MINI Countryman hatchback
Price: £16,615 - £29,800
- Generous load space
- Impressive engines
- Best-handling model in crossover class
- High-spec versions are expensive
- Firm ride
- Cheap interior
"The biggest MINI yet is still undoubtedly a MINI, boasting a fun driving experience and stylish retro cabin. It's still not the most practical crossover in the world, though."
The MINI Countryman was the first four-door MINI, bringing a welcome dose of practicality to balance out MINI's recipe for fun and driver appeal. This is a MINI that can comfortably seat four adults and carry their luggage without cramping anyone's knees or limiting passenger headroom. It's also the first MINI to have a boot of a useful size too.
The Countryman comes with either two or four-wheel drive, with the latter giving the car some basic off-road ability. More unusually, the Countryman can be chosen with either a four or five-seat interior layout. We’d actually go for the five-seat model, but the four-seater does offer individual sliding rear seats that can be used to open up extra space in the boot, which should be appealing for those who regularly fill their cars with luggage or shopping. It's quite an expensive car, but offers a luxurious, premium alternative to crossover rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai or Skoda Yeti. The MINI Countryman comes in six main specifications – the entry-level One, then the Cooper, Cooper S, Cooper D, Cooper SD and the top-of-the-range performance-focused MINI Countryman John Cooper Works (JCW).
MPG, running costs & CO2
Efficient engines mean quite low running costs
You actually get reasonable fuel economy across the MINI range, and the Countryman's Cooper D and One D diesel models return 64.2mpg in combined fuel economy, thanks in part to stop-start technology that switches off the engine when the car is stationary in traffic. However, none of the Countryman models qualify for free road tax because of the car's extra weight and the option of a four-wheel-drive system. The diesels are still cheap to tax though, costing £30 per year.
Overall, running costs should be quite inexpensive, especially for the first few years. We'd suggest getting MINI's TLC package, which offers three services over five years for only £200, which should result in quite significant savings.
Interior & comfort
Suspension is firm compared to rivals
MINI is a brand associated with style, and the Countryman does sacrifice comfort for looks in some places. For instance, the front seats are retro styled, so prove to be very firm and unsupportive on longer drives, and this problem is made worse by the car's firm suspension. You also get a surprising amount of noise inside the car, which can get wearing on long journeys. However, the Countryman does follow MINI's now-familiar interior layout, including its signature large central speedometer and high-quality switches, logically laid out to make the car easy to live with on a daily basis.
Practicality & boot space
It’s the most practical MINI by far
By far the most practical MINI available, the Countryman offers much more interior space compared to the other MINI models, allowing four adults to sit comfortably inside. The boot is also a much more usable size, at 350 litres, and if you fold down the standard-fit split-fold rear seats that space expands to 1,170 litres.
The four-seater versions allows the rear seats to slide individually on rails, creating the flexibility to either further expand the boot space or give rear passengers more legroom. There's also space for a smartphone holder, sunglasses cases and cup holders dotted around the cabin. The five-seat model's three-seater backbench also slides, but is less flexible overall. The back seats are all supportive and comfy, whichever layout you choose.
Reliability & safety
High quality interior not reflected in the Countryman's poor Driver Power score
Considering their premium price and brand reputation, you’d expect both MINI and parent company BMW to be more reliable than they actually are. BMW dropped down a place to finish 15th out of 32 in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's manufacturers rankings, while MINI itself dropped a painful seven places to skirt the bottom of the list at number 28. Poor practicality and weak reliability let it down – and the Countryman could only reach 125th in the survey's list of the top 150 cars, so clearly there is a lot of room for improvement.
However, the MINI's switches and fittings are all high quality, and any electronic problems that bothered the early MINIs have now been ironed out. The engines have all been used across the whole MINI range and have been generally reliable, and it's the same story for all the major mechanicals and components, backed up by BMW's automotive know-how. The Countryman has also secured the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, though some areas, like adult protection, saw it underperform compared to some of its rivals.
Engines, drive & performance
Secure handling, with a good driving position
MINIs have a reputation for being fun to drive and the Countryman doesn’t disappoint, despite its larger dimensions and increased practicality. The precise steering gives lots of feedback to the driver and the car remains stable when driving through corners, with hardly any body roll noticeable. The Countryman doesn’t have the MINI hatchback's revered go-kart handling but it's still enjoyable to drive, and has the added benefit of a higher driving position to give a commanding view of the road ahead. The good performance does mean a firm ride from the stiff suspension, making it far less comfy than the likes of the Skoda Yeti.
The engines available in the Countryman are used elsewhere in the MINI range and have plenty of power. The performance-focused 215bhp four-wheel-drive John Cooper Works (JCW) model can accelerate from 0-62mph in only seven seconds if you want some extra performance but the diesels feel just as fast and are much more economical. Overall, we’d go for the Cooper SD, with its blend of fuel economy and speed.
Price, value for money & options
Competitively priced, but extras are expensive
The Countryman doesn’t come with the levels of standard equipment and accessories expected from a premium brand or a car of its price. The entry-level model may seem competitively priced but this is deceptive. You do get air-conditioning and a CD audio system as standard in all Countryman models but a look at the long optional extras list shows how easy it would be to get carried away personalising your Countryman, which will cause the price to go up dramatically. We’d go for the Chili package, which adds automatic air-conditioning, xenon headlights and sports seats for a little extra pampering. MINI does offer a discount if you choose these extras individually, but it will still cost a few thousand pounds more.
The top-spec Countryman models, such as the Cooper S and John Cooper Works, are noticeably more expensive than their rivals but do offer more driver engagement and outright performance than any of them. Resale values on the used car market will be very strong, thanks to MINI's continued desirability, so you should be able to get some money back on a decent second-hand deal.
What the others say
"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."
"The Countryman blends the retro style that Mini buyers love with enough practicality for a small family. All versions are frugal and well equipped."
"MINI is the latest to jump on to the crossover bandwagon insisting that its new creation, the Countryman, is definitely not a 4x4 and absolutely not a hatchback. It's a 'crossover' and no argument. Of course, the motivation behind all this is the predicted sales that it might achieve."
"Your first impressions will match ours: it's big. Eye-rubbingly big; this is a MINI with remarkable height, prominent front end, bulbous rear; from the roofline to the lights, everything about it is, well, big."
Last updated: 23 Jan 2014