On and off-road with the Mini Countryman

Around the Thailand Countryside with this MINI

Timely introduced during the rising popularity of compact SUVs, the Mini Countryman has evolved from a niche vehicle, to one of Mini’s top-sellers. Perhaps unfairly maligned as just another soft roader, the all-new Mini Countryman hopes to disprove this idea. Few buyers may see the Mini Countryman as an adventure vehicle, yet these past few days in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, southwest of Bangkok, easily prove otherwise.

Firm believers of the possibilities of the vehicle, Mini Philippines and Thailand invited select members of the media to experience all that the all-new Mini Countryman can do, along with a few new possibilities in the unique and scenic venue.

Thailand abreviated

The Prachuap Khiri Khan province of Thailand is the narrowest part of the kingdom. Situated on the Malay peninsula, it is just 13 kilometers wide, from the coast of the Gulf of Thailand to the border with Myanmar in the Tenasserim Hills. In spite of this, it offers diverse terrain, as the land quickly rises from the coast up into the Tenasserim Hills, producing broad plains, scenic rolling hills set against the backdrop of high peaks.

Bearing the hashtag, ‘#AddStories’ the event encouraged participants to share their own stories with the Mini, a feat all-too easy to do thanks to the vehicle’s versatility, and quite apt given the variety of locations in the area.

The event started off in the beach town of Hua Hin, where a short drive through the town and its roads introduced us to the all-new Mini Countryman and what it has improved upon.

Mini enlarged

The Countryman is easily the most rugged of the Minis, evident by the thicker rocker panels around its wheels, higher ground clearance, and roof rails perfect for attachments. Its headlamps are encircled by daytime driving light rings, visible in both day and night. Like its stablemates, it bears the signature floating “helmet roof”, making it easily distinguishable as a Mini, even from afar.

Inside, the Countryman has been blessed with larger dimensions than its predecessor. This results in even more space, for both driver and passengers, benefiting from extended head, leg and shoulder room. The former four-seater is now a fully-fledged five-seater, with also more storage volume for luggage. Like before, the rear bench can be folded to accommodate more cargo if desired.

Once the driver steps in, he’ll be greeted by delightful Mini cabin trademarks; like the large central circular LCD display, the steering-column mounted speedo and tach, toggle switches for controls, and colorful patterns in the dashboard accents. LED ambient lighting can also set the mood, while storage spaces like door pockets and cupholders take care of all those travel essentials.

Moving it all along was a choice of three-cylinder, 1.5-liter petrol engine with a six-speed Steptronic transmission, or an even bigger four-cylinder two-liter petrol engine with an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. Nonetheless, Philippine Minis get the best package of all: a TwinPower Turbo inline-four diesel. The Cooper D gets a 150 PS 2.0-liter engine while the Cooper SD gets a 190 PS 2.0-liter motor. Both of them are mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and Mini's ALL4 all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.

Prachuap’s pride

It was quite easy to drive around town, with features like the collision warning with city braking function, camera-based cruise control, pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high-beam assist and road sign detection, and easier parking thanks to the park distance control for the rear (front and rear optional) and a rear-view camera.

Our first stop was Air Space restaurant. Conceived by a father and daughter team, the venue combines the father’s love for air travel with the daughter’s love of food and restaurants. Its interiors hark back to the early days of flight, with antique décor, a barn structure and accoutrements to match the ‘barn-storming’ of the era, and perhaps the most interesting décor of all – a nearly full-scale replica of the Wright Brothers’ Flier hanging from the rafters.

Having snaked around town, it was time to test the Countryman’s abilities even further with a jaunt up to the local reservoir and nature preserve up in the Tenasserim Hills. Pranburi dam is the local watershed that supplies the region, best enjoyed from its view deck high in the hills.

The road leading up to the view deck was narrow, with one switchback after another. Roads were nothing more than paved fired roads, lined with trees on either side. The Countryman took it all in stride, navigating through them easily, thanks to its compact frame. Our short drive up the mountain was rewarded with a great view of the reservoir from the top as our guide pointed us to our next stop, a bank by the lake where a camp had been set up.

As we made our way down from the peak, the tight roads began to open up to fields. Pretty soon, the road disappeared completely, as we made our way through muddy trails with deep ruts and tall bushes lining either side. It was a cinch thanks to the ALL4 system that took care of figuring out which tire to send power and traction too. Simply pour the power on and the car takes care of the rest. The bushes soon opened up to reveal a picturesque beach where fresh drinks and food already lay waiting for us.

To add more stories

By the bank, a Countryman displayed what other stories awaited to be told, all thanks to original Mini accessories fitted to it.

Among the most interesting were the Autohome roof tent. Easily mounted on the roof rails, it pops up to form a tent for two. It includes a high-density mattress with cotton cover, two doors and two windows with zips, close-meshed mosquito nets, a battery-operated LED interior light, as well as an solid aluminum ladder to climb up to it.

The Mini Picnic Bench is a comfortable seat that fits over the tailgate lip. It attached to the underside of the cargo floor and simply folds out, perfect for those who just want to hang out by the car in the company of friends. It easily stows into the hidden cargo compartment when not in use.

With the sun setting, it was time to head back into civilization, yet not without our own stories to tell about an amazing mini adventure.

The short drive with all-new Countryman shows it has made changes in all the right places, making it an even more ideal vehicle for out of town trips. It may not be a hard-core off-roader, but it has most of the essentials to get you through the rough stuff. And perhaps that’s the secret to its appeal, leaving much of what makes a Mini enjoyable still in, and a few more possibilities thanks to these new accessories.

The 2017 Mini Countryman is now available in the Philippines for P2,900,000 for the Cooper D, and P3,400,000 for the Cooper SD.