Vehicle Style: Premium compact SUV
Price: $60,005 (retail). $68,923 (as tested)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 6.3 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 11.2 l/100km
It may enrage Mini purists - it’s hardly a ‘Mini’ - and may leave others scratching their heads about whether it’s a compact SUV, crossover or neither.
Many, though, will see the MINI Cooper S Countryman simply for what it is: a premium small-ish car with head-turning design, superb build quality and excellent driving dynamics.
- Quality: There’s a lot of plastic, yes, but it’s high-grade stuff and definitely durable. Build quality is excellent, and MINI offers a choice of colours for the two-tone door trims.
- Comfort: Sports seats are standard on the Cooper S Countryman; they’re leather-upholstered and give good support. The optional front seat-heaters are good value in these particularly cold months, but power adjustment is not available.
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable, a first for a MINI. Two individual rear seats are standard, but our tester came equipped with a fifth seat which deletes the central storage ‘rail’ that runs along the Countryman’s transmission tunnel.
Ergonomically, the Countryman is a bit of a dud. The short section of rail between the front seats is obstructed by the (oddly shaped) handbrake and armrest, while the toggle switches for the power windows and foglamps are impractically located near the base of the centre stack.
The central analogue speedometer is difficult to read while driving, and the digital speed readout in the tachometer updates too slowly.
Like all modern MINI’s, the Countryman has a nice-looking design - it’s just the details that need a little more finessing.
- Equipment: As standard, you get cruise-control, a trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, auto-on headlamps, climate control and front and rear parking sensors.
The Chili package adds foglamps, bi-xenon headlamps, multi-function buttons on the steering wheel and a storage package.
Our test car was also optioned up with satellite navigation (which sits in the middle of the central speedometer and is controlled by an iDrive-like controller), privacy glass, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors and a panoramic glass roof.
- Storage: At 350 litres with the rear seats in place, the Countryman’s boot capacity is line-ball with the Volkswagen Golf.
A deep tray beneath the false floor improves usability somewhat, and folding the 40-20-40 split rear seats down boosts space to 1170 litres.
ON THE ROAD
- Driveability: With just 1.6 litres, 135kW and 240Nm to play with, the Cooper S Countryman’s engine has a noticeable torque hole at low RPM, which only lifts around 3000rpm when the turbo comes on song. Give it some revs though, and performance feels brisk.
The optional six-speed automatic is a good gearbox, shifting quickly and at the right point in the rev range. Hit the Sport Button, and gears are held for longer while throttle response is quickened. The push-pull paddle shifters are an annoyance though.
With a bit of weight aboard performance can be dulled, but the engine’s rev-happy nature compensates for this. However, exploiting that power comes at a cost: the Cooper S Countryman’s thirst can rival a larger V6 when subjected to spirited driving.
- Refinement: The engine is loud and buzzy when under the throttle, but quietens down a lot during cruising. It’s a relatively noisy interior, but that’s befitting the Cooper S’ posture as a sporting model. The exhaust crackle when in Sport mode is a nice touch.
- Suspension: The Cooper S Countryman is firmly suspended but provides strong cornering grip with little understeer, although there is a lot of bodyroll. Ride comfort is ok despite the low-profile run-flat rubber.
Electronic aids such as Cornering Brake Control also do their bit to keep the nose pointing where you want, and the Countryman has a surprisingly sporty chassis.
- Braking: No complaints on the braking front, thanks to a responsive pedal and fade-free performance.
- ANCAP rating: Not tested.
- Safety features: Six airbags, ESP, EBD, brake assist, stability control, corner braking control, load-limiting pretensioners on the front belts and adjustable head restraints for all seats.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
- Warranty: Two years, unlimited kilometre warranty for the entire vehicle with three years paintwork warranty and 12 years body corrosion warranty.
- Service costs: There are no set service intervals, and maintenance costs vary according to vehicle usage.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
- Subaru Forester S-edition ($50,990) - With the heart of a WRX under its bonnet, the Forester S-edition is quick in a straight line.
It’s not so impressive as the MINI in cornering, but with a larger cabin it’s more useful as a daily driver. (see Forester reviews)
- BMW X1 xDrive25i ($57,400) - BMW’s smallest crossover is, like the MINI, a keen performer, but too small for proper family duty.
Optional extras are expensive too, and the X1’s $57k retail price doesn’t quite sync up with its interior quality. (see X1 reviews)
- Volkwagen Golf R 5 door ($52,490) - You don’t get a crossover-style ride height with this one, but you do get bags of all-wheel drive grip and a rorty turbocharged powerplant.
A bit too stiffly sprung in standard form, but good value as a performance car. (see Golf R reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The MINI Cooper S Countryman won’t really appeal to those looking for a baby-friendly compact SUV, nor will it appeal to those seeking a practical performance car.
It certainly has the measure of the Forester S-edition dynamically, but its interior design puts form well ahead of function and the price of entry is almost excessively high.
What it DOES do, is turn heads. As a fashion statement, it is bold, brash and sporty: the Cooper S Countryman turned more heads than any car we’ve recently tested.
We enjoyed our time with it, but if the retail price was a little lower we’d like it a whole lot more.