2017 Mini Countryman Cooper S first drive review
The compact SUV class has more contenders than ever before, and the standard of those contenders has never been higher. That means the Countryman’s job has never been tougher, so does it have both the style and substance to compete?
- New version of Mini’s SUV has grown in every direction
- Better interior quality and more standard kit
- On sale in mid-February, range starting at £22,465
You see, the company believes there are lots of loyal customers who still love the style, image and driving fun their previous Mini purchases have given them, but who, due to expanding families, need more space and practicality than Mini’s other products can provide. The Countryman is designed to fill this gap.
To that end, the latest Countryman is bigger in every direction than before, with a full 20cm being added to the length, and more distance between the axles for improved leg-room, too. More standard kit is also offered, but things that remain from the previous model include the retro-themed styling cues and the huge scope for personalisation.
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 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. Passengers are also well catered for. 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. If required, the rear seats can slide forwards to free up more boot space, but the effect isn’t as successful as it sounds. In normal mode, the boot is pretty small by class standards, and mucking about with the seats doesn’t make it much bigger. This also leaves a sizeable well between the boot floor and the rear seatbacks, down which your cargo might easily disappear.
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.
Those after a sporty SUV might also be a little disappointed by the performance. 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 pricetag) 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 our test car came fitted with.
We can see the Countryman being a lot more tempting in its lesser forms, because these will be cheaper on both counts, and hopefully a shade more comfortable as well. Plus, they’ll still have the style and image that have traditionally made the Countryman such as sales success. It’s highly likely, however, these versions will still trail the best family SUVs for practicality and family-friendliness, so before you buy, make sure you value vanity over versatility.
- Model: Mini Countryman Cooper S All4 Auto
- Price: £28,025
- Engine: 2.0-litre diesel, eight-speed automatic
- Power/Torque: 189bhp/207lb ft
- 0-62mph: 7.2secs
- Top speed: 138mph
- Economy: 44.1mpg
- CO2/BIK tax liability: 146g/km / 26%
- Boot space: 450-1390 litres