MINI Countryman review
The MINI Countryman is a quirky looking, fun to drive SUV, which has proved a hit with UK buyers
Despite a facelift in 2013, MINI also tweaked the Countryman (and the equivalent jacked-up Paceman) for 2014 and added two new exterior colours, lighter alloy wheels and a more efficient range of engines.
The MINI Countryman is available in five trim levels: One, Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper D plus the punchy John Cooper flagship, which produces 218bhp and gets 4x4 as standard. However, this power comes at a price - it's almost £30,000, which is around £13,000 more than the basic One model. There is also a 'Matt Black' limited edition Countryman which, unsurprisingly, gets matt black paintwork.
All MINI Countryman models are quite well specced, with air-conditioning, MP3 compatibility, digital radio, Bluetooth and rear parking sensors as standard. Buyers can also opt for the numerous add-on packs, but it's worth being aware that these can become very expensive very quickly.
While the Countryman's looks may be somewhat divisive, it is - unless the buyer decides to spec it with the large 19-inch alloy wheels - a comfortable car. It soaks up bumps on poor road surfaces thanks to its supple suspension and its high driving position means outward visibility is good.
Plus, the Countryman's chunkier looks aren't just for show. It's more practical than the standard MINI hatch thanks to a bigger boot, and there's plenty of space for four adults on the inside. What's more, the jacked-up suspension and optional ALL4 four-wheel-drive system means the Countryman can also be taken off-road. It's worth noting though, that it's not as good as the Mazda CX-5 in this field.
Our choice: Cooper D Countryman
The MINI Countryman's chunky styling has split opinions in the Auto Express office, but it's not an uncommon sight on UK roads. Its big wheel arches, sweeping styling and big alloy wheels give it quite a rugged look so there’s no mistaking a Countryman when you see one.
The 2014 facelift is one of the most subtle we've ever seen, limited to a subtle tweak of the grille and a set of optionally available styling updates like LED foglights and black surrounds for the lights.
Step inside, and the Countryman's interior is very similar to the regular MINI hatch or any other car in the BMW owned manufacturer's line-up. It's a cheerful place to be, thanks to the familiar oversized central speedo, pod-like rev counter and rocker switches for the lights. The 2013 updates saw MINI move the electric window switches to the doors - on pre-2013 cars, they were on the centre console and were blocked by the gearknob. Meanwhile, the 2014 updated interior includes dark grey dials on all models and some subtle bits of chrome on the air vent nozzles.
Behind the wheel of the Countryman, it's evident that MINI has dug deep to try and capture the hatch's sparkling handling. While its extra ride height and bulkier dimensions mean it's not quite as fun to drive as its little brother, it's still enjoyable and is particularly good in town.
None of the engines are bad, so buyers will be happy with their choice. The racy Cooper S produces 184bhp (187bhp in cars after the 2014 facelift) and can go from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds (7.5 for post facelift). The quickest car in the Countryman range, the John Cooper Works, uses the same engine as the Cooper S, but it's been tuned to produce 215bhp, and will reach 0-62mph in seven seconds.
The 1.6-litre diesel is a great choice, though. It produces either 90 or 112bhp, and combines decent performance with reasonable running costs.
The ALL4 four-wheel-drive system is available as an option on Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper D models. It splits power evenly between the axles most of the time but can shift up to 100 per cent to the rear. It does, however, come as standard on John Cooper Works models.
All cars bar the One D can be ordered with a six-speed automatic gearbox in place of the standard six-speed manual.
In the Euro NCAP crash tests, the MINI Countryman scored the maximum full five-star rating, meaning it's a safe car. However, it only scored 84 per cent for adult occupant protection, which is disappointing for a car in this class.
MINI is owned by BMW, which has a great reputation for reliability - it ranked 10th overall in our 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. Unfortunately, MINI ranked 30th and while the Countryman didn't feature, the MINI hatch ranked a disappointing 142nd out of 150 cars. Fit and finish is also impressive.
The Countryman is built at a specialist factory in Austria that focuses on SUVs and 4x4s so MINI's lack of previous SUV experience shouldn't be an issue.
Given its larger dimensions and increased height, the MINI Countryman is much more practical than the hatch.
MINI makes the Countryman available with either four or five seats, and four adults won't have a problem with getting in and out. The sliding rear bench is also advantageous, as is the boot. With the seats up, the boot has a 350-litre capacity and when they're folded, this increases to 1,170 litres.
The seats are comfortable, supportive, and make long journeys easy to handle. The high driving position means visibility is great too, making in town driving easy. The door pockets aren't very big, however, and there aren't enough cubbies around the cabin for a family to put their stuff on a long road trip.
Out of all the possible variants in the MINI Countryman range, the 112bhp two-wheel-drive Cooper D is the most economical choice, and if you go for the updated 2014 cars – which are more aerodynamic than the older Countrymans – you'll get 67.3mpg and 111g/km. The entry level MINI Countryman One can also be specified with a 90 or 98bhp engine.
The 187bhp Cooper S models also produce respectable efficiency figures, and can return 47.1mpg, plus 139g/km of CO2, It's worth noting that MINI's ALL4 four-wheel-drive system will have a massive impact on the Countryman's fuel economy.
On the Cooper S ALL4 with the automatic gearbox, it sees fuel economy drop to a relatively poor 39.8mpg, and CO2 emissions rise to 165g/km. The top-spec Countryman, the 218bhp John Cooper Works, achieves a similarly disappointing 37.7mpg and 175g/km of CO2.
The high list price of the MINI Countryman means it's not the best value (try the Dacia Duster if you're looking for an affordable SUV) but residual values will be strong. MINI’s ‘TLC’ servicing pack covers the first five years/50,000 miles for around £250, which is a good deal and gives plenty of peace of mind.