Every humanities student at some point spent many wistful hours, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novel, On the Road, planning their next great roadtrip to find themselves. In this dream montage there is a tent and a trusty backpack. The perverse may imagine a Jon Krakauer Into the Wild montage of themselves, until they discover that (spoiler alert) it’s a romanticised memoir of Christopher McCandless, who died camping/living off-the-grid in the Alaskan wilderness. And therein lies the crux of camping, preparedness. And you don’t get more prepared than having a rooftop tent.
The Mini Countryman generally sees less country than you might think in its daily activities. What was designed to be the lifestyle activity vehicle became a glorified people carrier for perfectly valid reasons. It’s a Mini, it fits more humans and their cargo, it has multi-link rear suspension so it’s comfortable for said cargo; it’s practical, has ample head room and lest we forget it can be customised up the wazoo. You want a Union Jack motif in acid green? No problem. You want a tent on the roof? No problem.
Autohome is an Italian firm that specialises in roof-top tents for your car. This collaboration is a once off with Mini to celebrate the most rugged Mini in the brands 57-year history. The fibre glass shell is handmade, as the Italians do, and 25 mm of insulation means it’s warm inside so no damp groundsheet needs to be wrangled when packing up. It is supplied with a cotton-covered high-density crushproof mattress and two pillows to match. So no more inflatable foam sleeping cot to break your back and take up precious packing space.
The Autohome has a height adjustable aluminium ladder for access, is kept up by four Suspa gas springs, the fabric is Airtex; resilient to the nth degree, it has two doors and two windows equipped with mosquito netting, a storage net, storage compartments and an OSRAM touch sensitive light with three-LED bulbs with a 45-degree swivel arc. The pictures before you are not for posing purposes, I slept in the Autohome for a week, much to the neighbouring caravaner’s amusement, it was comfortable and I’ve yet to need a chiropractor or physio appointment. But I should qualify that I love camping the way freshly baked bread loves farm-churned butter.
Before we get carried away with the Autohome tent, any Mini owner planning the next groot trek needs to know, oddly, that it’s not available in SA through Mini. Which is part of what makes this particular Countryman special, appearing in road tests in far-away countries, the Autohome on a South African press car is a unicorn situation. Don’t despair if you do want one, it is possible, for 3 084 Euro, or +- R48 500, bringing it in on your own steam is possible. If you have the cash to splash and you want to maximise your Countryman’s abilities, do it.
Now, about this Countryman, powered by a 4-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel that produces 110 kW, it’s filled with the inferred promises of long distances and minimal refuelling, 330 Nm means that the 57 kg of weight from the Autohome tent is barely be noticed. That said, Autohome do advise on their website that it’s best not to go faster than 130 km/h as it may exert addition strain on the mounting bolts and overtime this could lead to a problem.
Full disclosure, diesel may be a dirty word but in countries where great mileage needs to covering and archaic public transport systems, it’s a saving grace to the monthly fuel budget. Loaded with the tent and an incurred reduction in aerodynamics due to said tent, our test returned 6.8 l/100 km. Not shabby. The Autohome adds some wind noise to the cabin, though nothing that requires you to raise your voice. It doesn’t catch the wind like a main sail at full bloom, basically.
The Autohome is mounted on roof racks, so it’s as tall as a Defender all up, thankfully it doesn’t handle or go like one. The use of Sport mode is there for passing, while Comfort mode leaves the drive feeling surprisingly like a petrol-powered Countryman. However, the steering errs on the side of too reactive, a bit like the snowflakes on every twitter feed. Green mode is, surprisingly, our preferred choice of the driving modes, it slows the steering enough to make it light enough for easy driving but feelsome enough like any Mini. And the engine response turns to its diesel roots with plenty of torque and high-revving urgency toned down, perfect for bumper-to-bumper traffic and open-road cruising.
The Countryman is not exactly, how to say this politely, what one would normally see in a campsite, never mind with an Autohome roof tent; they’re more common in R1000-a-night boutique hotel parking lots. So it’s fair to imagine you’ll encounter some not-so-disguised side eye as your camp neighbours see you rolling up. We know, we experienced it ourselves. And should you strike up a conversation with those people, be prepared for a litany of questions about your Autohome-equipped Countryman. The polite range from, ‘What is it?’ to the more inquisitive, ‘How does that tent thing on top work, can I look inside?’ To which you must respond with, ‘Of course, climb on up.’ However, be prepared for that one hardcore camper in his modified Ford Ranger; once the sun goes down and the bravery gravy goes bottoms-up, to exclaim, ‘So, that tent of yours, you call that camping!?’ To which a perfect response is, ‘So, that aftermarket grille of yours, you call that a Ford Raptor!?’
In a nutshell
Mini Cooper D Countryman Automatic
Best looking tent car you ever did see
Self-importing the Autohome with that Euro-Rand exchange rate
Engine: 1 995 cc, 4-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 110 kW @ 4 000 rpm, 330 Nm @ 1 750- 2 500 rpm
Claimed performance: 0-100 km/h 8.8 sec, top speed 208 km/h
Tyres: 205/65 R16 95W
Economy: 4.9 l/100km (claimed)
Transmission: 8-speed Steptronic
CO2 emissions: 120 g/km
Price: From R428 500