MINI Countryman review
Part people carrier, part off-roader, the MINI Countryman offers chunky styling and strong residuals
The MINI Countryman was a landmark product for the brand when it was launched in 2010. And to this day, it’s the only MINI that has enough space to seat four adults in comfort and the only model that offers a big, family-friendly boot. The raised ride height and supple suspension means it’s comfortable on uneven roads (as long as you opt for relatively small alloy wheels), while the high driving position ensures a great view of the road ahead. The optional ALL4 four-wheel-drive system offers limited off-road ability, but it’s the two-wheel-drive diesel versions that deliver the best blend of fuel economy and performance. A facelift towards the end of 2012 brought a new centre console layout, new surrounds for the speedo and air vents, new paint colours and changes to the equipment packs, with the aim of making customisation as easy as possible. But most obviously, it saw the window switches being moved from the centre console to the doors for the first time. The John Cooper Works performance version is powered by a 215bhp turbocharged petrol engine and is fitted with 4x4 as standard – but it comes at a hefty price.
Our choice: Cooper D Countryman
There's no doubt that the MINI Countryman is a big car compared to the standard MINI Hatch, and the controversial styling won’t be to everyone’s taste. But consistently strong sales have shown that the decision to supersize the MINI has paid off. Big alloy wheels, a high ride height and under body protection give it a tough exterior look, while the sweeping lines help disguise its bulk. The interior design will be familiar to any MINI owner, with an oversized central speedo, pod-like rev counter and rocker switches for the lights, while a facelift moved the windows switches to the doors (they used to be blocked by the gearknob). Be aware, though, that the cabin can look sparse and drab unless you tick a few boxes on the options list. Specs are dependent on the engine you go for, but even basic kit such as front foglights is optional on most of the range. Equipment bundles, such as the very popular Chili pack, add creature comforts like Xenons, automatic air-con and bigger alloys, but jack up the price by almost £2,500.
MINI’s engineers worked especially hard to ensure the Countryman feels just as lively, agile and engaging as the standard MINI on winding roads. Although its big car dimensions mean it’s no match for its baby brother's road holding, it’s still a very easy car to drive around town. There are three petrol and three diesel engines to choose from, but no matter which one you go for, there’s no doubt the Countryman is fun to drive. The high-performance Cooper S version is powered by an 184bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and, with a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds, it's a capable hot hatch. An even more powerful Countryman JCW arrived in 2012. It uses the same engine as the Cooper S model, but it has been tuned to produce 215bhp – that’s 4bhp more than the JCW Hatch – and does 0-62mph in seven seconds flat. MINI’s ALL4 system – which works by splitting power evenly between the axles most of the time, but can shift up to 100 per cent to the rear - is standard on JCW models, and is available as an option on the Cooper S, Cooper SD, and Cooper D Countryman. All cars bar the One D can be ordered with a six-speed automatic gearbox in place of the standard six-speed manual.
The MINI Countryman scored a full five stars in its 2010 Euro NCAP safety test. However, adult protection was rated at just 84 per cent, which is relatively low compared to newer rivals. The Nissan Juke, for example, scored 87 per cent. MINI has a good reputation for reliability, although it finished a disappointing 21st out of 30 in the 2012 Driver Power survey. The car is built at a specialist factory in Austria that focuses on SUVs and 4x4s, meaning build quality should be first rate.
When it was first launched, there were those who questioned just how useful a large MINI could be. However, the Countryman's focus on versatility means it's more than up to the job of transporting a family. Both four and five seat interior options are available. The sliding rear bench and comfortable seats give it an edge over the similarly sized Vauxhall Mokka, while the 350-litre boot is big enough for most family outings. The good news is that this really is a car you could cover long distances in. Not only are the seats spacious and supportive, but they’re comfortable, too. And because the car sits higher from the ground than a standard hatchback, you can see more of the road ahead, which allows you to plan your every move. However, there aren't many cubby holes dotted around the cabin and the door pockets are too thin for big items.
The smaller 1.6-litre diesel engine is the most efficient, with average fuel consumption of 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km, which means it free from road tax for the first year of ownership. Although these are the official figures, the smooth stop-start system and well-spaced gear ratios should mean it returns good economy in everyday driving, too. The larger Cooper SD model will return 61.4mpg and emit 122g/km, but even the Cooper S can manage 39.8mpg and 166g/km. However, be aware that opting for MINI’s ALL4 4x4 system or the automatic gearbox will have a dramatic impact on these figures. The JCW model manages to return 39.2mpg and 167g/km of CO2 (or 35.2mpg and 187g/km if you opt for the auto). The Countryman retains its value extremely well, making the higher list price easier to bear, while MINI’s ‘tlc’ servicing pack cover the first five years (or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first) of ownership for just £249. No other manufacturer offers such a competitive deal in the UK.