With shiny red duco and a bold white contrasting roof, the Mini you see before you lives up to the stereotype - except for one thing, the size of it. This is the biggest car ever to wear a Mini badge.
That’s because the Mini Countryman has grown in size to be a better fit for modern families. It’s still small for an SUV but big for a Mini. More importantly though, with the iconic Cooper S badge on its tailgate, the Countryman is a lot of fun to drive.
Is that a happy compromise? Mini devotees may recoil in shock, but for a growing group of buyers that want individuality combined with practicality in a package that still suits narrow city streets the Mini Countryman covers all bases with fun-to-drive dynamics thrown in as well.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $46,500 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans:141kW/280Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.5 l/100km | Tested: 8.8 l/100km
With a four-model range, the Countryman lineup should suit most tastes. There’s entry-grade Cooper and Cooper D variants with petrol and diesel engines respectively, or the Cooper S tested here, priced from $46,500 plus on-road costs, with a more powerful turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, eight-speed automatic, and front wheel drive.
Those that have a need for all-wheel drive will need to look to the Cooper SD as the only variant in the range with all-paw traction, but after a week behind the wheel of the Cooper S it's hard to see why you’d need to, unless your home base is in the middle of the Snowy Mountains.
In typical Mini style, the Countryman is vibrant, with expressive styling, a kitsch interior, and a playful brand message that carries through to the driving experience. But could a Mini ever be a sensible family car?
Young families, particularly those confined to one of Australia’s big cities, may find the right fit in the newest generation Countryman.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth and leather seat trim, dual-zone climate control, JCW sports steering wheel, powered tailgate, keyless entry and start, sliding rear seat, automatic headlights and wipers, LED headlights, rear centre armrest, multi-colour LED ambient lighting, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, USB and Aux inputs, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth phone and Audio connectivity, six-speaker audio
- Options Fitted: Carbon Black cross-punch leather trim $1700, Mini Yours Nappa leather steering wheel $200, Dynamic damper Control $700, Multimedia Pro Package (8.8-inch display, heap up display, Harman Kardon audio) $2400
- Cargo Volume: 450 litres to rear seats, 1390 litres with seats folded
Swing open the door and you’ll be greeted by an interior that’s still identifiably Mini, but also a little more grown up than it has been previously.
You can’t miss the big circular ‘thing’ in the middle of the dash. In the original Mini that’s where the speedo used to reside, but these days you’ll find the infotainment system there, surrounded by a multi-coloured LED ring that acts as a status indicator for everything from engine RPM to climate control temperature.
Standard interior trim is a leather and cloth mix, which looks suitably upmarket wrapped around the Cooper S Countryman’s front sport seats, but options aplenty mean you can pick a variety of finishes and colour, with the black leather of this particular example just one of the choices.
As for space, there seems to be quite a bit of it. In the previous generation Countryman things felt squishy, particularly in the back seat, but the latest model is a much bigger car, and that translates to a much bigger back seat - plus the added ability to slide it back and forth for extra cargo space.
Width is still a bit tight for three adults in the back, and two child seats is well and truly the limit, but new-found legroom and headroom make accommodation more generous for adults and quite decent for kids.
The 450 litre boot is decently sized, but a pram is going to be a tight fit for young families, let alone nappy bags and porta-cots - for families that are only at the furchild stage the two-level boot floor brings out-of-sight storage options and will pack in enough luggage for a weekend, or even a week, away.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre TwinPower turbo petrol 141kW @6000rpm, 280N @1350-4600rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
- Towing Capacity: 1500 kg braked, 745 kg unbraked
A Mini should be agile, light on its feet, and maybe not neck-snappingly fast but at least pretty zippy, yeah? Well, a Mini Cooper S hatch definitely is, but a Cooper S Countryman has had a few more cheeseburgers and lacks the same kind of athleticism.
Under the bonnet the Cooper S Countryman and hatch share the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, delivering 141kW of power and 280Nm, but (and it’s a big lardy one) the Countryman weighs an extra 300 kilograms - a significant weight gain.
Even though it's not quite as rorty as a hot-hatch, the Countryman still feels brisk, with a nifty engine note that sounds a little bit naughty, but also enough sensibility to still be a good all-rounder.
An eight-speed automatic matches well to the turbo petrol engine, quick to find the right gear, smooth and snappy on upshifts. Delivering that power through the front wheels is no problem in the heavier Countryman in the dry, but in the wet there’s a little tug and tussle from the steering wheel.
That balances out with open-road cruising manners that are simply lovely. The Countryman’s raised ride height gives it an advantage over bobbly Aussie backroads, but there’s still an underlying firmness and control for extra confidence.
Optional Dynamic Damper Control is at work here - that’s Mini’s name for its adaptive damping system, which not only adjusts to a firmer setting in Sport mode but also has the ability to constantly read road conditions and adjust firmness to suit as required, leading to greater control in bends, with pleasing comfort on bumpy roads.
Inside the cabin, noise levels are respectably low. Some road surfaces can throw up a bit of tyre roar, but under most conditions wind noise and road noise are at a suitably premium level.
Mini also offers a choice of driving modes either side of its Normal setting, from Green which, as the name suggests, tries to keep things frugal but without sucking the life out of the drive, to Sport which brings a more responsive gearship map, weightier steering, and a little more synthesised exhaust noise.
ANCAP Rating: The Mini Countryman range has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety Features: Six airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain), electronic stability and traction control, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, rear view camera, front and rear park sensors, road sign recognition, speed limiter, and front seatbelt pretensioners.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Mini Service Inclusive (MSI) pre-paid servicing packages start from $1240 for MSI Basic which includes five years or 80,000 km (whichever comes first) of servicing, including filters, and brake fluid. MSI Plus packages are also available with brake pad and disc replacement and wiper blade refills which your Mini dealer can explain in full detail.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Fast and fun compact SUV’s aren’t as common as they probably should be. Mercedes-Benz has had a go with the GLA 250, including a more powerful engine and all-wheel drive, but pricing is higher than the Cooper S Countryman, with the Mercedes better aligned with the coming John Cooper Works Mini
A little bigger both inside and out, the high-powered Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI will give the Countryman a run for its money, with more family-oriented interior features, and some impressive available options including a fully-digital instrument cluster, powered seats, and a panoramic roof amongst others.
Back in the Countryman’s size range, the Audi Q3 comes across as a little more ‘plain packaged’ but it’s an older vehicle, that still drives well, but without the same sporty intentions as the Mini.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There’s no hiding the point that the heavier, taller-riding Mini Countryman can’t match the driving fun offered by its smaller, lighter hatch stablemate. It tries hard though, and isn’t too far off the mark.
The good news for families, young couples, or anyone that really wants the extra space without losing Mini’s unmistakable style is that this car does a better job of balancing space and quirkiness than before.
In Cooper S guise, the Countryman also proves that diesel isn’t the compact SUV’s sweet spot, with a giggle-worthy petrol engine powering the front wheels the Cooper S Countryman tends to make the more expensive all-wheel drive diesel Cooper SD feel a little ho-hum. And that’s the last thing any Mini should be, no matter the size.
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