Review: MINI Countryman

Review: MINI Countryman
Review: MINI Countryman

Does the new Mini SUV make more sense than its predecessor?

The first generation of Countryman was a slightly odd fish, was it big B-segment crossover, a small C segment SUV, a jacked-up Clubman?

This time around Mini is much clearer about the Countryman’s standing. It’s a C-segment SAV (that’s sports activity vehicle to you) with ambitions to cut itself a niche in an ultra-competitive part of the market.

Setting out its intentions most clearly is the Countryman’s increase in size. We’re talking a car that’s 20cm longer than its predecessor as well as being a healthy chunk wider and taller too. At 4.3 metres long and 1.8m wide it’s a touch bigger than an Audi Q2 and a shade smaller than a Nissan Qashqai or Seat Ateca.

It certainly looks the part, the chunky square styling giving a rugged, tough look while carrying enough of the family features to make it recognisably a Mini.

MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4

Price: £28,025
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder
Power: 187bhp
Torque: 207lb/ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 140mph
Fuel economy: 47.1mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 137g/km

While some cars manage to get bigger on the outside without adding much space on the inside, the Countryman is a bit of a revelation. As you would expect from an SUV/SAV, driver and front seat passenger are well catered for. There’s loads of leg, shoulder and headroom and the seats are big, well shaped and supportive. What’s more impressive is the amount of space in the back.

Headroom isn’t a problem, even for the very tall and some witchcraft has clearly gone into eking out the generous amount of legroom — there’s 5cm more kneeroom than in the old car. Exact comparisons are tricky to come by but the Countryman certainly feels far more spacious than many in its class, even the middle rear seat is a useable size.

The boot, too, has grown — up 100 litres to a class-competitive 450 litres — and features a dual-level load area.

Spec the Activity pack and you’ll also get a neat “picnic bench”. This padded seat folds out from the split-level floor to cover the boot lip, creating a handy seat. It’s not quite as fancy as a Range Rover’s powered split tailgate but it gives those with an active lifestyle somewhere to change their boots etc.

Talking of equipment, Mini say the new Countryman offers £1,900-worth more equipment than the old model. Sat nav, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, emergency e-call, the active guard safety pack and parking sensors are all standard. However, most buyers are expected to opt for one of the pre-configured options packs which add everything from dual-zone climate control, powered tailgate and reversing cameras to sports suspension, a head-up display and leather upholstery.

Also available as an option is the Navigation Professional system which replaces the standard 6.5-inch central display with an 8.8-inch touchscreen. It’s a bright, clear and quick system which offers features such as live traffic info, and the marriage of touchscreen and Mini’s Touch Controller rotary dial works surprisingly well.

Overall the interior looks and feels of high quality, with big chunky easy to use controls and an easy-to-grasp layout. But with a starting price of almost £22,500, you’d expect nothing less.

Under the bonnet, the Countryman range has a selection of new engines, all of which are turbocharged. Basic Cooper models feature a 136hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder unit while Cooper S gets a 2.0-litre four-pot with 187bhp.

Diesel models feature a 2.0-litre engine with 148bhp in Cooper D spec and 187bhp in Cooper SD. The lower-powered unit obviously returns the better running costs with 64.2mpg and 113 g/km of CO2 emitted compared with the SD’s 61.4mpg and 121g/km.

Also on its way later this year is the first plug-in hybrid Mini. The Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 will feature a turbocharged petrol engine and an electric motor to offer claimed economy of up to 134.5mpg, although if you hope to see that you won’t be enjoying the E’s 6.9-second 0-62mph time.

From launch, the Countryman is offered with either front or four-wheel drive ALL4 and either a six-speed manual, or six-speed or eight-speed Steptronic auto. Our test car was a Cooper S ALL4, combining the 187bhp petrol engine with four-wheel drive and the eight-speed auto.

Despite the Cooper S badging, the near 190bhp and the sporty engine note, the Countryman doesn’t feel as fast as the 7.5-second 0-62mph time suggests. It’s certainly nippy enough for a small family SUV and has an engaging engine note, but it does feels like a heavy car.

The ride definitely falls into the firm end of the SUV spectrum. It can be too firm, particularly over closely packed imperfections and with the variable dampers set to sport mode. It’s bearable — certainly better than a VW Tiguan R Line — but if a smooth ride is a priority you might want to look elsewhere.

The compromise with the firm ride is that it also falls into the sportier end of the segment. It still feels like a big heavy vehicle but feels more car-like to drive that a lot of SUVs thanks to tight, well-weighted and quick steering and decent handling.

The input of the ALL4 system was hard to judge without comparison to a front-wheel-drive system but on wet, muddy roads it certainly didn’t feel like it wanted for traction at any point. What it did want for was a more decisive gearbox. The eight-speed shifts smoothly but seems to spend a lot of time searching up and down the ratios.

Mini say the Countryman is the biggest and most versatile car in the brand’s history.

It’s certainly big and it feels like a proper SUV now, with good space and some practical touches. It also feels like a premium product, reflecting the relatively steep pricing, and with plenty of personalisation options is likely to fulfill the manufacturer’s stated aim of keeping people within the Mini family as their vehicle needs change.

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