"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."
MINI's first four-door car, the Countryman has managed to blend all the fun and driver appeal of the smaller hatchback into a truly practical car. The Countryman's dimensions give MINI a car that can seat four in comfort and take their luggage, too, in the usefully sized (if not exactly enormous) boot. MINI's first entry into the crossover market can be chosen in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, and the latter gives the Countryman limited off-road ability. More unusually, the Countryman can be chosen with either four or five seats. We would choose the five-seat model, but the four seater does offer individual sliding rear seats, usefully opening up more space in the boot, which will be appealing for some. It's not a cheap car, but the Countryman does offer a luxurious high-end alternative to other crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai or Skoda Yeti.
MINI prides itself on the fact that its cars are fun to drive, and the Countryman is no different. The steering is precise and accurate, and the car feels safe and steady through corners, resisting roll very well for a tall car. The Countryman may not have the go-kart feel of the smaller hatchback but it still offers a lot of thrills with the added benefit of a driving position that offers a good view of the road ahead. The downside of the good handling is that the ride is firm, making it less comfortable everyday than a Skoda Yeti. Engines are the same as used in the smaller MINIs, moving the Countryman along briskly and the flagship 215bhp four-wheel-drive JCW model will accelerate to 62mph in seven seconds should you want it to. The diesels feel just as brisk, with added economy and the Copper SD offers a good blend of fuel economy and speed.
The styling of the MINI countryman means that some comfort has been sacrificed in places. The most obvious area is the retro-style front seats, which offer decent levels of comfort over short distances but are too firm and unsupportive to be good for long journeys. Combine this with the high cabin noise and stiff ride, and the Countryman can be a less than pleasant place to be over long distances. On the flip side, the Countryman does have the familiar MINI layout in the cabin with large central speedo and high-quality, logically located switches that make the car easy to use and live with on the daily commute.
As a BMW and MINI product, the quality and reliability of the Countryman should not be a problem. Switches and fittings are high quality, and the electronic gremlins that affected early MINIs have been sorted out. Engines are the ones used across the MINI range and have proved to be reliable, and the same story goes for all the major mechanicals. The Countryman has been awarded five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests but in some areas, notably adult protection, the Countryman hasn't done as well as some of its rivals.
The Countryman is the MINI ranges most practical offering - not only does it offer a decent level of interior space, being able to seat four adults comfortably, it also has a usable boot that can provide up to 1,170-litres of space with the rear seats folded. The four seat option allows the rear seats to slide individually on rails, which can make more space in the boot or for long legs in the back. The four seat option also comes with spaces to fit cup-holders, sunglasses cases or even an Ipad holder - so anyone in the back will be entertained on the journey. The three-seat rear bench option also slides to allow more space in the boot and obviously provides more space in the rear. All rear passengers get supportive and comfortable seats, whichever option you choose. The four doors, high ride height and high roofline all combine to make this the most practical MINI yet.
Value for money
The entry-level models are competitively priced and offer excellent value, but the options list is long and standard equipment is low. What you do get on all Countryman models is air-con and a CD audio system. Get carried away adding more or personalising your Countryman and the price rises dramatically. We would recommend choosing the Chili pack, which adds automatic air-con, xenon headlights and sports seats. There's a discount when choosing these extras individually, but it still comes in at around £3,000 for the lot. Top-of-the-range Countryman models, such as the Cooper S and JCW, are more expensive than their rivals but do offer more in terms of driver engagement and outright speed if this is what you’re looking for. Due to the popularity of the MINI range it's difficult to get discounts from MINI dealers.
Economy is good across the MINI range and the Countryman is no different. The Diesel Cooper D and One D models return 64.2mpg in fuel economy, helped in part by stop-start technology, which turns off the engune when the car is stopped in neutral. Unlike the hatchback, none of the Countryman models qualify for free road tax due to their extra weight and the four-wheel drive fitted to higher-end models. The Diesels are cheap to tax at £30 per year, however, and even the petrols are hardly bank-breaking at 110 and £125, respectively. Running costs over the lifetime of the car will be low. MINI's tlc package offers three services over five years for only £200, which should make a considerable saving for many owners. Better still, the MINI Countryman is likely to hold it's value better than any other car in its class, meaning when it comes to that painful time to sell, the hurt won’t be all in your pocket.