MINI Countryman driven

We get behind the wheel of the biggest MINI yet! Don't miss our exclusive first drive.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

It's big, but it's still a MINI. Fans and traditionalists should breath a sigh of relief that the new Countryman is a faithful and well constructed member of the fast growing MINI family. It's both versatile and good to drive as well, so should score well with young families who love the brand, but can't live with the basic car. Now all that's needed is a truly mini MINI and the family will be complete!

It’s the new MINI that’s thinking outside the box!

The supersized Countryman has well and truly busted the confines of its name - breaking with 50-years of tradition by adding four proper doors and a useful boot to a small concept that dates back to the 1960s...

Stretching past four-metres in length and offering four-wheel-drive, the big question is this…

Can it keep that essential MINI quality: driving fun?

Out on a test-track near its factory in Graz, Austria (another taboo broken – this is the first new MINI to be built outside the UK), we get behind the wheel for the very first time.

And, phew! It’s still fun. But what’s immediately clear is that the car offers a more grown-up fun.

The incredibly sensitive MINI steering that defines the driving experience of the first three cars feels muted in the Countryman, That’s bad if you want minute steering inputs instantly repeated on the road, but much better if you didn’t like the wheel squirming in your hands under harder acceleration or over bumps.

That said, there’s still enough of the MINI dartiness to stay ahead of more sober rivals like the Nissan Qashqai or even the VW Golf. The engineers have also done well to contain corner roll in a car that sits 10mm higher and,  in ALL4 spec, weighs 170kg more than the standard hatch.

Flooring the top-spec Cooper S four-wheel-drive version, the 184bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine lacked any audible drama, but the thrust is undisputable. The front-wheel-drive S hits 60mph in 7.4 seconds, and this didn’t feel far off (no figs for the ALL4 are available).

And thanks to the Efficient Dynamics tweaks such as start-stop and a an oil-pump that turns off when not needed, consumption on the S is an impressive 44.8mpg, while CO2 of 146g/km means the annual tax bill is a low £125. Best of the lot is the D, returning 116g/km for a £30 hit, but the entry-level £16,000 One petrol is also good at 48mpg and 137g/km (£110).

Climbing UP into a MINI is an enjoyable novelty, but not as much as making the most of all that space inside. Push back the sliding rear seats (either a rear bench split 60/40 or two individual chairs) and the legroom grows.

Or maximise the boot space, which at its minimum 350 litres is more than double that of the hatchback’s.

Up front the dash with its big central speedo is much the same as before, but the centre console buttons are now thankfully of a higher-spec plastic and there’s a rail that runs the full length of the car in the four-seat version to attach a range of optional fixtures from iPhone chargers to even plates!

That’s very MINI, but so too is its exterior, despite its 4.11m length. By swelling dimensions all directions, the proportions stay to trick you into thinking you’re looking at a MINI (unless, as we proved, you park it next to the original!)

The new MINI Countryman goes on sale in September, priced from £16,000 to £20,810. The four-wheel-drive ALL4 option is available on the Cooper S and Cooper D, costing an extra £1,220 and £1,065 respectively.

Rival: Nissan Juke Nissan’s Juke is cut from the same cloth, offering an up-high, urban themed crossover aimed at younger buyers. Coming a month later than the Countryman, it goes for a bolder look, and matches the MINI engine list topped by a 187bhp 1.6 turbo. We’ve yet to drive it, but expect prices to undercut the MINI’s.

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