Enlarging the Mini

The new Mini Countryman might have ‘Mini’ emblazoned front and back, but there’s nothing small about it. The second generation of Mini’s chunkier compact crossover is larger and wider than its predecessor, though it’s a little sharper and leaner on the outside.

Looks might be subjective, but I think it’s fair to say the new Countryman isn’t good-looking in the traditional sense. Like all Minis since 2000, the Countryman has a bulbous air about it, like someone who’s overindulged a little too much at dinner. Having said that it’s got a nice stance on the road, and if you’re opting for a colour beyond the usual black or red, Island Blue with the go-faster Cooper stripes lends a great degree of attractiveness.

Things get better once you step inside. Considering the starting price tag of €40,802 you’d expect something with a premium feel, and Mini delivers. Gone is the slightly awkward large circular speedo, replaced by a more traditional instrument cluster. The quality of the materials (bar the plasticky door bins) is top notch, the sports seats are quite comfortable (and wouldn’t look out of place in a modern home), and the driving position is nice and high. The steering wheel is chunky but comfortable and quite minimalist, and the controls are relatively uncluttered, if a little scattered throughout the central console.

The media centre features a 6.5-inch colour display controlled by a rotary dial that’s more awkward to use when compared to touchscreen alternatives. Standard technology includes a simple and intuitive sat nav system, tyre pressure monitoring, rear parking sensors, cruise control and city braking, and the Countryman recently scored five stars in the Euro NCAP test. A reversing camera would come in handy on the standard list – the rear window is relatively small, and the chunky B pillar on the driver’s side hinders the view over your shoulder to some extent.

This new version scores high for practicality, a great option for families who need space to stretch out. Given the extended wheelbase there’s even more leg and headroom front and back, aided by the optional panoramic sunroof (€1,284). It’s really just a four-seater, but there’s room for two adults second row, with two ISOFIX anchor points in the back.

The boot is decent at 450L, stretching to 1,350L with the back seats laying flat, though perhaps aided by the lack of a spare wheel – the Countryman employs run-flat tyres, which could prove expensive when you go to replace them. There’s also two levels of storage space, with a hidden compartment beneath the boot floor. The (optional) automatic boot lid can be opened and closed from inside or outside the car, and you can set the height at which it opens if, for example, you’re in an underground car park with a low roof. Other options include a larger capacity fuel tank and a two-seater picnic bench that unfolds from the boot.

Under the hood

My test model was the Cooper S Countryman All4, a sportier version with a 2.0L turbocharged petrol engine producing 192hp, paired to an eight speed automatic transmission. That sounds good on paper, however the Countryman is quite heavy thanks in part to the four-wheel drive system, though 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds isn’t terrible.

Four-wheel drive, combined with responsive steering, makes for a pleasant and even fun driving experience, with plenty of grip and negligible body roll. However, even in Sport mode (which sharpens steering and throttle response) it doesn’t feel hugely fast, though the rumble when you put the foot down is quite pleasant, and it’s quite refined at all speeds. It’s not overly fuel efficient, managing a quite uneconomical 9.4L/100km (30mpg) on average – nothing to write home about.

Irish buyers will likely choose the more economical diesel model – you can opt for the 2.0L diesel in either 150hp D or 190hp SD editions, with the former reportedly returning up to 4.4L/10km (64mpg); a less powerful 1.5L petrol is also available. Prices are forthcoming on a new plug-in hybrid model of the ALL4, and if you want something even sportier the John Cooper Works model will set you back at least €49,840, powered by a 2.0L petrol engine with 227hp and 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds.

Pricing will be the key differentiator for potential newcomers to the Mini brand. With the range starting from €32,979 for the entry-level model, the All4 begins at €35,780 and quickly rises when you start to personalise, as Mini drivers are wont to do. But although there are cheaper options available within the compact crossover segment, such as the Nissan Qashqai, the Countryman does offer a more premium experience similar to the Volkswagen Tiguan or the Audi Q2, combining fun on the road with more impressive practical qualities, so it’s not overly bad value for money.

For those who remain unconvinced by the idea of a large Mini at a premium price, the new Countryman will do little to sway their opinion. However, for the main target market – previous or current Mini owners who have already decided they like what the brand offers and are prepared to shell out for it – it’s not a difficult choice.

 

Mini Countryman ALL4 2.0L

Power: 192hp

0-100KM/H: 7.2 s

Top speed: 222km/h

Annual tax: €390

Price: €40,802 (€53,602 as tested)

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