MINI Countryman Review
The Mini Countryman is practical for its size, has a high-quality interior and is fun to drive. But its cutesy looks are less convincing than they are on smaller Minis and options are pricey
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If you’re looking for a practical family car that’s fun to drive and looks quirky then it’s well worth having a look at the Mini Countryman. It’s a highly customisable small SUV with enough paint and contrasting roof colours, bonnet stripes and sticker packs to ensure you’ll never park next to an identical one.
It’s also spacious for its size, looks premium and even has some of the fun-driving characteristics of smaller Minis, although all this does come with quite a big price tag.
If you don’t mind stumping up the cash then the Mini Countryman gives you much of the charm of a smaller Mini but enough space to make it a genuine family car. The interior has a quality feel to match the Audi Q2 but with fun touches such as a circular infotainment screen and chunky toggle switches that make mundane tasks such as starting the engine feel that little bit more special.
The infotainment screen is incredibly quick and easy to use, and its playful graphics fit the not-so-mini Mini’s cheeky character.
All the cutesy looks in the world don’t make for a decent family car though, and thankfully the Mini Countryman is reasonably practical, with plenty of room in the front and back, and a comfy driving position. You can spoil the kids by spending £300 on rear seats that slide and recline for a bit more comfort on long trips, although this can reduce boot space a bit in the rearmost position.
That said, the 450-litre boot is pretty big for a car this size and the lack of a boot lip makes it easy to slide heavy luggage into place. The boot’s maximum capacity of 1,320 litres is pretty decent and the rear seats split three ways, so you can carry long loads and two rear passengers at once.
The Mini Countryman’s styling is a little bit a dad dancing at a wedding – it tries to be young, hip and happening but somehow doesn’t quite pull it off
What’s great is that the Mini Countryman combines this practicality with a true Mini driving experience. It has a range of decent petrol, diesel and hybrid engines – although you’re best off going with the frugal and nippy 1.5-litre petrol. All Countryman models have pointy steering and little body roll that makes them quite fun to drive, although the downside is that the firm suspension can get on your nerves in town. There are also some fairly big blind spots to deal with – so it’s worth budgeting for the £310 reversing camera option.
Sadly expensive options are part and parcel of the Mini experience. If you want to boost safety you’ll need the £810 Driving Assistance pack that includes adaptive cruise control, which can match the speed of the car in front before returning to your preset cruising speed when the way is clear – handy if you do a lot of motorway driving. But even without that it’s a safe car, and earned five stars in Euro NCAP’s tough 2017 crash tests.
You can forget any preconceptions about Minis being small and impractical with the Mini Countryman – it’s impressively roomy inside, although some of its handy storage areas cost extra
The Countryman is so roomy you could probably take an original Mini to bits and fit it quite comfortably in the boot
The Mini Countryman’s front seats feel roomier than any other Mini’s. Both front seats are height adjustable and they crank up high so no matter what size you are you can make full use of the SUV’s sizeable headroom. It means you can get a high-set driving position or sit snugly in the cabin. A steering wheel that adjusts for height and reach means you can get comfy however high you’ve set the seat.
If you want adjustable lumbar support to avoid back ache, though, you’ll have to go for the £1,020 electric seats. They’re easier to adjust than the manual versions and can return to your seating position at the touch of a button after someone else has used the car.
The Mini Countryman is also one of the roomier SUVs of its size in the back – where it has more space than an Audi Q2. There’s decent knee and headroom and, for an extra £300, the back seats can slide forwards and backwards by 13cm (for more knee room or a bigger boot), and recline a few degrees to help your passengers get a bit comfier on long journeys. This added flexibility is worth the extra cash.
The Mini Countryman’s back seats don’t even feel too crushed if you carry three average-sized adults – the two footwells are big enough for a trio of people’s feet and the middle seat is relatively flat and comfortable. That said, three large adults will feel squished.
Fitting a child seat is an easier job than in any other Mini thanks to the Countryman’s wide-opening rear doors and its extra height, which means you don’t have to stoop so much when slotting the base of the seat into the clearly marked Isofix points.
All the Mini Countryman’s door bins are large enough to accommodate a small bottle of water and the glovebox will also swallow a litre bottle. You also get a tray for your phone in front of the gearstick, a couple of cupholders and a lidded storage area under the front centre armrest. If you want the added comfort of an armrest in the back, though, you’ll need to spend an extra £210, although it includes an additional pair of cupholders.
The Mini Countryman’s 450-litre boot is a substantial 239 litres bigger than the load bay you get in a normal Mini 3-door, making it clear why this is the best Mini for families. It’s still pipped by the 505-litre boot you get in the BMW X1, mind you.
Frustratingly, handy features such as a 12V power socket, securing straps and a smaller cubby at the side of the boot are a £210 option as part of the storage compartment pack. If you want your Mini’s boot to double as a seat, you can also have the £150 picnic bench which gives you somewhere to take off muddy walking boots and protects the bumper from getting scratched when you’re sliding objects into the boot.
The boot floor sits flush with the rear bumper, making loading it easy – even heavy luggage can be slid into place without you having to risk tweaking your back.
Everyday stuff such as a baby stroller fits easily and there’s space for a large and a small suitcase without you having to remove the parcel shelf. With the rear seats folded away, which leaves a small step in the floor that’s easy to push things over, you get a total boot capacity of 1,320 litres – enough to swallow a bike without needing to remove the wheels.
The Mini Countryman might be bigger than other Minis but it’s almost as fun to drive – sadly it’s also quite noisy at a cruise and its suspension can feel too firm on bumpy roads
In corners, the Countryman feels like a Mini hatchback that’s carrying a little too much weight
The Mini Countryman is available with two diesel and three petrol engines.
The best all-round engine is the 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol fitted to Cooper models. Its small size helps the Mini Countryman feel light on its feet and also means it can return official fuel economy of 51.4mpg or around 40mpg in normal driving.
It sounds reasonably sporty, revs more freely than the lumbering Cooper D diesel and has a turbocharger for a little extra oomph away from the lights – it gets from 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds, which is plenty quick if you live in town.
You should only buy the Cooper D diesel if you often drive on the motorway – where you can realistically achieve fuel economy of more than 60mpg – it also feels quicker than the petrol Cooper when you’re overtaking.
Quicker models such as the Cooper SD diesel and Cooper S and John Cooper Works petrols are a little bit pointless in a family SUV such as this.
The Mini Countryman feels sporty to drive thanks to quick steering and firm suspension. It leans a little more in corners than the go-kart-like Mini hatchback, but it’s not a million miles away and it is definitely more fun to drive than the BMW X1.
Trouble is, that fun handling has come at the expense of comfort, so when you’re driving in town it can be a little bumpy on poorly surfaced roads. If you want it to be as comfortable as possible add the £450 variable damper control, which can slacken off the suspension to better absorb bumps or stiffen it for cornering.
Sadly, there’s no solution to the big blind spot around the windscreen, which can block your view of traffic when exiting junctions. The small rear window is also a pain when reverse parking but you can get around it by spending £335 on front and rear parking sensors. In fact, they’re almost essential, even if you’re a confident parker.
The £1,495 six-speed automatic gearbox (standard on SD models) is also worth the money if you drive a lot in town and want to give your left foot a break from operating the clutch. It changes gear smoothly and has no noticeable effect on fuel economy.
The same isn’t true of four-wheel drive. It’s available across the range but will knock 5mpg off the fuel economy you can expect to achieve. It’s only worth considering if you often drive on slippery roads or intend on using your Countryman as a tow car. With it fitted the Mini Countryman can tow up to 1,800kg compared to the 1,500kgs of two-wheel-drive models.
Every Mini Countryman suffers from more tyre roar and wind noise than a BMW. The big Mini is safe, though – it scored five stars when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2017 and all models come fitted with automatic emergency brakes as standard.
The Mini Countryman’s interior looks fun and easy to use. It’s nicely built and feels posher than most SUVs, but you’ll need to fork out for some expensive options to get the best from it