They say the grass is always greener on the other side. I'm here to tell you to be thankful for what you have, you little brat.
In truth, with this job, we're often flown to exotic locales to sample some of the most drool-worthy vehicles in the most picturesque locations. Often times, they are specced up, top-of-the-line models, fitted with engines too fussy to deal with our dirty Euro-4 fuel.
This time around, it was quite the opposite. And never have I been so thankful to a local distributor for giving us the best of the lot.
Thanks to Mini Philippines and Thailand, select members of the Philippine media were invited to experience the all-new Mini Countryman in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, southwest of Bangkok. The pitch was to “experience the Mini Countryman as an adventure vehicle” and use the hashtag, ‘#AddStories’ to upload photos and posts of ourselves and the vehicle. I also added #blessed, #richkidsofinstagram, #baller, #trustfundbaby, and a few more in the hopes luring in adoring followers.
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.
The Countryman is easily the most rugged of the Minis, evident by the thicker rocker panels around its wheels, higher ground clearance and the roof rails. 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 easy to distinguish from afar, like a douche that wears a backwards cap indoors.
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. They've taken out that ridiculous center rail to make the former four-seater now a fully fledged five-seater. This also frees more 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 wheel mounted speedo, toggle switches for controls, and colorful patterns in the dashboard. LED ambient lighting can also set the mood while storage spaces take care of all those travel essentials.
The Thai version is, quite apallingly, a stripped down version of the luxurious Countryman we're offered. No soft touch materials. Instead, there's generously applied black plastic. No leather seats, just the most itchy fabric they had on the rack with only the most basic seat adjustment. Mind you, this was the Thai Countryman S.
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. Only front-wheel drive models here.
Thank your lucky stars that 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. Suck on that!
Despite the appalling lack of equipment, the cars were nontheless quite easy to drive around town. Features equipped were 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. Ok, perhaps they made up for it in other aspects.
Having toured the local town, it was time to test the Countryman’s abilities even further with a jaunt up to the local reservoir and nature preserve. Our first route was a road leading up to a view deck. It was narrow, with one switchback after another. The 3-cylinder Countryman was wheezing up the steep slopes, but navigated the turns far better thanks to its compact frame and tight turning radius.
With a great view of the reservoir from the top, our guide pointed us to our next stop, a beach by the lake where a camp had been set up. That certainly was a relief, because our car felt like it was about to have an asthma attack. 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. By this time, our clever lead vehicles had slowed the convoy significantly, hiding any evidence of the front-wheel drive Countrymans struggling for grip on the muddy single track. The bushes soon opened up to reveal a picturesque beach where fresh drinks and food already lay waiting for us, under a white canopy tent. By the bank, a Countryman S was fitted with an Autohome roof tent, deck chairs to one side and flags. It was all the ingredients for the perfect Instagram humblebrag post.
After micro-managing and art-directing my irritatied colleagues for a month's supply of selfies, I was obligated to at least have a look at the other original Mini accessories on display.
The Autohome roof tent is easily mounted on the roof rails and pops up to form a tent. 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 aluminium ladder.
The Mini Picnic Bench is a comfortable seat that fits over the tailgate lip, 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, and back into the warm embrace of our beautiful, well-specced and luxurious Philippine Mini Countryman SD with leather seats. I'm sincerely thankful that with our Minis, I never have to 'rough' it again.