The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.0
Available new from £24,805
The compact crossover and SUV sector is one of the most competitive and fast-moving areas of the market and Mini’s popular Countryman has come in for a spruce-up and mid-life update. The changes are modest but encompass new styling, fresh trim options and minor updates to the engines. The plug-in hybrid option is of particular interest and is among the sportier of its type to drive.
Reasons to buy
- Distinctive looks
- Surprisingly sporty driving style
- Effective plug-in hybrid option
At a glance
Running costs for a MINI Countryman
The Mini badge is desirable – indeed, you voted it your ’most loved brand’ in the 2020 Auto Trader New Car Awards – and you’d expect it to carry a premium but the Countryman is priced competitively against rivals like the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo XC40. That popularity will also score well for resale value and, by extension, monthly finance costs.
Like all of these cars the Countryman is also available as a plug-in hybrid and here the Mini looks keenly priced, at least by the bottom line figure. This updated version has improved electric-only range and reduced CO2 figures, which will help you save on fuel costs (assuming you plug it in to charge the battery) and VED, or ‘road tax’ as it’s known. Company drivers will especially love the hybrid, its higher purchase cost more than offset by the huge savings in Benefit In Kind it brings.
Private buyers may wish to think more carefully, given the hybrid can cost as much as £8,000 more than a petrol-only Countryman of the same trim level. You may claw some of that back if you can stick to short journeys on electric power but for longer journeys the hybrid isn’t as efficient as the figures might suggest.
Reliability of a MINI Countryman
Mini just scrapes into the manufacturers’ top 10 according to the respected JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, which is ahead of Volvo, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The fact BMW languishes at the bottom of the table might give you pause for thought, given the fact Mini is owned by the German brand and the Countryman shares many of its parts with cars like the X1. Like all Mini Models, the Countryman comes with a three-year unlimited-mileage warranty, which isn’t as good as the five years you get from rival products from Toyota, Hyundai or Renault.
Safety for a MINI Countryman
You get six airbags, two Isofix child seat mounts in the back (a third up front is a cost option), tyre pressure warning system and automatic emergency braking that kicks in if you don’t respond to a hazard in your path. An optional pack adds radar monitored active cruise control and improved hazard detection system. Rear parking sensors are also standard. The blind spot warnings, lane keeping assistance features and rear cross traffic alert systems (useful in busy supermarket car parks) found on most rivals are notable by their absence, though, and it’s disappointing Mini didn’t take the opportunity of this mid-life update to add them.
How comfortable is the MINI Countryman
The retro theme of Mini interiors is popular with owners, the big circular display in the middle of the dash and rank of toggle switches beneath it all adding to the character. It feels well made, too, though some people may prefer the cool modernism of cars like the Peugeot 3008 or ‘big car’ premium feel of a BMW X1 or Mercedes-Benz GLA.
The Countryman is Mini’s biggest model and, by extension, the most practical. The driving position is good, with plenty of adjustment, and the rear seat can split and fold 40:20:40 or in any combination thereof for maximum flexibility. The rear seat backs also adjust for angle, meaning you can free up a bit more boot space if required. Even in the regular configuration there is a decent amount of luggage space, though the hybrid loses a little carrying capacity compared with the regular versions. An optional ‘Activity Pack’ adds sliding rear seats, power tailgate and a ‘picnic bench’ for the rear sill.
Mini likes to portray a sporty image and that translates to the driving experience, meaning the ride is pretty firm and the steering surprisingly heavy. This is good for response, means it zips round corners with the character of the much smaller Mini Hatch and reacts positively to the driver’s inputs, making it more fun to drive than many of its rivals. Around town, though, the suspension feels pretty jittery, especially over potholes and speed bumps. The steering effort at parking speeds will also be a negative for many drivers.
Features of the MINI Countryman
In the jargon of its BMW parent brand, you may hear this update described as a ‘Life Cycle Impulse’ or LCI in classifieds listings, this bringing with it the usual visual tweaks to freshen up the looks. These include new bumpers front and rear with more body-coloured trim, a revised grille, new wheel designs, optional black trim package and funky Union Flag rear lights like those seen on the Mini Hatch. On the inside the instruments have been replaced with a digital screen, which helps modernise the cabin. There’s no escaping, however, that this is a fast-moving sector and the fiddly interface with the infotainment, the number of tiny buttons and the general ergonomics feel a little outdated compared with more up to date rivals.
Standard equipment is decent, though, with all models getting the Navigation Pack via an 8.8-inch central display. A built-in SIM card means this is a fully connected system you can pair with your phone to send routes to the car and benefit from other online services. Bluetooth, DAB and CarPlay are also included. New LED headlights are also standard across the range.
Beyond the base trim there are two further steps with increasing levels of luxury and equipment, plus the standalone John Cooper Works model with its own package of sporty upgrades. In the traditional Mini style the scope for personalisation in terms of colours, contrast roof shades, stripes and trim is huge, a selection of bundled ‘packs’ offering further upgrades. Suffice to say, it’s easy to bump up the price if you get in too deep on the options list.
Power for a MINI Countryman
You’re not short of choice when it comes to how fast you want your Countryman to go or how you want to fuel it. Petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid options cover all bases while the John Cooper Works version has over 300 horsepower and is a proper hot hatch chaser. All the engines have been updated with the latest emissions control technology to meet stringent new standards, along with other detail improvements.
JCW aside there are two petrol options – a 136 horsepower three-cylinder and a 178 horsepower four-cylinder – and a single diesel. The basic petrol is nippy enough but if you’re regularly carrying a lot of passengers or doing longer journeys the more powerful models may be worth considering. A manual gearbox is standard on front-wheel drive models, which you can upgrade to a seven-speed automatic for additional cost. More powerful versions with the ‘ALL4’ all-wheel drive system come with an automatic gearbox as standard, as do the JCW and hybrid versions.
We drove the updated version of the hybrid, which combines a petrol engine powering the front wheels and an electric motor driving the rear. They can work independently or together, switching between the various modes so seamlessly you likely won’t notice much of the time. The electric-only mode is impressively brisk around town, meaning you don’t have to nanny the accelerator for fear of waking the petrol engine like you do on some rivals. It also preserves its range effectively through regeneration when slowing down. On the open road and using both power sources the hybrid is faster than its 220 horsepower would suggest and much more fun to drive than most crossovers or SUVs, which is in keeping with Mini’s cheeky image.