MINI Countryman review
Part people carrier, part off-roader, the MINI Countryman offers chunky styling and strong residuals
The MINI Countryman is the largest and most practical car that MINI produces. It has enough space to seat four adults and plenty of boot space too, yet it still manages to keep that distinctive MINI styling inside and out.
Unless you choose to buy your MINI Countryman with large alloy wheels, the ride is smooth and comfortable on uneven roads thanks to supple suspension and the higher ride height. Plus, the high driving position means visibility is good. The jacked-up suspension and optional ALL4 four-wheel-drive system means it's possible to take the Countryman off-road but it's not as good as the Mazda CX-5 in this area.
The latest model gets a new centre console layout, surrounds for the speedo and air vents, extra paint colours and various trim and option changes to add to the personalisation options - a big draw of the MINI range is the amount of customisation it offers to new buyers.
The Countryman is available in three standard trim levels: One, Cooper and Cooper S, with the racy John Cooper Works performance version available for those needing extra power and grip. It's powered by a turbocharged petrol engine with 215bhp and gets ALL4 4x4 as standard. It's very pricey compared to the alternatives though.
Our choice: Cooper D Countryman
The MINI Countryman's looks may not be to everyone’s taste. It's much larger than the MINI hatchback and features some chunky design features. Strong sales suggest the styling isn't as controversial as many initially thought, however. The rugged exterior look adds to the appeal, with big wheel arches and bigger alloy wheels, while the sweeping lines help disguise the car's bulk.
The interior is very similar to that in the MINI hatch, or any other model in the MINI range. The oversized central speedo, pod-like rev counter and rocker switches for the lights are all present and correct. The current model has the switches for the electric windows on the doors - they used to be blocked by the gearknob in the middle.
You'll need to add some extra options to spruce up the interior, though, as it's pretty drab in the base model. Equipment bundles like the very popular Chili pack add the key accessories such as Xenons, automatic air-conditioning and bigger wheels, but make sure you watch the price - it can creep up substantially with these extras.
The MINI hatch is lively and engaging through the corners and it's clear that MINI's engineers have worked hard to give the same feeling from the Countryman. The big dimensions and high ride height mean it won't match its smaller brother for road-holding, it's still fun to drive and is good in town.
All of the engines are good performers, whether you go for one of the three petrols or three diesels. The nippy Cooper S version gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 184bhp and can go from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds. The 1.6-litre diesel is a great choice, however, as it has decent performance combined with lower running costs.
The most extreme version of the car is the MINI Countryman JCW, which uses the same engine as the Cooper S model tuned to produce 215bhp. This hot model does 0-62mph in seven seconds flat.
The ALL4 4x4 system that's available on the Countryman works by splitting power evenly between the axles most of the time but it can shift up to 100 per cent to the rear. It comes as 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 the full five stars when it was subjected to crash safety tests by Euro NCAP, but it was only rated at 84 per cent for adult protection - that's below par for this class, thanks to several newer rivals like the Nissan Juke.
MINI is owned by BMW, which has a decent reputation for reliability but MINI itself only managed a 28th place finish out of the top 32 manufacturers in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The fit and finish is of a high standard, and the mechanical components are all tried and tested in other models so it should prove reliable - but a 125th place finish in the top 150 cars is disappointing.
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.
The MINI Countryman is much bigger than the MINI hatch, so it adds a whole lot of practicality to the formula. Some have questioned how useful or popular a big MINI would be, but the Countryman has proved that increased practicality is a big plus point for buyers.
It's available with either four or five seats, and in both versions four adults will fit in without too much trouble. The sliding rear bench and comfortable seats give it an edge over the similarly sized Vauxhall Mokka in this area, too. The 350-litre boot is a decent size and expands to 1,170 litres with the rear seats down.
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.
Don't expect incredible fuel economy from a big car like this, but the most efficient engine in the range is the 1.6-litre diesel. It returns 64.2mpg and emits 115g/km of CO2 so it's cheap to tax as well as being frugal on fuel thanks to the stop-start system.
Go for the more powerful Cooper SD model and you'll see 61.4mpg and emissions of 122g/km. The petrol Cooper S isn't too bad either, returning 39.8mpg and 166g/km. However, be aware that opting for MINI’s ALL4 4x4 system or the automatic gearbox will have a dramatic negative impact on efficiency. The top-spec JCW model gets 39.2mpg and emits 167g/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 just £249, which is a good deal and gives plenty of peace of mind.