You know, at first I was just enjoying driving around in a Countryman test car for the sheer appearance of the thing and the attention to detail and design the manufacturer has lavished upon the interior.
But then, I discovered Fuel Economy Fish.
A delightful cartoon sprite that lives within a submenu called “Minimalism Analyser”, and which can only be displayed when one has the vehicle set to Green mode, Fuel Economy Fish (which I am sure is not the actual name for the graphic) is a fun little metric that aims to aid a driver in achieving maximum efficiency by following some fairly simple rules for stretching one’s fuel economy.
So the takeaway here is that, yes, I spent most of my time in the vehicle trying to amuse a cartoon fish; but we’ll come back to that later.
As I am sure you know, the Countryman is the largest offering from MINI, more of a compact crossover-sized creature than the brand’s other, smaller members (which would be the Cooper, the first model reanimated when BMW bought the English company; and the expanded, five-door Clubman).
This latest generation of the Countryman has grown, being longer and wider than the previous model (it now shares its platform with parent-company BMW’s X1 crossover), and has toned down some of the more esoteric styling features within the cabin; and comes at a more competitive MSRP.
Don’t think of the Countryman in the same terms as the regular MINIs – being much taller and overall bulkier, it doesn’t bring the go-kart feel of the smaller original, nor bite into corners with the same adrenal thrill – but it works much better as a practical and useful all-round daily driver.
Four doors and big (power) hatchback that raises to expose a goodly amount of cargo space ensure its appeal as a family car; the added height make it friendlier for people of all physical abilities to get in and out of, and the newly expanded legroom in the rear seats are more welcoming for second row passengers.
A heads-up display (always a favorite for me – the digital display is comfortably within a driver’s line of vision) rises up from the dash when the Countryman is started greets you when you push the start switch, and a comfortable seat with a great range of adjustment await. I should mention, too, that with the one I used, the front passenger seat also gets the same range of adjustment, which is not always the case with a lot of vehicles.
The instrumentation and switchgear is unlike anything else in the segment, and imparts a science-fiction spacecar feel to the well-finished, sculpted dash. In addition to being interesting to look at, the controls on the center stack are pretty easy to figure out and find your way around, and I daresay a lot more intuitive and user-friendly than I usually find in many German-influenced autos.
The Harmon Kardon stereo system option (one of many packages crammed onto the loaded test car I drove) makes the interior sound as good as it looks and feels.
It isn’t intended to be a performance hotrod, of course, but the Countryman isn’t sluggish, either. A turbocharged 2.0 litre engine under the hood can deliver 189 horses and 207 lb.-ft. of torque – more than adequate to haul its bulk around, though by no means segment-leading – gets it up to speed easily (and in fact, this is one of those vehicles that you can easily accidentally get into speeding ticket territory before you even realize it).
Put it into Sport mode and the shift-logic gets more aggressive, holding gears longer and making the accelerator noticeably more responsive (the base model Countryman can be had with a manual transmission, but this one employed an eight-speed automatic).
For the most part, I found little to disdain in the vehicle, especially as well-equipped as it was, but here are a couple of dislikes – the sliding mesh cover that closes beneath the moonroof, and the door opening lever in the front row.
I like a moonroof cover that is totally opaque, like my mind, when closed my friends, and the translucent mesh of my MINI let in just a little too much glare.
The interior door handle thing, though, is maybe not a bad thing. I didn’t like the way it forced me to bend my hand into an uncomfortable crooked shape to open the door, until I realized that opening the door with my right hand was not only easier, but also maybe intentional on the part of the manufacturer.
Opening the door with the right hand forces you to turn your body, ever so slightly, and what that in turn does is allow you to see more of what’s coming up beside you – so that, for example, you don’t door-whack a cyclist who happens to ride by at that exact moment – so maybe this is exactly what the engineers intended.
In the Netherlands, for example, there was a public awareness campaign that advocated right-handed door opening for this very reason.
But enough about that. Back to Fuel Efficiency Fish:
Fuel Efficiency Fish actually works as intended. When the display first pops up, FEF is just sort of sitting there, gawping at you quizzically with little animated eyes. But as you earn points (or stars) by driving in a practical manner – which isn’t that hard to do, really, just avoid hammering the gas/brake haphazardly, coast whenever possible and don’t unnecessarily over accelerate – the fish becomes progressively happier. He does a little flip every time you add another star to the performance graph.
It’s pretty cute, to be sure, but the thing is this: I achieved really decent mileage by doing this exercise. 4.6L/100 km is practically hybrid numbers, for gosh sakes; and almost unheard of in an AWD crossover vehicle, at least in my experience.
And finally, the price was the icing on the (fish) cake.
The MINI Countryman All4 came in a lot lower than what I had guessed when I first laid eyes on it. A base model starts at $31,990 and my test piece, loaded with option packages only pushed that to $44,880 which makes it comparable with RAV4, Sportage, Escape and several other, less cleverly styled vehicles.
“So what is the story here?”, are the words of Jim, my spiritual mentor and unofficial Muskoka district tour guide. A serious and dignified journalist, he has little time for the antics of one such as I, for whom the story is that I came here to have fun with some Ford product.
We started out on the shores of Lake Joseph, a peaceful setting in relative quiet among the ritzy waterfront homes and mahogany-hulled playboats of the Ontario moneyed class; at an event Ford Canada put together to showcase their sport utility lineup.
Problem was, although everything the company makes to compete in the increasingly diverse SUV world, from compact to gigantic, Ford’s two major entries for 2018 weren’t available to drive.
The new-to-North America Ecosport and latest edition Expedition were on hand, of course, artfully arranged at the hotel staging ground and looking ready for the showroom floors they will hit later this year; but I’ll have to tell you more about the actual road manners of either of them at a later date.
As it is though, here’s a glimpse of them:
This compact and cargo-friendly little hauler is likely to win friends in the teeny-weeny utility segment (don’t laugh, the small ute segment is blowing up with demand, and the Ecosport will joust with rivals like Honda’s HR-V and Toyota’s newest, the C-HR).
The Ecosport is another truly ‘global’ vehicle from Ford. It is a Fiesta platform underneath, built in India and already sold all over the world.
Its got a funky, decent-looking interior (which improves with optional, larger LCD information screen atop the center stack) and a side-hinged tail gate to access the rear. As an aside, do you think this is coming back into vogue? I’m thinking of Honda’s redesigned Ridgeline, where they have altered the gate to be hinged on either the side or the bottom; so maybe there is a demand for this configuration.
Full specs on the machine will be available closer to its arrival, but the company promises a full list of available safety features (my favorites being blind-spot monitor and rear cross traffic sensor) and technology packages for the Ecosport; including the unusual option of a B&O 10-speaker sound system (which, if it follows the company’s other products I have seen, will be expensive and weird to operate, but sound great).
Ford is still being cagey with the MSRP, but you can imagine the Ecosport will be the most affordable of their sport utility lineup.
So that is the story there, my gentle friends, and I will update this with actual pricing when it arrives.
I’ll tell ya what I do know the price of, though:
The 2018 Expedition
I’ll get that out of the way right now, the newest edition of Ford’s largest multipurpose monster ute runs from $59,999 up to $89,999, depending on whether you want, XLT, Limited or Platinum trim.
Running a combination of a new, 3.5L EcoBoost six-cylinder engine and the company’s latest 10-speed automatic transmission (which we saw first on the F-150 pickup, earlier this year).
This is the only engine you can get the Expedition with now, but it promises huge towing capacity – Ford insists the 9,300 lbs it is rated for is best-in-class, in fact – on a vehicle whose curb weight has been lowered by over 130 kilos, due to more high-strength aluminum being used throughout the vehicle.
It gets a power boost over the previous-generation Expedition as well, now being rated at 375 hp (and 470 lb.-ft. of torque), but here’s an interesting factoid: Ford tested a Platinum trim model with 93 octane fuel (the first figures are for regular 87 octane in XLT trim) and states 400 hp and 480 lb.-ft. from that combination.
The wheelbase is 4” longer than past Expeditions, the body an inch wider, and as you might expect interior roominess and cargo space is very generous – and can be made even more so with the availability of the XL body (for fleet customers) and Expedition MAX stretched platform.