Mini Countryman car review
- We like...Drive, space, ability, quality
- We don't...Big, awkward hand brake lever
The big question with the Countryman is this: has Mini ‘pushed’ the brand too far? There’s a risk, isn’t there, that in developing new models you lose the essence of Mini, that things that make the car so smart and ‘I-want-one’.
Although the name’s not new, the idea behind this fresh and fourth addition to the Mini line-up is nothing short of revolutionary. Not only is it far bigger than any previous Mini, having five doors and a fair sized boot, but you can get, if you want, one with four wheel drive.
When you first clap eyes on it, the messages are mixed. It looks very ‘Mini’ but it’s not a looker to rank with the hatchback, convertible and Clubman. It’s tall – a few cm’s higher than a BMW X1 - and heavy across its flanks. But the family DNA’s strong around the lights and grille, while its more generous proportions give it toughness the others don’t have.
Climb inside and it’s every inch a Mini. The dinner-plate-sized speedo, the rocker switches for windows and auxiliary lights, the rev counter dead ahead. It’s all present and correct. The seating position’s a little further up from the road but you still sit low in the car with that Mini-esque ‘cliff’ of a dash ahead and that flattish, upright ‘screen.
In the back there’s good leg and headroom – a first in a Mini. In truth, it’s better than in many others of its size (it’s just over 4 metres, bumper to bumper). And, if you want, you have three seats there, although just two are a no-cost option. The chance for a five-seat Mini is another first. Whether you pick four seats or five, the rear seats slide t6o and fro to juggle legroom and luggage space.
Out back, the boot is as big as in a Volkswagen Golf, although it’s at the cost of having a spare wheel and a can of tyre sealant takes its place, although you can spec run-flat tyres at extra cost. The rear seat-backs tip flat to extend the load space.
Turn a wheel in it and within seconds whatever doubts you might hold about this as a Mini 'too far' fade to nothing. There’s that same instant response from the throttle, the same twitch the wheel and you’re just-where-you-want-to-be steering and same concentrated fun you’ll find in every other Mini. It’s same drink, bigger bottle.
Every Countryman sits further off the road to give a little extra clearance over rough surfaces but most models are front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive is an option on just two for now, the Cooper S and Cooper D.
The S is quick but its git-up-‘n’-go is very controllable and power delivery is progressive rather than coming in one big surge. It’s huge fun to thread across a string of country bends but also civilised enough to make a pleasure of a spell on the motorway. It’s a fizzer of an engine, quiet enough but with a lovely exhaust note as the revs build. The D is slower but very smooth and quiet for diesel, packing strong low revs urge. It also does well for fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
In both the four-wheel drive works in the background. There are no extra buttons or switches to control it so the car decides when it’ll be of help – when, say, full power is required or whenever the going gets slippy. The 4x4 Countryman’s no off-roader but it should get you safely away from a muddy car park or along an icy road.
We haven’t mentioned the ride yet. It’s just great, the best of any Mini, firm but supple and never jolting. Go careful with wheel choice when buying, though. The ones we tested rode on 16in and 17in alloys and were fine. You can go bigger but we’d worry that doing so could compromise comfort.
Should you buy one? Definitely. It’s the best and useful Mini yet. Model for model, it’s the dearest but prices are sensible. Beware the options list, though: it’s huge and can send the invoice you’ll face spiralling. Our test cars here wore £6000-worth of extras, yet didn’t feel overstuffed with goodies.
At time of writing we're still a fortnight off its official launch. Already 2500 buyers are awaiting theirs and if you go to a showroom today you'll not be promised a car before 2011. I think we can say it's a winner.
- Engines1.6 diesel turbo
- 0-60 mph11.6secs
- Insurance groups
- Seats4 or 5
Motors.co.uk value verdict: