The MINI hatchback has become something of an icon but if you have a family or want a more spacious interior, it's not a very practical choice. That's where the MINI Countryman comes in, offering buyers many of the selling points of the MINI hatchback along with a taller SUV-crossover body shape. The body of the Countryman means more space inside, more usable rear seats and better visibility. The usual MINI styling is somewhat diluted by the Countryman's proportions but for many it will be a tolerable compromise.
The crossover SUV class is a very competitive one and the MINI Countryman is up against popular alternatives like the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti. The five-door Audi A3 Sportback is another rival to the MINI Countryman, provided the upmarket cabin and extra space are what drew you to the Countryman, rather than the SUV-influenced styling.
The craze for personalising cars can be attributed in part to the launch of the MINI, as it was one of the first that offered buyers what seemed like an almost infinite number of combinations of paint finishes, graphics, alloy wheel designs and accessories to choose from. There are lots of optional packs to consider too, which bundle up popular options to make them cheaper and more appealing.
The MINI range is well known for providing plenty of fun for those behind the wheel and the Countryman doesn’t disappoint in that regard, despite its extra height and bulk compared to the normal MINI hatchback. The Countryman is available with MINI's ALL4 four-wheel drive system, which generates plenty of extra grip in corners and slippery conditions.
Despite the SUV-influenced styling and four-wheel drive on some models, the Countryman is best kept on the road rather than off it. The engines available offer reasonable economy and good performance, with range-topping John Cooper Work delivering a 0-62mph time of seven seconds. The MINI Countryman Cooper D has become the most economical in the range since the One D was withdrawn from sale in late 2015.
If a new car isn’t a pressing issue, you may decide to wait until 2016 when a new Countryman is set for launch. The current model is actually based on the previous MINI underpinnings, while the new one will use the ‘UKL1’ platform, which already forms the basis of the standard MINI hatchback and Clubman, as well as the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.
Want to know which we think are the best SUVs on the market? Check out our video below: