- Last updated 11 March 2020
- 7 minute read
- By Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
There will come a time – if that time hasn’t come already – when you require something a little larger than a Mini Hatch. Whether it’s an active lifestyle or the demands of raising a family, you’re going to want something with a little more practicality. Which is where the Mini Countryman comes in.
If you’re reading this review, there’s a good chance you’ve bought into the Mini brand. Maybe you’ve already spent time enjoying the – cliche alert – ‘go-kart’ handling of the Mini Hatchback and you want to remain in the Mini family. Or perhaps the Countryman will be your first taste of Mini adventure.
As a bigger Mini, with chunkier bodywork and a raised driving position, the Countryman is the closest thing Mini offers to an SUV, giving it more space inside and more presence on the road. All while retaining the unique style and vast range of personalisation options the Mini brand has become famous for.
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It's even available with four-wheel drive, which means you can take the Mini adventure further afield – or even across a field, if the mood takes you. Please ask the farmer’s permission and remember to close the gate.
The cheaper and more fuel efficient front-wheel drive models will probably still be enough for most buyers, though.
Looks, tech and design
This is actually the second generation of Mini Countryman, and compared with the previous model this latest version has a bit more of its own identity. The old Countryman looked rather too much like a Mini Hatchback crossed with puffer fish - which is to say, rather bloated.
Now, while it's still clear that it's part of the Mini family from the outside, things are all much more chiselled and athletic. I wish it didn't have quite so much of a scowl on, but this is a handsome car, none-the-less.
The inside will be familiar to anyone who has already sat in a Mini - and most buyers will tell you this is no bad thing. These are stylish cars inside and out, and the interior is particularly distinctive, with its retro toggle switches, dazzling array of materials and large central circular pod in the middle of the dashboard.
This pod plays host to a 6.5-inch display. An optional 8.8-inch display does a better job of filling the space, but is an expensive upgrade at £1,300. Crucially, the level of quality is much improved over the old Countryman - though it’s not perfect. Some of the plastics feel just a notch or two up from a Kinder Egg – the yellow plastic part, not the chocolate – while the emphasis on a stylish appearance means the ergonomics may require some familiarisation time.
As with all Minis, and despite the Countryman's increased size, it can feel a bit cramped inside, and some light find the mixture of shapes and surfaces clash too much for their tastes. If you're looking for a similar sort of car with a more soothing ambience try the cool, calm and collected Volvo XC40 instead.
Standard specification is great, with all versions boasting air-conditioning, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, sat-nav, traffic information, DAB digital radio, rear parking sensors, LED mood lighting and ConnectedDrive services. That's a whole host of really desirable stuff.
But as ever with Mini, there is also a vast amount of personalisation and customisation available via the options list. You really can make this car your very own.
There's a refreshingly simple range of trim levels, Classic, Sport and Exclusive, which can be combined with a number of individually labelled engines - Cooper, Cooper D and Cooper S. The performance John Cooper Works and eco-friendly Plug-in Hybrid are standalone models, though the latter is available in its own choice of trim levels.
The boot offers a useful 450 litres of luggage capacity, although I’d recommend the £800 Activity Pack. It includes rear sliding seats, so you can choose between rear legroom and boot space. Other add-ons as part of this pack are a larger-capacity fuel tank, automatic tailgate, luggage compartment net and picnic bench.
The new Countryman offers more legroom for rear-seat passengers than other Minis, with plenty of space for four adults in the cabin. A fifth adult can squeeze into the middle, but they won’t thank you for taking them on a long journey.
While the Mini Countryman can't quite match the agility and infectious enthusiasm of the Mini Hatch once you're behind the steering wheel, it's still more fun to drive than most of its more boring rivals.
The steering is sharp and direct, if sometimes a little darty, and overall there's a strong sense of composure and security. This is especially true if you opt for the All4 four-wheel-drive system, which adds around £2,000 to the price and helps increase traction on slippery roads and surfaces.
If you like the rest of the package you are going to have to grin and bear the ride quality, though. Even on the modest 16-inch and 17-inch alloys wheels worn by the entry-level Classic model, the Countryman crashes over pockmarked roads, and the car rarely feels settled.
The problem gets worse on 18-inch wheels, while the range-topping John Cooper Works (JCW), with its sports suspension, can become extremely uncomfortable.
On the flipside, the JCW boasts a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine producing a substantial 306hp, along with bags of grip and all-weather traction. It’s not a sports car, but it is fast, and can cope with all kinds of weather without breaking a sweat.
The Cooper S is also uses a 2.0-litre turbo, this time with a reduced but still potent 192hp, while the Cooper gets a a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine and a characterful 136hp. A 150hp 2.0-litre diesel in the Cooper D completes the core range, while the 224hp Countryman Plug-in Hybrid pairs a three-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor to save fuel yet still sprint 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds.
Cost and economy
The Plug-in Hybrid is the eco champion, emitting just 43g/km CO2 and claimed fuel economy figures of over 140mpg. Don't expect to see that in the real world, unless you're able to make maximum use of its ability to drive up to a claimed 28 miles on electric power alone.
The electric capability uses a battery pack that's best charged by plugging it into the mains. And while the fuel economy claim may seem daft, if you have a short commute and access to a charger at work and at home you might go for weeks without starting the petrol engine.
Elsewhere, the Cooper D claimes nearly 57mpg. The Cooper promises up to 42mpg and the Cooper S is hardly any less efficient at its 40mpg max. In all cases, fitting an automatic transmission and/or four-wheel drive will put a significant dent in the official figures and the economy you get on the road.
As for prices, the range starts at around £23,500 for the Mini Countryman Cooper Classic with a manual gearbox. The Cooper Sport and Exclusive models are available from £26,000, not bad value for the extra equipment they include. Four-wheel drive commands a £2,000 premium, with the automatic transmission adding around £1,500.
Be careful with the options, or you'll find you've easily added £5,000 to the screen price without trying - though some upgrades will help the car hold its value better, making monthly prices surprisingly affordable. For instance, leasing deals are available from around £250 a month, which is excellent value for any family SUV, let alone one with such a premium image.
There are, undoubtedly, more sensible family SUVs available. But few of those offer such a breathtaking array of personalisation options, the Countryman is fun to drive, and presents a premium image at a price many people can afford.
With a range that covers everything from a sensible - yet speedy - diesel to high-performance petrols and plug-in hybrid eco-mindedness, not too mention generous standard equipment and a broad sweep of trim levels, there are plenty of excuses to put the Mini Countyrman on your shortlist.
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