MINI Countryman Cooper S estate (2010 – ) expert review

By Jack Carfrae and Rhian Jones, 20th April 2011

The verdict

The MINI Countryman Cooper S is big on style and it certainly has the retro factor. It can also go places that other MINIs can't, but it's not cheap and practicality is limited.

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Expert rating:

4.0

Pros

  • Stylish looks inside and out
  • Four-wheel drive models are capable off-road
  • Punchy performance in Cooper S guise

Cons

  • Expensive, especially with optional extras
  • Space in the boot is limited
  • Not as good to drive as it could be

Full Review

1. Exterior

This is the largest car from MINI yet, at over four metres long and 1.5 metres tall. The chunky, retro styling leaves you in no doubt that it’s part of the MINI family, but the looks are sure to divide opinion, making the Countryman a bit of a Marmite car – you’ll either love it or loathe it. Such proportions and the jacked-up ride height make the Countryman perfectly placed to square-up to rival crossover models like the Nissan Qashqai. It’s also the first MINI to have proper rear passenger doors, rendering it a more attractive prospect to family buyers.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

The Countryman’s cabin is another area that’s unmistakably MINI. The big, central speedometer, chrome touches and the chunky switchgear are all present, if a little clustered together, while the build quality is impressive. A new and unique feature for the Countryman is a rail that runs along the centre of the car, to which owners can attach a number of MINI-themed accessories like sunglasses holders. Buyers can specify the car with a small rail and three seats in the rear or a longer rail with just two seats in the back. It’s clever, but its real-world functionality is questionable.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

This is where the MINI Countryman suffers. It may be billed as a larger, more spacious and practical family crossover, but most rivals offer more boot space. With the rear seats upright, there’s 350 litres of room available – that’s 200 litres more than the MINI hatchback, but a long way from class topping. The rear seats will slide forward to free up a more credible 450 litres, but don’t expect much legroom after that. There’s plenty of room for passengers in general, though. Four adults will comfortably fit inside – and you can even fit five in at a squeeze.

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

MINI has always been proud of its strong dynamics and fun factor – and the Countryman is no exception. Despite the jacked-up ride height and high seating position, the MINI is more responsive and light on its feet than most hatchbacks, let alone chunky crossovers. It’s easily a contender for the best in its class in terms of handling. As for the ride, there’s obviously more roll than you’d get in the MINI hatchback, but for the size and shape of the Countryman, the angles of lean are well controlled. The ride isn’t quite class leading, but it’s generally comfortable.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

The turbocharged 1.6-litre Cooper S model is the most rapid Countryman variant to date. It has 181bhp and will sprint from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds (7.9 if you choose the automatic or the four-wheel drive versions). That’s swift enough to give the high-performance MINI John Cooper Works hatchback a run for its money. There’s also a 2-litre Cooper SD diesel option, which produces 143bhp and 225 lb/ft of pulling power to provide a top speed of 123mph and a 0-62mph time of 9.3 seconds (121mph and 9.4 seconds for the ALL4). The extra weight of the Countryman over and above the standard MINI makes the engine seem smoother than it does in the hatch. It’s still suitably punchy and has the pace to outrun most other crossovers.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

The Countryman Cooper S is very economical when you take its performance into account – expect 46.3mpg and 143g/km from the front-wheel drive manual car. Automatic and four-wheel drive versions are less frugal, but still not bad. The auto returns 39.8mpg and 166g/km, while the four-wheel drive Cooper S offers 42.2mpg and 157g/km. The flagship ALL4 (four-wheel drive) automatic is the dearest to run with 36.7mpg and 180g/km. The addition of a diesel Cooper SD to the range slashes these running costs thanks to an average fuel economy of 61.4mpg and emissions of just 122g/km of CO2 (57.6mpg and 130g/km for the ALL4).

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

The build quality in modern MINIs is most impressive, as it is inside the Countryman. The dash materials are robust yet soft to the touch – they feel as though they’re built to last. MINI’s hatchback finished fourth in its class and 30th overall in the 2010 JD Power satisfaction survey, which isn’t bad at all. Owners praised the mechanical reliability of the car, so it seems to have stood up well.

O ur rating: 4

8. Safety

Stability control, traction control, brake force distribution, six airbags, Isofix child seat mountings, hill assist, a tyre pressure monitoring system and an alarm are all standard. A top, five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating is as good as it gets, so there’s little to worry about here. Countryman models fitted with the ALL4 four-wheel drive system also benefit from extra grip in slippery conditions.

Our rating: 5

9. Equipment

MINI isn’t renowned for offering huge amounts of standard equipment with its cars, but the Countryman is actually quite well equipped. Air conditioning, all-round electric windows, roof rails, rear parking sensors, a digital DAB radio with a USB socket and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity come with every model. There are plenty of opportunities to increase the specification and to customise the car, such as a variety of different trim options, too.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

This is the largest and most grown-up MINI to date. The extra doors at the back, the spacious cabin and a boot that’s 200 litres larger than that of the hatchback are a big draw for those who may have a family and have outgrown a smaller car. However, it’s the boot that is also the Countryman’s biggest drawback, as it’s small by class standards, so practicality is limited. The Countryman is also quite expensive, as you can find better value elsewhere. The retro looks, frugal engines and keen performance all work in the Countryman Cooper S’s favour, though. If you want a bigger MINI with impressive pace, then this is the answer.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 4stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance4
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety5
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:

Countryman Cooper S

Front-wheel drive means better economy

Best-seller:

Countryman Cooper S

Most affordable model is the best all-rounder

Blow the budget:

Cooper S ALL4 Auto

Expensive to buy and run – but all the extras

The extra weight of the Countryman over and above the standard MINI makes the engine seem smoother than it does in the hatch. It’s still suitably punchy and has the pace to outrun most other crossovers