Attack of the MaxiMini
Is it possible to turn a Mini into an off-road go-kart? We took the 4WD Truckin’ Mini for a spin to find out.
It’s been a few years since we drove a Mini Countryman. It was the John Cooper Works (JCW) performance derivative and we enjoyed it thoroughly around a dynamic handling track. The Mini was an absolute hoot to drive — fast in a straight line and nippy through the bends.
If you happen to be in the market for a cheeky, fun to drive little crossover with zero off-road aspirations, we’d still recommend visiting a Mini dealership.
But what if you want to drive your Countryman further than the average gravel road that leads to a fancy eatery? You could simply upgrade and buy a BMW X3 or X5, or you could modify the Mini to go a little bit further. Like in really add some off-road to it.
The Mini on these pages is a prime example. The company behind this Countryman is 4WD Truckin’, who previously had turned an orange GWM H5 SUV into something extraordinary.
A Mini on ’roids
Looks play a massive role in the Countryman recipe, so it’s only right to comment on the looks of this particular Mini.
It works, because it gets a lot of attention. This is something the average Countryman owner will likely enjoy, but it has to be said that most of our team did not find it as easy on the eye.
The Hella spotlights at the front are a nice homage to the famous Mini that competed in the Monte Carlo Rally, so that element received much praise.
Our youngest team member fell head over heels in love with this MaxiMini, though.
Perhaps the rest of us are simply too old to appreciate a Mini with a wide body kit, fake Ford Raptor air vents and an axe mounted to the roof rack.
To be completely fair, we posted an image of the vehicle on Facebook and asked a simple yay or nay. The comments were evenly split. Those in favour loved it and those who did not were not ashamed to give it a lashing.
We’ll let you decide for yourself…
Rally car for the road?
With so many rally design elements adding a heap of aggression to the mix, one would hope that this Mini has the go to match the show. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
This particular Mini is front-wheel drive and powered by a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine that delivers 90kW and 160Nm, the latter peaking at a high 4 250r/min. This unit is fitted with a free-flow exhaust and a pedal booster chip to add a few more horses to the deal.
The Mini makes an almighty racket, with a rally car-like boom, which initially got us all excited. But then you take off, with that boom, and it goes a little bit pear-shaped.
As mean as it looks, this Mini is no performance car. The big issues are the additional weight, the larger diameter all-terrain tyres and the extra drag of the roof rack. All of those aggressive-looking additions may look nice (or not, depending on where you stand), but they come at a price. Conservatively speaking, we estimate the added weight to be around 150kg.
This, as well as the larger tyres that affect gearing and the windbreak effect of the roof rack, have a drastic effect on acceleration, in-gear acceleration, handling and braking. Although it sounds like you are completing the 0-100km/h dash in about five seconds, thanks to the booming exhaust, it actually takes more than 10.
Cruising at a steady 120km/h on slightly hilly highways is also a challenge, and a timely swap between sixth and fifth gears is often required.
Unfortunately, the upgrades have also negatively affected what has always been any Mini’s most endearing characteristic – the handling.
The suspension and steering rack is standard Mini, which means it still turns in with the kind of verve you just don’t get in other compact crossovers. For the most part, the handling is still a cut above the rest, but 4WD Truckin’ added 40mm spacers at the front and 50mm at the rear in order to fit the bigger Cooper tyres.
This means the higher body leans slightly more through the bends, while the rear takes a fair amount of time to settle once you leave the corner behind. It’s not horribly bad, but it has robbed the Mini of some of its cornering charm.
Any good on gravel?
The higher-profile Cooper tyres make a big difference in terms of ride comfort on a gravel road. A standard Countryman, fitted with road-biased low-profile tyres, is rather unpleasant on any kind of gravel surface. This particular model glides along much more comfortably.
That’s the good news. The front-wheel-drive Mini’s electronic aids all seem to have been put on special leave. So there’s no ABS, no traction control and no stability control. On a typical gravel road, at speeds above 40km/h, the Mini was a handful.
Thanks to the quick steering rack it’s fairly easy to induce some tail-happy antics. We admittedly enjoyed this trait, but Average Joe customers who couldn’t care less about terms such as lift-off oversteer would be far less happy in similar conditions.
Yes, we’re afraid. The spare wheel mounted over the boot has a massive impact on the Mini’s daily usability. One can no longer simply pop something into the boot, which would be a massively annoying trait to live with if this happened to be your only vehicle.
And it also limits the view through the rear window, which means the driver has to rely more on the side mirrors.
We love the theory behind this Mini Countryman. But we also believe the JCW ALL4 version with a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with 160kW and 300Nm would have made for a much more appropriate donor vehicle (provided the electronic systems would not be affected).
We would also delete some of the accessories from the list. Like the roof rack. Except if you really plan on driving this Mini to the Makgadikgadi pans, the addition of the rack is simply superficial. Of course, this unit is just a showpiece of what the company can do, so customers can select exactly what they want, and what not.
Lastly, there’s the price. A pre-owned Countryman 1.6 costs around R180 000, while the upgrades (as fitted on this vehicle) are an additional R135 000. So that’s a total of R315 000, which isn’t half bad for something as unique as this.
But, you can also pick up a low mileage Countryman Cooper S AllGrip from around R260 000, and then add the extras. Given the option, that would be our first choice.
I like the concept, but the added weight takes too much away from the driving experience. I’d keep the spotlights, but that’s about it.
The concept is good… giving crossover owners some options in the ‘overland’ department. This particular vehicle was built as a demonstrator, and I think from that point of view, it does the job. But from a driving, performance and dynamic point of view, it misses the mark.