ALL-NEW MINI COUNTRYMAN: BIGGER, BETTER, BOLDER
It may not look new, but Mini has made some big changes to the Countryman. We sent Andrew Evans to investigate...
WHAT’S NEW? Despite looking similar to its predecessor, the 2017 Mini Countryman is an all-new vehicle. It’s based on the BMW ‘UKL’ platform underpinning the BMW X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer, which Mini already uses on its newest-generation Clubman estate.
This does mean that the Countryman is dramatically larger than its predecessor, packing in an extra 20cm of length – 7.5cm of it between the wheels – and 3cm of width. It’s a significant increase, because it moves the Countryman up into the C-segment, which is the broadest and most competitive market sector in the UK.
LOOKS AND IMAGE There are very few badges with as long a history and as broad an appeal as Mini, and if there’s one brand that attracts people from all walks of life evenly, this is it.
A significant part of that appeal is the way the cars drive – which Mini somewhat chintzily refers to as ‘maximum go-kart feel’ – and despite the fact the Countryman is the largest Mini ever, it seems to translate pretty well to the big crossover. The chunky steering wheel offers a precise and well-controlled action and the size of the car means that some of the fidgety nature of the smaller hatches is removed.
On the Cooper S model we tested, the interior was a pretty high-quality environment, with backlit surfaces, leather upholstery and suede on the door panels. Mini is aiming for a luxury feel to what is ultimately its flagship vehicle.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY The extra length in the wheelbase liberates a huge amount of interior room and, as such, the Countryman is now no less practical than any other C-segment vehicle, whether hatchback or crossover, making it an ideal family car.
Wherever you look, there’s more space, with significantly more legroom in the rear and more than 100 litres of additional load space in the boot too, which can be improved further by sliding the rear seats forwards. Any middle-seat passengers in the rear will be grateful for the car’s extra width too. The rear doors in particular are much larger for easier access and a hands-free boot opening operation is available.
BEHIND THE WHEEL Our test car was equipped with the 192bhp, 2.0-litre petrol engine. Fitted with the eight-speed Steptronic
automatic and All4 four-wheel drive, this propels the Countryman to 60mph in seven seconds, although it doesn’t feel anywhere near as quick as that even with the vehicle set to sport mode. On paper, Mini cites a 44.1mpg fuel economy figure, but even in mixed use and with Green mode selected as often as possible, we didn’t see much over 30mpg.
The car can also be specified with a lower output 1.5-litre, which with 136bhp sacrifices 2-2.5 seconds for the 60mph sprint depending on gearbox options, for around a 10% gain in fuel economy. A pair of 2.0-litre diesel engines is available, with 150bhp and 190bhp, the latter of which rivals the Cooper S for pace, but has up to 61.4mpg on paper. A hot Cooper JCW model is to follow, with a plug-in hybrid Cooper S E coming later in 2017.
The Countryman proves a good steer on country roads, whatever the drive mode selected. While undeniably a much larger car than before, it doesn’t feel like a particularly big vehicle when you get it on enjoyable roads.
The steering is well weighted and reasonably communicative, and without the fidgeting of the smaller models, it’s not as tiring to drive either. It’s also pretty solid on the motorway, although there is a fair amount of road noise at higher speeds. With park distance control as standard on all Countryman models, it’s an easy vehicle to manoeuvre too.
VALUE FOR MONEY The starting price for the Countryman is a reasonable £22,465. However, the automatic gearbox and the All4 four-wheel-drive systems are options that will both set you back around £1,600 and soon start to make the Countryman look a little pricey – to say nothing of the other optional extras.
In this Cooper S trim too, it’s not an inexpensive car to run – 44mpg on paper isn’t terrific and real-world economy will likely be lower still. Nevertheless, if you stick to a more frugal model, it should prove decent value for money. All cars come with Mini Connected infotainment, satellite navigation as well as Mini Visual Boost Radio with a 6.5-inch colour display and Bluetooth connectivity.
WHO WOULD BUY ONE? The Countryman is very much a car for someone who’s sold on the whole idea of Minis, but needs the space for all the trappings of modern family life.
Mini’s Countryman is bigger than before and that puts it into some hard-fought territory, but it’s a talented car that has enough appeal to pull it off. It’s enough fun to drive to deserve being part of the Mini range, but adds some more genuine family-friendly abilities than its predecessor thanks to the new, larger platform.