August 16, 2016 @ 05:27 PM

Review: Mini Cooper S Countryman Parklane - The badge job

On its last legs, Mini gives the Countryman a swanky send-off by pinning a prestigious badge on it.

Mini is notorious for rolling out special editions of its models on a scale rivalling Subaru and its plethora of variants for the Impreza WRX STI that could be had in any limited or special edition permutations they could conjure up.
But why wouldn’t Mini do so? The clientele love it and as the youthful, more impish arm of the BMW Group, the playfulness is celebrated like no other. There’s still a certain charm about a Cooper with the Union Jack on its roof.

The Countryman here is a recipient of the limited-edition moniker as well and proudly sports the Park Lane badge on its fenders; christened after a Mini showroom in the upmarket district of Mayfair in London and only the third Mini model to be named after it. Only 88 units will be available for the Malaysian market.
Nonetheless, some badging, stripes and unique colour combinations do little to distract us from the fact that this model of the Countryman has one wheel in the grave and is set to be replaced with a full-model change based on the all-new Clubman that will spawn the third generation of Mini and not-so-mini derivatives.

Before its final curtain call though, the Countryman Park Lane will be one last hurrah for the marque’s first jab at the lucrative compact crossover segment that has certainly returned reasonable success for the brand and holds the distinction of being the first Mini model locally assembled in Malaysia with the naturally-aspirated Countryman and turbocharged Countryman S both available here.
So what does the Park Lane get over the regular Countryman S that is it based on? For RM11,000 extra, you get an Earl Grey body colour with Oak Red stripes strategically placed around an exterior bolstered by the rugged ALL4 bodykit; although all Countryman variants here are exclusively front-wheel drive.

Mechanically identical to the Countryman S sees the performance figures ring in at 190hp and 240Nm of torque from its 1.6-litre Prince inline-four that is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The cabin is perhaps the strongest proponent of the Mini ethos with funky, fun vibes echoing from every nook and cranny with the prerequisite fun and vibrant atmosphere firmly penned into the design, accentuated by the ambient lighting with a multitude of colours to toggle through.

Speaking of toggles, the use of toggle switches for a majority of the functions gives off a jet fighter vibe in the cabin but in day-to-day use it hardly comes across as practical or user-friendly, a theme reverberated in the interior.
As playful and fun as the aesthetics are, ergonomics leaves much to be desired as does the tactile feel of a car that will set you back a quarter of a million Ringgit. Finding a comfortable seating position took roughly 200 adjustments, the better part of half an hour and a sacrifice to the gods which still resulted in an awkward angle for the limbs.

Cubby holes can be found around the cabin but the interior designers must have some really miniscule phones and never carry keys around as generous use of Vaseline is required to fit your stuff in the storage spaces.
If we had to sum it up, the interior is light years behind some of its peers with too much emphasis on the design with little left for materials and practicality. The tactile feel is downright poor with cheap plastics making up the majority of the cabin although the finishing is above average. Wind noise insulation is below average as well and deteriorates exponentially the more you press the throttle.

A sharp suit tailored from the poorest material is still a cheap suit and the Countryman’s cabin has fallen down this dark hole while running after the aesthetic butterfly.
Redemption is in the form of its handling; a Mini hallmark. The Prince engine is a gleeful piece of engineering with a number of “Engine of the Year” awards under its belt although it is beginning to show its age.
Turbo lag is noticeable, even in the right gear, and you have to get it past 3300rpm before the lights flash on and the gears start to move. Once the turbo spools up though, it revs effortlessly with plenty of pull in the midrange and will keep climbing although the power tapers off a little towards the redline.

Generous amounts of negative camber on those 18-inch wheels, especially in the rear, give it good handling manners but the higher centre of gravity rears its ugly head in bends although Countryman Park Lane tracks steadily though corners and takes quite a bit to get unruffled with its firmly-sprung damping.
The steering is well-weighted and communicative without going overboard and feeling too heavy in your grip when tackling parking lots instead of sweeping corners but the same cannot be said for the comfort levels. Tuning a comfortable ride with wicked handling is still a dark art that few have mastered and Mini has yet to perfect it with damping evidently emphasising road holding over negating undulations on our less than stellar roads.

Justifying a Countryman is a tough deal to seal. Given the Park Lane’s price tag of RM253,888, it places it firmly in the crosshairs of some very tempting machinery that make quite a case for themselves.
Mercedes-Benz makes the strongest case for itself with the GLA 250 4Matic as the A Class of models were tailored to seduce the younger affluent buyers, similarly to the Mini brand. Audi and its Q3 2.0 TFSI shouldn’t be overlooked as well and we can just toss the Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TSI into the fray as well though it lacks the vivaciousness of the others but is the sensible pick.

Nonetheless, most people don’t buy a Mini with their heads, they do it with their hearts; and wallets as well of course. Even as the most practical Mini in the current line-up, the Countryman lacks the pragmatism and prudence of its competitors but as the numbers of this crossover on the road demonstrate, the Mini market is strong and its fans know no other when moving on to something larger when their Cooper hatchbacks can no longer handle the babyseat and groceries anymore. Plus, quite a number of them are badge bunnies so the Park Lane fits the bill nicely.

Mini Cooper S Countryman Park Lane
Engine: 1,598cc, inline-four, DOHC 16V, direct injection, turbocharged 190bhp @ 5500rpm, 240Nm @ 1600rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
0-100kph: 7.8 seconds
Top Speed: 205kph
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4110mm, 1789mm, 1561mm
Weight: 1,455kg
On sale: Now

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