Mini Countryman hatchback (2016 - ) review
The Mini Countryman is a midsize SUV that competes with super-popular cars like the Nissan Qashqai. It has a strong image that’s the envy of the class, but with a patchy ride and limited practicality, it’s far from perfect.
Interested in buying a MINI Countryman?
How good does it look?
The Countryman’s styling has always been rather divisive, and that’s certainly still the case with the latest car. Some struggle with the concept of looking at a car as big and bulky as the Countryman, and then calling it a ‘Mini’, while others struggle with the sheer amount of brash detailing that’s smattered liberally over the car’s beefed-up, over-inflated bodywork. There are plenty of folk out there who dig the car’s styling formula – it has, after all, sold in pretty huge numbers – and you’ll make up your own mind as to whether you think it’s a beauty or a beast.
What's the interior like?
The first thing you’ll notice as you climb into the Countryman is how impressively posh the interior feels. Everywhere you look, there’s a diverse mixture of materials and finishes on display, each one of which feels glossy and high-grade. We will temper that praise with the slight caveat that our top-of-the-line test cars were fitted with a whole bunch of optional trim pieces, which most likely enhanced the feeling of quality to a level above that which you get as standard. However, there’s no doubting the cars we experienced felt very classy and very solid. You get a very technologically advanced feel from the cabin, too, although again, our test cars had just about every piece of optional kit it’s possible to throw at a Countryman (including a top-end infotainment system with advanced sat-nav and Harman Kardon speakers, a head-up display, and a powered tailgate, among many, many other things). Most of the various gizmos are very easy to control thanks to an intuitive interface built around BMW’s iDrive system, which is one of the best such systems in the business. As the driver, your life is also made sweeter by having lots of adjustment in the seat and steering column, and clear all-round visibility.
How practical is it?
Practicality lies right at the very heart of the Countryman’s existence. It’s designed for those buyers who have owned Minis in the past, and don’t want to give up the style, image and driving fun that they love, but whose expanding families dictate that they need more space and versatility than your average Mini product can provide. And, to that end, this version of the Countryman is bigger in every direction than its predecessor. It’s surprising, then, that the Countryman doesn’t do a better job on that score. It isn’t passenger space that’s the issue… The back seats have loads of head- and leg-room to keep a pair of tall adults happy, even though a narrow middle seat and bulky transmission tunnel will make life rather less comfy for a third person. No, it’s cargo space that’s the issue. The boot looks very small compared with rivals like the Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008, and even when you slide the rear seats forwards to boost your load-carrying capacity, it doesn’t get much bigger. Doing so also leaves a sizeable well between the boot floor and the rear seatbacks, down which your cargo might easily disappear.
What's it like to drive?
It’s not just the Countryman’s disappointing practicality that limits its effectiveness as a family car… so does the ride quality. At all speeds and on all surfaces, the suspension feels much firmer than you’d want in a family runabout, meaning your brood will be jiggled and jolted around to the point where they may well start complaining. True, the sporty Cooper S version we drove has more hardcore suspension settings than the more humble Countryman models, so we can only hope the less racy ones keep you more comfortable. The ride would be slightly more forgivable if the Cooper S delivered the thrill-a-minute handling for which Minis are famed, but it falls a little short there as well. Don’t get us wrong, with plentiful grip and reasonably tight body control, the Countryman certainly feels pointier that your average family SUV in the bends. However, you can still feel the size, weight and height of the car when you’re changing direction, which blunts your fun. So does the remote feel of the steering, which is also bizarrely heavy, especially at low manoeuvring speeds.
How powerful is it?
So far, we’ve only driven the Cooper S version of the Countryman, which is designed to be sportier than your average family SUV. However, those expecting a corresponding level of performance might be a little disappointed. The 189bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine delivers fine flexibility and reasonable pace, but it lacks the potency and pizzazz that the car’s sporty pretensions (not to mention its price tag) demand. It also makes a very synthetic-sounding noise when you rev it out, but it does work very well with the smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox that our test car came fitted with.
How much will it cost me?
No version of the Countryman is particularly cheap to buy, especially when compared with equivalent versions of rival SUVs. And, if you go for a version that sits towards the top of the range, prices will really rocket. The same is true if you go too bonkers with the options list, because there’s lots of choice available and none of it is particularly affordable. The efficiency of the car is no great shakes either. Some rival midsize SUVs can dip below the 100g/km mark for official CO2 emissions when powered by diesel, but the Countryman doesn’t even get close to that threshold. Opt for one of the sportier models like the ones we drove, and your emissions – and by association, your fuel consumption – will be a lot higher. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that the Countryman will protect your investment pretty well, because the car’s desirability ensures strong resale values.
How reliable is it?
It’s rather difficult to predict how dependable the latest car will be, as there’s barely any reliability data to work with. The previous version gets mixed reports in the owner reviews featured on our website, with one or two reliability issues being flagged, but it’s nothing that should fill you with dread. The Countryman isn’t included in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index, but other Mini models deliver a merely mediocre performance, as does the brand as a whole.
How safe is it?
Several airbags and a host of electronic driver aids are provided as standard, as they are on all new cars these days as a legal requirement. However, a collision detection system with autonomous city braking is also standard, which is a very good thing. If you’re prepared to pay extra, you can also extend the safety roster to include active cruise control, high beam assistant, pedestrian detection and road sign recognition. The car scored a maximum five stars when crash-tested by safety organisation Euro NCAP in 2017.
How much equipment do I get?
Mini aren’t usually renowned for their generosity when it comes to the provision of standard kit, and although the firm isn’t being anywhere near as stingy with the latest Countryman as it was with the old one, we still don’t expect to see any knighthoods for charitable work. The standard roster includes alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth phone connection, and sat-nav, while Cooper S and Cooper SD cars also get part-leather upholstery. Granted, you can add all sorts of high-end luxury gear to your car if you’re prepared to spend extra, and many desirable items are bundled up into option packs, which not only increase the value for money you get, but also help protect your car’s resale values.
Because your family has outgrown Mini’s other models, but you still can’t live without the style and image that Mini ownership brings. However, if you’re not totally sold on the whole Mini recipe, and you just want a family SUV that’ll keep your life comfortable and easy every day, there are better – not to mention cheaper – offerings out there from rival manufacturers.