With good space for passengers and luggage, the Countryman is a genuine small SUV.
The MINI Countryman is a car that enthusiasts of the original Mini love to hate – but buyers can’t get enough of them. The first generation car sold well all the way up to its replacement, and the Mk2 is just as popular while the crossover boom continues.
Like the MINI Hatch and Clubman wagon, the Countryman is bigger and more expensive than before. It’s also more spacious inside, now proving to be a truly practical family car, while interior quality has taken a significant step up. It drives well, too – sacrificing some of the enjoyment of smaller MINIs for a grown-up and refined driving experience.
With the Countryman now available with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains, there’s a model for everyone, so it’s easier than ever to recommend.
The MINI Countryman is the biggest car for sale in the MINI line-up. That makes it something of a contradiction to the original Mini ethos, but it has used the retro appeal of the classic car to attract SUV buyers wanting an upmarket family car with some clever packaging.
MINI has built a reputation for building fun to drive small cars, but as larger and more practical models arrive they threaten to erode the agile feel delivered by the core cars. Thankfully, the Countryman still has plenty of MINI DNA left in the driving experience.
This fun is evident when you get the Countryman on a twisty road. The steering is quick and there’s lots of grip on offer. Even though it has a longer wheelbase and a higher kerbweight than rivals like the Audi Q2 or Volvo XC40, the car feels more nimble and sharper to drive.
The steering is quick, especially just off centre, so the MINI darts into turns with a keenness that might take you by surprise at first. But you soon get used to this agility, and the car handles well and corners with little roll. There are different driving modes to choose from and in the Sport setting the Countryman’s steering and throttle response are sharpened up. However, Mid mode is more natural, with a nicer linearity to the accelerator.
The wider track means the handling is very surefooted and composed. There’s plenty of grip, even on lesser models, and the MINI is keen to turn-in to corners with its sharp, direct steering. Even the gearshift operates with the well-oiled precision typical of a BMW Group model. It’s not as fun or engaging to drive as smaller MINIs, but by the standards of the crossover class it’s very good – giving the Mazda CX-3 a run for its money.
Happily, MINI has also managed to match composed handling with mature cruising ability. The ride is a bit firm at times – particularly on models with larger wheels – as potholes and torn surfaces unsettle the car. Vertical movements are evident at higher speeds, but the Countryman is never too uncomfortable thanks to good damping. Dynamic Damper Control allows this to be adjusted according to the road surface and the driver’s preference.
Despite some tyre roar on bad surfaces, the Countryman is among the more refined cars in its class, with excellent isolation from wind and engine noise. Visibility is okay, and it’s easy to place the corners of the car when manoeuvring and parking.
Given that MINIs are designed to appeal to more fashion-conscious buyers, the Countryman has to look good. While this is subjective, the bulkier Countryman Mk2 appears to push the brand’s design language to its limit.
The front-end design, with its gaping front grille and bulbous headlamps, has always looked a bit awkward, while the squared-off rear isn’t much better. The 2020 facelift addressed some of these issues with a new radiator grille, new front and rear bumpers and Union Flag-branded tail lights.
Customers also benefit from adaptive LED headlights with auto-dimming as standard, while MINI’s Piano Black exterior styling package can now be optionally specced in place of the standard car’s exterior brightwork.
There’s plenty of scope for personalisation, with contrasting roof and mirror colours available. You can team this with bonnet stripes and themes, but these hike the price. The S E hybrid also comes with yellow badging to mark it out.
Inside, things are less controversial. The design is typical MINI, with overstyled yet neat touches like the huge circular display and chrome toggle switches, while the facelift introduced a new five-inch digital instrument binnacle (as seen in the MINI Electric) as standard across the entire model range. There’s also some new Piano Black trim for the dashboard and doors cards, along with two new leather upholstery colours.
Quality is largely excellent – the materials for the seats feel classy, while a mixture of soft touch plastics on the dash and fabric trim on the door pulls lifts the ambience. The black trim on the dashboard feels solid and looks upmarket, too.
Delve into the huge options list and you’ll find ambient lighting packs, which light up the cupholders, door handles and even shimmer through the black dash inlays in whichever colour you desire.
You can specc up a MINI with all sorts of customisation choices, but standard equipment is good – all cars include LED headlights and taillights, rear parking sensors, cruise control, air-con, a DAB radio and Bluetooth. The standard infotainment system is now a 8.8-inch colour display with sat-nav and Apple CarPlay functions.
The second-generation Countryman is larger in almost every dimension than the old car, so it’s unsurprising that space increases inside. Leg and headroom for rear seat occupants is on a par with rivals like the Audi Q2, meaning four adults can travel long distances in decent comfort. There are Isofix points for child seat mounting, too.
The 450-litre boot is genuinely practical and outside, the MINI Countryman is 4.3m long, 2.0m wide and 1.56m tall. That’s a little longer and wider than the previous-generation car, although the height hasn’t increased. That has the effect of making the Countryman look more squat and purposeful while also benefiting passenger room.
MINI has extended the wheelbase of the Countryman by 75mm, which benefits rear legroom and means two adults will be comfortable in the back for longer journeys. Five is a bit of a squeeze, though, thanks to the large transmission tunnel and sculpted seats, despite the increased cabin width.
The S E hybrid has to accommodate its battery pack below the rear seats, so the bench is raised up by about 25mm. It’s not too noticeable, however, and there’s still a good amount of headroom.
All in all the new Mini Countryman offers a resolved driving experience that’s also fun and matches it’s fresh design outside, plus there’s practicality to boot.