At last, we get behind wheel of Brit 4x4 on UK roads. Is it the new king of the crossover class?
It’s far from mini, but the new Countryman is still undoubtedly a MINI – just with an added dose of practicality. The five-door is ideal for young families who are willing to sacrifice comfort for impressive on-road dynamics, and are looking for something sporty and stylish that can carry passengers and their bags with room to spare. The Countryman’s biggest problem is how much it costs. With a raft of cheaper rivals on the scene, its price tag may be a stumbling block for potential buyers who are not committed MINI fans.
The MINI 4x4 has finally hit UK roads. With a raised ride height, four doors and a usable boot, the new Countryman is no ordinary MINI. But can this controversial crossover move the brand up a notch, or is it a step too far?
We got behind the wheel of the range-topping, four-wheel-drive Cooper S ALL4 to find out. The good news is all the things that make the MINI so popular are present in the Countryman, from the quirky interior to the sporty driving experience and bold styling.
Video: watch our review of the Countryman from the launch in Germany
By trying to stay true to the design of the hatchback, the newcomer has ended up looking slightly awkward. It has been stretched and bloated in a way that makes the nose appear rather bulbous, although it’s smarter at the rear.
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Inside, there’s MINI’s trademark chrome toggle switches and huge central speedometer, plus the new Centre Rail which holds cups, sunglasses and phones.
The interior isn’t perfect, though. Some plastics in out-of-the-way places feel a little cheap for a model that starts at £22,030, and the aircraft-inspired handbrake lever takes some getting used to.
So, what about practicality? Our Countryman came in a 2+2 arrangement, which allows rear passengers to slide their seats back and forth to increase legroom or boot capacity as required.
With the seats all the way back, luggage capacity measures 350 litres, but fold the Countryman’s seats flat, and it has a generous 1,170-litre bay.
The sparkling MINI chassis gives the best handling in the class, although this model can’t quite match the agility or driver involvement of the standard hatch. It’s more comfortable, though. While the Countryman does still crash over potholes, it’s far easier to live with. Even so, there are better alternatives for buyers wanting a soft and refined driving experience.
Under our Cooper S’s bonnet is a 1.6-litre turbo engine, which sends 184bhp to all four wheels. The car accelerates hard off the line, sprinting from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds, and offers strong in-gear punch for overtaking.
But thanks to the firm’s MINIMALISM eco technology, the ALL4 model returns 42.2mpg combined fuel economy and emits 157g/km of CO2.
All this comes at a price, with our car costing a hefty £28,420. That does include the Chili Pack, which adds automatic air-con, bi-xenon headlights and foglamps. Even in standard trim, the Cooper S is £22,030, which is expensive when compared to rivals – the turbocharged 1.6-litre four-wheel-drive Juke starts from £19,595.
This hasn’t deterred loyal MINI fans, though, as the entire allocation of Countrymans for the UK in 2010 has already been sold. So the brand continues to grow!