Mini has grown up. It had to. Despite a longing for the return of London’s swinging 60s vibe, a 21st century global market has different demands and miniscule four-seat mini cars aren’t the answer any more.
For 2017 the Mini Countryman is bigger than ever, and its styling ditches some (but not all) of the retro-kitschy cues of previous Mini models. This is meant to be a modern Mini, not a complete retro-reheat, and a vehicle of its very own.
It may not be small by Mini standards, but it's still no giant in the SUV realm. Useful space has been increased, with a more roomy interior and bigger boot making this one better suited to young families than the previous model while still maintaining its inner-city agility.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $51,500 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.2 l/100km | Tested: 7.2 l/100km
There’s a hotter John Cooper Works version on the way, but until it arrives the Mini Cooper SD Countryman is the flag-waving range-topper for the time being.
At $51,500 plus on roads the price position is knocking at the door of genuine prestige models, as well as larger mainstream SUVs, but for Mini buyers the unique look and attitude is part of the package. As with any designer item, that comes at a price.
In Australia the Cooper SD Countryman is the only model in the Countryman range to come paired with all-wheel drive, giving it a unique difference from the rest of the range, with a standard eight speed auto as well.
- 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 Ausio connectivity, six-speaker audio (optional 8.8-inch screen, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio)
- Cargo Volume: 450 litres to rear seats, 1390 litres with seats folded
The Countryman’s interior moves ever so slightly away from some of Mini’s previous design traditions. Yes, there’s still a big round display housed in the middle of the dash (meant to mimic the original Mini’s central speedo) but things are now squarer elsewhere, more classic and less cartoony for a more premium feel.
Equipment levels are high; Standard features include partial leather trim (full leather is an option) keyless entry and start, a power-closing tailgate, satellite navigation, multicolor ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control, distance-keeping cruise control and more.
Of course, Mini’s strong push for personalisation means a long list of ways to customise the car through decal packs, different wheels, trim materials, and extra equipment packages like the premium looking "Chester British Oak" leather trim, matching dash inserts, and thumping Multimedia Pro premium audio package as fitted to this car.
On the outside the Mini is still relatively compact - measuring just 4.3 metres from nose to tail - but is around 20cm longer than before. That translates to a more spacious interior with added rear legroom (plus sliding rear seats), and, thanks to the high-roofed SUV stance, an airy and open feel to the cabin.
Beneath the surface the Countryman shares its underpinnings with the BMW X1, though it is shorter and doesn’t quite match the X1’s Tardis-like interior flexibility. Still, there’s now 450 litres of boot space, and a massive underfloor storage area for added flexibility.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 140kW @4000rpm, 400NM @1750-2500rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
- Towing Capacity: 1800 kg braked, 750 kg unbraked
By definition a Cooper SD Countryman should be sporty, light on its feet, and agile - all the things that Mini’s marketing department has gone to great lengths to instil in its last decade of advertising messages.
But this car is a high-ish riding SUV that’s big enough to cart a small family. That’s not to say that a family SUV can’t also behave like a sports car, but in the case of the Cooper SD Mini has missed the mark.
That doesn’t make it a bad car by any means. It’s a calm, quiet cruising machine that is perfect for long stints behind the wheel, capable of brisk overtaking, and never wallowing through a bend.
It’s just that the fun, chuckable nature of Mini’s smaller cars is missing. The Cooper SD Countryman feels soft when you press the accelerator, the gear changes from the eight speed automatic are gentle, not sharp, and the weight (all 1535 kilograms of it) works against this car feeling athletic.
For all of that, the engine is strong enough that it hardly feels burdened when carrying a full compliment of passengers, and Mini has even given it a tow rating of 1800 kilograms, which is rather handy and the same as you’d find in a larger Mazda CX-5 (or 600kg more than a Toyota RAV4).
The heavy lifting is handled by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine producing 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm of torque between 1750 and 2500rpm. Engine noise is low, even at high revs, and Mini claims that the 0-100 km/h sprint takes a warm hatch-like 7.4 seconds.
The Countryman SD’s ALL4 all-wheel drive system is also rather handy in the car's role as an all-rounder rather than an outright sports star. On loose surfaces, or in the way the Cooper SD Countryman is more easily able to get torque down, there’s no wheelspin and no tugging or kickback from the steering wheel.
That’s handy in the wet, particularly with such a torquey motor, but as an adventure wagon the Countryman still won’t head too far off road. Its limited ground clearance and a lack of off-road aids or drive settings make the Cooper SD Countryman an all-weather car, but not an all-terrain one.
To give the illusion of off-road readiness, Mini has hidden a Country Timer function in the trip computer which counts how long the car spends off the tarmac, which is a cute but not strictly useful way of adding some rough and rugged window dressing.
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/100,000 km
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 you Mini dealer can explain in full detail.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Mercedes-Benz has given the GLA sophisticated styling, but it comes at a cost to interior space, particularly in the rear seat. Price and performance of the GLA 220 d is similar, but the diesel benz drives its front wheels only.
Audi offers a two-pronged small SUV approach, with the funky and fresh new Q2 or the slightly more practical, but older Q3. The former drives sweetly and is sure to be a hit with aspiring young buyers, while the latter stacks up on the value front, with a little more room inside.
As cousins, the Countryman and the BMW X1 share common DNA though you’d be hard pressed to pick on looks alone. BMW’s versatile interior edges out the Mini, but its extra length may get in the way for city dwellers who need to be as compact as possible.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Mini has evolved and is starting to shift itself away from the retro craze it was re-born under as has been proven by the latest round of Mini models which are now far more contemporary and all the better for it.
In the case of the Cooper SD Countryman, that means a small SUV that’s big on features, roomy enough for families, and is slowly but surely (though not entirely) shedding its cumbersome throw-back details in lieu of a unique identity of its own.
As a sporty SUV the Cooper SD Countryman doesn’t necessarily hit the mark, but if that’s what you’re looking for then consider the petrol Cooper S Countryman instead. The Cooper SD is a competent and capable long distance traveller, but just misses out on the kind of point-to-point accuracy that you might find in a Mini hatch.
Be that as it may, Mini knows its buyer demographic well enough to know that Countryman owners are likely to be happy with that trade off for a vehicle that can instead take two kids in the rear, with extra luggage, looking just as funky as ever on the outside, but with a more sensible core for true long-term enjoyment.
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