Review: Mini Countryman

My time with the new Mini Countryman last week had a number of fascinating aspects, writes Brian Byrne, not least the price of the review car — but I'll come to that later.

It was the first opportunity I'd had to spend a significant amount of road-time with the car, and it all fairly changed my perception of the direction of the model. And it has changed direction, certainly in size. This is now a car upshifted into the compact family space, the first time that the brand has been there.

So, while all the current supermini Mini styling cues are in place, this 4.3m car is directly targeting a number of small and compact crossovers — it's a bit bigger than Fiat's 500X, for example, and not much smaller than Kia's new Niro. The closest to it in size are Suzuki's S-Cross and Honda's HR-V.

Being a Mini, albeit the biggest Mini ever, it has to have a certain element of looking cute. Though the modern Countryman, first launched in 2010, could never be as cute as its hatchback sibling. There's much more bulk in the style, almost steroidal when compared to the hatch. But it grows on one, especially with the very strong details as were included in the review Cooper SD All4.

There's lots of chrome around the grille, lights, and rear, and the standard satin-finished roof rails also add to the overall premium feel. Which, of course, the modern Mini is, being a BMW-built brand, with all that entails.

Inside too, the feel and sense is all Mini heritage, though brought very much up to today. As with the latest generation of the hatch which preceded it, the iconic round centre element is no longer a speedometer, but a space for touchscreen management of various functions of entertainment, navigation, safety and comfort. A proper speedo through the steering wheel, with the usual revs and fuel indicators, have the primary instruments where they should be. I should comment that the rear-view camera delivers a very high resolution picture.

There's a very high quality and interesting design to the dashboard and the door trims, and the toggle switches guarded by hoops are typical Mini. Lots of chrome detailing here too.

The review car was automatic and there was also a selectable driving dynamics setting between Eco, Comfort and Sport, which do the usual things to steering wheel and accelerator pedal response. There were full leather sports seats, which proved very supportive and comfortable, and a multifunction steering wheel which was a very pleasant heft indeed.

The big interior change is the space in the rear, and even with myself in the driving street, there's now proper room for rear passengers. The back seat can also be moved to either have more leg room or cargo room, whichever is needed. The boot capacity at 450L is very close to class-leading. On that, the review car had a very neat 'seat' which flips out and covers the rear bumper, while one picnics or changes shoes after a hill-walk. The rear hatch was powered, just touching buttons to open or close.

There's lots of badging to indicate the version of Countryman you're in, with the 'John Cooper Works' on the door sill noting that this is an upmarket variant. With upscaled performance, the SD having a 190hp 2.0 diesel that offered very speedy acceleration. Quite satisfying and fun to drive, though I noted that the diesel is a little on the noisy side.

The overall drive, though, is right there to any BMW standard, and despite the pumped-up styling and larger size, there's true fast Mini performance and handling here.

And so to price. The Mini Cooper Countryman (they all have Cooper designations) starts at €33,580, with a 136hp 1.5 3-cylinder petrol engine. Moving through the variants swiftly to the SD All4 grade with, clearly, AWD, the price runs up to €44,270. At that, there's plenty of spec, including that automatic trans, a DAB radio system, and lots more. But the review car had no less than €12,535 worth of extras on board, including the leather at €1,500; the JCW Chili Pack for €6,939 that added in such as special alloys, seat heating, auto aircon; along with the €1,456 Media Pack for the satnav and Mini Connected.

All that puts the review car more expensive than a BMW 430d, and a wild buy for whoever gets the demo from the Mini dealer who wins it at the in-house auction. I'd say start back at the entry car, and you'll probably still have something that’s relevant and competitive against most competitors.

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