The Auto Trader expert verdict:
The MINI Countryman is the first premium crossover, with a fine interior and drive. But, it isn't as good value or as practical as the Skoda Yeti or Nissan Qashqai.
Reasons to buy:
- Good to drive
- High-quality interior
- Most practical MINI ever
How good does it look?
The MINI Countryman is controversial. Not only is it the first ever MINI with five doors, it’s the first with four-wheel drive and to top it all – the first ever MINI 4×4. So, many big changes in a range which dates its evolution to the early 1960s are sure to cause a stir. And so it proved during our week with the Countryman, as it proved to be a real head turner. Some loved it, others described it as a MINI XXL.
What's the interior like?
MINI Hatch and Clubman drivers sitting in the Countryman will need a second to adjust. Everything is familiar, from the steering wheel to the toggle-switch controls, and yet the view out gives away its extra size and height. It’s a good place to be, with high-quality finishes which shame some luxury saloons. The huge central speedometer isn’t really for telling speed – it’s more a design feature – which might irritate some. The screen inside it is far less likely to polarise opinion, thanks to its clear and attractive graphics.
How practical is it?
This car is the answer for MINI owners who had to look elsewhere for a more practical car. Now the same brand can provide a car with spacious rear seats – which slide forwards and backwards to increase boot space or leg room – a 350-litre boot and plentiful headroom. Fold the rear seats down and there’s 1,170 litres of space – almost as much as in a Volkswagen Golf. There are plenty of MINI accessories too, from tailor-made bike racks to luggage nets. The Countryman is available with two separate rear seats or a three-seat rear bench for the same price. Models with two rear seats feature a metal rail running through the centre of the car, to which various MINI accessories can be fitted.
What's it like to drive?
Despite its size, the Countryman feels like a MINI to drive. Its snappy gear change and responsive steering feel familiar, and there’s little slack in the firm suspension. Handling is class-leading, with little body roll and lots of poise. The trade-off is a hard ride which jolts over speed bumps and some pronounced road noise on poor surfaces. Choose ALL4 four-wheel drive and the Countryman will traverse all the muddy fields and tracks most drivers will encounter.
How powerful is it?
The Countryman Cooper is available with a 1.6-litre petrol or diesel engine, producing 122 and 112bhp respectively. The petrol is peppy, pulling off the neat trick of being sporty when being worked hard, but settling down to a quiet and economical hum at cruising speeds. It takes 10.5 seconds to reach 62mph. We tested the Cooper D, which takes 10.9 seconds and has a top speed of 115mph. Its performance is adequate, if not sparkling, and we were surprised at its gruff engine note, particularly when quiet. The Skoda Yeti has a smoother and more powerful diesel. An automatic gearbox will be available in March 2011.
How much will it cost me?
While it might be reasonably expensive to buy, the Countryman has low running costs. The petrol Cooper averages 39.2mpg and emits 140g/km of CO2, while MINI claims the diesel averages 64.2mpg and emits 115g/km of CO2. Start and stop technology is standard. We drove a model with ALL4 four-wheel drive, which has an impact on these figures, and averaged 40-45mpg during our week with the car. MINI’s excellent TLC servicing package should make maintaining the Countryman very cost-effective, and it’s expected to command high resale values on the used car market.
How reliable is it?
MINI is middle of the pack for reliability according to the Reliability Index of manufacturers. We found the Countryman well-engineered and trouble-free, with components which felt built to last.
How safe is it?
The Countryman was awarded a five-star rating when crash tested by EuroNCAP. It’s fitted with six airbags as standard, as well as a host of electronic safety devices to help prevent skids. There are also Isofix mounting points for child seats.
How much equipment do I get?
The standard equipment list is impressive, with roof rails, air-con, heated door mirrors and washer jets, rear parking sensors, puncture warning, six-speaker stereo, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB connection and preparation for a bicycle rack. Apple iPhone users can also use the optional MINI Connected system, which gives access to online radio stations and functions from Google, Facebook and Twitter to name but a few.
Love MINIs but can’t find room enough room for passengers and gear? Now it’s possible to stick with the MINI way of life with an added dose of practicality.