Look, we know the MINI Countryman isn’t exactly mini. We know this probably isn’t what Alec Issigonis had in mind for the future of his ADO15 economy car ahead of its launch as the original Mini in 1959. Chances are, you might not like the MINI Countryman one bit. But that’s OK because, since its launch in 2010, it’s not shied away from being controversial.
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There are lots of happy MINI Countryman owners out there, however. More than 550,000 have been sold globally, while 79,000 have found homes in the UK. And that popularity is only likely to grow as the Countryman has been revised for 2017. We’ve driven it on UK roads to find out whether it’s OK to hate the new MINI crossover.
The new MINI Countryman is bigger than before – a full 20cm longer than its predecessor and 3cm wider. A 75mm longer wheelbase translates into an extra 5cm of rear legroom and 100 litres of boot space, meaning the Countryman is by far the most practical MINI on sale.
This puts it firmly into the C-segment, making it a rival to the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Fiat 500X and Audi Q3, as well as conventional hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf and BMW 1 Series.
What’s it like inside?
Sit inside the Countryman, and it feels typically MINI. Everything’s chunky – from the huge central infotainment system (now a touchscreen) to the family-friendly door bins and hefty steering wheel. Features like the toggle start switch add a retro touch, while the rectangular air vents give it a more rugged feel, apparently.
The new MINI Countryman certainly feels upmarket – but that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from MINI. It’s got a solid feel, with no cheap-feeling plastics to be found.
It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position in the new Countryman (helped in our test car by the optional electric adjustment), while passengers in the rear will appreciate the large windows, airy feel and generous legroom. New for the 2017 model is an optional electric tailgate, while a picnic bench can be specified to sit on the bootlid and provide seating for two people. Hashtag: lifestyle.
Tell me about the engines
The new Countryman comes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines from BMW’s TwinPower Turbo range, similar to the line-up already found in the hatch and Clubman models. The entry-level Cooper is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol producing 136hp and hitting 62mph in 9.6 seconds, while the 2.0-litre diesel powered Cooper D takes 8.9 seconds to reach 62mph.
Sportier models include the 2.0-litre Cooper S (tested here) and a range-topping John Cooper Works. This produces 231hp and hits 62mph in an impressive 6.5 seconds.
For the first time in MINI’s history, a plug-in hybrid model is set to go on sale later in 2017. An 88hp electric motor powers the rear wheels of the Countryman Cooper S E, while a three-cylinder petrol engine sends drive to the fronts through a six-speed Steptronic gearbox. The result is 49g/km CO2 emissions and combined fuel consumption of 135mpg.
How does the Countryman drive?
We tested the hot Cooper S model in four-wheel-drive All4 guise. This produces 192hp and hits 62mph in 7.2 seconds when combined with BMW’s eight-speed Steptronic auto ’box. It doesn’t feel quite as quick as you may expect, but with Sport mode selected it certainly sounds the part, while the steering weights up – albeit rather artificially.
If you’re not in a Cooper S kind of mood, you can flick between Mid or Green modes. We actually like the standard mode best – certainly with the adaptive dampers fitted to our test car. It’s less jittery than when in Sport, and – while the steering still isn’t overly communicative – at least it doesn’t make you flex your muscles just to round corners.
The Green mode works well, too, toning down the throttle response and making the steering even lighter. It makes choosing the costly Cooper S seem a bit daft, but we find the Countryman to be at it’s best when you’re pottering around town or meandering cross-country with little urgency.
Should I buy a 4×4 Countryman?
All engines are available with a MINI’s All4 four-wheel-drive system. This works with the car’s stability control system to transfer power between the front and rear axles, depending on the conditions. Under normal load, 100% of the power will be directed to the front for maximum efficiency. During cornering, it’ll be sent to the rear to counter understeer, while up to 100% could be directed to the rear axle when required in wet or slippery conditions.
The MINI Countryman is the kind of car you’ll choose for transporting your family, so it’s important to consider how safe it is. Although the new model hasn’t been tested, its predecessor scored a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, while the more recent MINI hatch and Clubman were both awarded four stars.
Standard safety kit on the Countryman includes a host of airbags and a collision warning system with a city braking function to prevent minor bumps. Optional equipment ranges from a pedestrian warning system to active cruise control.
Which options should I choose?
MINI has made the new Countryman better equipped as standard – a move that follows three quarters of customers selecting the Pepper, Chili or Sport options packs for the outgoing car. Now, many former Pepper pack features are fitted as standard – including 16-inch alloys on Cooper models, as well as parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity.
If you pick just one option we’d go for the £950 Media pack, which includes the XL navigation system, MINI Connected XL and the clever MINI Find Mate. This allows you to fix tags with wireless tracking functions to important objects you may lose – such as keys and rucksacks – and trace them on your phone or on your MINI’s on-board computer.
MINI dealers are taking orders for the new Countryman now, with the entry-level Cooper starting at £22,465. The Cooper D starts at £24,425, while the Cooper S costs £24,710 and the SD £27,965. The range-topping John Cooper Works will set you back £29,565. Deliveries will start in February 2017.
What’s the verdict?
Are you allowed to hate the new Countryman? Hmm. Not really. Whisper it, but the new MINI Countryman is actually pretty good. The interior is more upmarket than ever before, and you get more for your money now. The downside of its increased bulk is it’s not quite the sharp handler you might expect a MINI to be. Even so, keen drivers will find it more satisfying than a Nissan Qashqai.
If you’ve got a family but want to cling onto your street cred, the MINI Countryman remains an excellent choice. Just don’t expect everyone to appreciate it.