MINI Countryman review
The MINI Countryman is a quirky-looking, fun-to-drive SUV that has proved to be a hit with UK buyers
The MINI Countryman keeps the appealing looks of the MINI hatch but combines them with five-door SUV styling, meaning it’s a rival to the likes of Nissan’s Juke crossover.
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 tall suspension and optional ALL4 four-wheel drive system means the Countryman can also be taken off-road. However, it’s not as good as the Mazda CX-5 in that way.
The Countryman is not a car for everyone, especially as better-equipped, more powerful models will easily command prices well in excess of £20,000. Successful sales in the UK prove, however, that MINI’s take on the compact crossover formula is a perfect fit for some people.
The MINI Countryman arrived in 2010 and was the third distinct derivative to be spun off from the basic three-door MINI hatch, after the Convertible and Clubman estate models. It used the Countryman name from the original Mini’s past, where it was usually added to estate variants, but this time the Countryman was the crossover-SUV variant of the MINI. To that end, some versions of Countryman can be had with ALL4 all-wheel drive.
Despite a facelift in 2013, MINI again tweaked the Countryman (and the equivalent Paceman) for 2014 and added two new exterior colours, lighter alloy wheels and a more efficient range of engines.
There is just one body style for the Countryman, which is a five-door, high-riding estate shape. This makes it a more spacious car than the hatchback models of the MINI, although the arrival of the five-door hatch in 2014 and the new Clubman has widened the options for MINI fans looking for practicality.
Originally, the car was a strict four-seater, as a centre console rail ran the length of the cabin. However, following the 2014 facelift, the Countryman now comes with five seats as standard, the console rail (and four-seat layout) being an option.
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The MINI Countryman is available with seven engines, each with its own trim level – One and One D, Cooper and Cooper D, Cooper S and Cooper SD, and the punchy John Cooper Works (JCW) flagship. ALL4 four-wheel-drive is available as an option on the all the Cooper-badged cars and as standard on the JCW, leading to an 11-model line-up. Additionally, for a price premium, all versions bar the One D can be had with a six-speed automatic gearbox, with a six-speed manual being standard fit.
While the 187bhp Cooper S is a reasonably quick car, the JCW stands above the range as a pseudo-Volkswagen Golf GTI rival. It produces 215bhp driving through all four wheels, but this power comes at a price – it’s almost £29,000, which is nearly £12,000 more than the basic One model. There are also some special editions of the Countryman, such as the Park Lane offerings.
The engine line-up is familiar, made up of small capacity BMW units, with an entirely four-cylinder range. As yet, the 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine seen in other MINI products has not made its way into the Countryman. Petrol and diesel 1.6-litre engines make up the vast majority of the range, with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel found in the Cooper SD.
The Countryman sits very near the top of MINI’s tree, being a more expensive model than any other version bar its Paceman sibling, which is a three-door coupe alternative with striking styling. As a result, the Countryman has a broad range of rivals to fend off, including the Nissan crossovers – Juke and Qashqai – Skoda’s fantastic Yeti and, at the top end of its price range, vehicles like the Volkswagen Tiguan. The nearest rival that aims to blend the MINI’s chic style with off-road capability and tough looks is the Fiat 500X.
Engines, performance and drive
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 187bhp and can go from 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds. The quickest car in the Countryman range, the JCW, uses the same engine as the Cooper S, but with power upped to 215bhp.
The ALL4 four-wheel-drive system is available as an option on Cooper, Cooper S, Cooper D and Cooper SD models. It splits power between the axles most of the time, favouring the front axle in normal driving, but it can shift up to 100 per cent of drive to the rear. The system comes as standard on the JCW.
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The six-speed manual is a fine gearbox to use but there’s an option of a six-speed automatic on all variants except for the One D. It adds anything between £1,085 and £1,265 to the list price of the Countryman (depending on the model) and has a punitive effect on economy and emissions, so we’d advocate sticking with the manual cars.
All the petrol models use 1.6-litre, four-cylinder units, either normally aspirated (One and Cooper) or turbocharged (Cooper S and JCW). The One develops 97bhp at 6,000rpm and 153Nm at 3,000rpm, leading to leisurely performance of 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds and a top speed of 109mph. It’s better to go for the meatier Cooper, making 120bhp at 6,000rpm and 160Nm at 4,250rpm, cutting a second-and-a-half from the One’s 0-62mph time and raising the maximum to 119mph.
However, as the Countryman is a relatively heavy machine with uncompromising aerodynamics, the turbo engines enliven the driving experience no end. The Cooper S has 187bhp at 5,500 to 6,500rpm and 240Nm from 1,600 to 5,000rpm, leading to a 7.5-second 0-62mph time and 135mph top speed, but it’s the JCW that performance fans will crave. With the same 1.6-litre engine breathed upon to deliver 215bhp at 6,100rpm and 280Nm from 1,900 to 5,000rpm, it sprints to 62mph from rest in just 6.9 seconds and goes on to 142mph.
The turbocharged ‘Prince’ petrol in the faster Countryman models is a fine motor, more refined and pleasant to drive than the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre in the One and Cooper cars. Additionally, both power options can deliver 20Nm more torque than the quoted peaks in a time-limited overboost phase – the Cooper S knocking out 260Nm from 1,700 to 4,500rpm and the JCW reaching 300Nm from 2,100 to 4,500rpm.
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The 1.6-litre diesel is a great choice. It produces either 89- or 110bhp, and combines decent performance with reasonable running costs. The One D delivers 215Nm from 1,750 to 2,500rpm, which is much more relevant to everyday driving performance than its 89bhp at 4,000rpm maximum power. It remains the slowest MINI Countryman of all, however - 0-62mph takes 12.9 seconds and top speed is just 106mph.
Our pick is the Cooper D, with 110bhp at 4,000rpm and 270Nm from 1,750 to 2,250rpm. That leads to a 116mph maximum and passable 10.9-second 0-62mph time. If you want the most powerful Countryman diesel, though, there’s a 2.0-litre engine in the Cooper SD, which produces 141bhp and an unsurpassed (for the range) 305Nm from 1,750 to 2,700rpm. It’s still a fair bit slower than the Cooper S, 0-62mph taking 9.2 seconds and top speed pegged to 124mph, but the midrange grunt is most welcome on motorways.
On every model where it’s an option, the added weight of ALL4 (+70kg) reduces a model’s top speed and blunts acceleration considerably – the biggest variation here being on the Cooper petrol, where all-wheel drive adds more than a second to the benchmark sprint, the car taking 11.5 seconds to reach 62mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Out of all the possible variants in the MINI Countryman range, the 110bhp two-wheel drive Cooper D is the joint most economical choice alongside the cheaper, 97bhp One D. 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 petrol versions aren’t bad, though, with even the 187bhp Cooper S models producing respectable efficiency figures. It can return 47.1mpg, plus 139g/km of CO2. However, it’s worth noting here the impact of both ALL4 (adding around £1,200 to the car’s cost) and the automatic gearbox.
Taking the transmission first, on our preferred front-wheel drive Cooper D, it makes an enormous difference to the car’s environmental credentials. Emissions jump an alarming 37g/km to 148g/km in total – enough to shunt the Countryman up a number of road tax bands.
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ALL4 is not so bad, moving the Cooper D, Cooper S and Cooper SD models up by one band for VED road tax and adding a few percentage points to the BIK. It makes the biggest difference on the petrol Cooper, CO2 going from 137- to 156g/km.
Even larger wheels and tyres model-for-model have an impact on running costs. Both the One D and Cooper D go from 67.3mpg and 111g/km to 64.2mpg and 116g/km, while at the other end of the range the JCW returns 39.8mpg and 165g/km in unadorned format, drifting to 38.7mpg and 169g/km CO2 with upgraded alloys.
Insurance groups run from a lowly 12 for the One models, up to 28 for the JCW in the regular range – although the Cooper S ALL4 Park Lane is in group 30. BIK tax for company car users runs from 19 per cent on the One D and Cooper D manual front-wheel drive cars, up to 29 per cent on a JCW automatic.
The high list price of the MINI Countryman means it’s not the best value crossover (try the Dacia Duster if you’re looking for an affordable SUV), but residual values will be strong. MINI’s ‘TLC’ inclusive servicing pack will add appeal for a second-time buyer too.
Interior, design and technology
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 large 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 seen, limited to a small tweak of the grille and a further set of optional styling updates like LED fog lights and black surrounds for the lights.
Step inside, and the Countryman’s interior is very similar to the regular MINI hatch's or any other car in the BMW-owned manufacturer’s line-up. It’s a cheerful, slightly quirky 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 gear knob. Meanwhile, the 2014 interior updates included dark grey dials on all models and some subtle bits of chrome on the air vent nozzles. You’d struggle to notice the difference.
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All MINI Countryman models are quite well specified, with air conditioning, an engine start-stop button and rear parking sensors among standard kit. Buyers can also opt for the numerous add-on packs, but it’s worth being aware that these can become very expensive very quickly. And the options list for the car is extremely lengthy.
Finally, there is a special edition called the Park Lane. Featuring Earl Grey metallic paint with an Oak Red roof, mirror caps and (optional) sports stripes, the Park Lane cars also get 18-inch, dark grey alloys and the choice of no-cost Chrome Line exterior finish.
Further styling upgrades are available inside, with eight Park Lane cars available – this sub-range starts with the Countryman Cooper Park Lane at just over £22,000 and culminates in the Cooper SD ALL4 at nearly £27,000. Cooper S/SD Park Lane variants also come with fabric/leather sports seats, a sports steering wheel and climate control.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
DAB radio and Bluetooth with a USB connection/MP3 compatibility are standard range-wide on the Countryman. MINI navigation is at least £1,015 as a single upgrade – although it is part of a few technology bundles that add other goodies to the kit list too.
You might want to go for the recently introduced MINI Countryman Cooper D ALL4 Business model here, as it is the only Countryman to get sat-nav as standard.
The sole sound system upgrade range-wide is a Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system, which is a £740 addition to any Countryman.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Given its larger dimensions and increased height, the MINI Countryman is much more practical than the MINI hatchback. 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. Also, it’s not a great tow-car – despite its size, some powerful diesel engines and the option of ALL4. The maximum braked trailer weight it can haul is 1,200kg; the front-wheel drive Cooper D manages just 800kg.
Despite the fact that many people will make disparaging remarks about the bulky appearance of the Countryman and the fact it is hardly ‘mini’, by no means is this a giant car. It’s a little over four metres long, which isn’t huge, and even including the wing mirrors it’s less than two metres wide.
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Some models do approach 1,500kg but many are around the 1,300-1,400kg mark, meaning the Countryman isn’t woefully hefty to drive. It’s actually quite easy to steer and is fine for urban driving, which is probably where the vast majority of these MINI crossover SUVs will spend their time.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
MINI makes the Countryman available with either four or five seats, and four adults won’t have a problem getting in and out. The sliding rear bench is also advantageous.
With the seats up, the boot has a 350-litre capacity and when they’re folded, this increases to 1,170 litres. That makes it the most capacious MINI and is a good reason to go for the Countryman.
Reliability and Safety
In the EuroNCAP 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. Unfortunately, the actual Countryman itself didn’t fare so well in the 2015 Driver Power Survey. Both it and the MkII hatchback it is based upon languished in the lower half of the overall results table, coming home in 113th and 145th places respectively. The Countryman turned in a middling set of figures across all disciplines, save for ride quality – where it ranked a poor 175th out of 200 cars.
Some brighter news for MINI fans is that the MkIII hatchback was a brilliant 9th overall, so maybe some of its magic will rub off onto the next generation Countryman.
The standard offering is three years/60,000 miles, with extended cover – available in three tiers, branded Comprehensive, Named Component or Driveline – on offer when the original cover expires. Each of these extensions requires an individual quote to be generated, according to the specific car looking to be covered.
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MINI’s TLC all-inclusive servicing package covers the first five years/50,000 miles for £349, which is a good deal and gives plenty of peace of mind. Covered in that are an engine oil change (including oil filter), a vehicle check, replacement air filter, replacement fuel filter (on diesel models), a replacement micro filter and – on petrol models – replacement spark plugs.
For another £275, you can extend that with MINI TLC XL, meaning you are covered for servicing for eight years and 80,000 miles in total for £624 – which is an excellent package for owners to specify if they’re planning on keeping the car for a while.