cooper Countryman offers useful standard specification, a pleasing engine-transmission combination and a likeable personality. And there's no doubt that it is an improvement over the last model in terms of both refinement and the overall driving experience.

Die-hard classic Mini fans may look on in disgust at the new model’s further inflated dimensions, which theoretically fly in the face of the Mini badge attached to its snout, but there’s no escaping the fact the demands of the typical car consumer are changing.

Regardless, the new Mini Cooper Countryman is an entertaining product that also happens to boast a certain sense of style and improved practicality, making it a strong representative for the BMW-backed brand.

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