Is bigger necessarily better ?
Back in 2007, the Walker family took delivery of a brand new 57 plate purple MINI Cooper. This was a car that all of the family fell in love with, but as the children got older, we needed something larger & in succession we had an Audi A3 Sportback, VW Golf & Nissan Qashqai which offered us just that bit more space. In truth, we were all still missing our beloved MINI & when the opportunity arose in 2013, Mrs Walker chose a MINI Countryman, which we happily ran for 3 years. Although we really liked the Countryman Mk1, it was to a certain extent a compromise car, being not quite large enough for family life, coming as it did with a cramped rear & awkward small boot. It also came poorly equipped with MINI asking customers to fork out for almost everything except air-con & DAB radio.
In 2010 when the first Countryman was launched, ‘crossover’s’ & small SUV’s were still in their infancy, but as with their Qashqai’s success, Nissan’s smaller Juke proved so popular, that by 2016 everyone & their dog had entered this sector with new models such as the Audi Q2, Mazda CX-3 & Vauxhall Mokka emerging & leaving the original Countryman behind. Despite all this, this larger MINI still sold well, certainly in our local WA14 & WA15 post codes, with it becoming the “ yummy mummy’s “ vehicle of choice. With increased competition & with all of the other MINI models in the range updated in the past two years, it was time at the beginning of 2017, for the Countryman to get the treatment as well.
From the outside, the Countryman has evolved. The new car is both wider & longer than it’s predecessor & it sits on the newest UKL2 platform architecture found underneath cars like the latest MINI Clubman & the BMW X1. It’s available from launch, with a 1.5 & 2.0 litre petrol as well as a 2.0 litre diesel engine, with a hybrid plug-in model coming later this year. Despite the rallying call for petrol cars, at least amongst those located within the City of London, most company car drivers will opt for the 2.0 litre diesel which offers CO2 emissions of 118g/km, with a claimed combined fuel economy of 65.7 mpg.
The Countryman 2.0 Cooper D arrived at Company Car Towers in the fetching colour of Island Blue with 17” Imprint Spoke alloys fitted with run-flat tyres which are a no cost option. Stepping back to look at the new version, at first, it’s quite hard to see what’s different, but on closer inspection, both the front & rear are significantly changed, with a larger, more pronounced front-grille, bloated headlights, plus a noticeably squared-off rear end, actually making the new version less attractive than the old one. Inside thankfully, things get better with a completely redesigned dashboard. MINI have kept the retro circular display & chrome toggle switches, which sit in the centre of the dash, whilst the speedo, rev counter & fuel gauge now sit in front of the driver. The speedboat- style handbrake has also been replaced by an automatic one.
The materials inside the cab feel more premium than the outgoing model with a mixture soft touch plastics on the dash and fabric trim on the door’s that matched my seats, finished in a fetching mid-grey.Interior black trim piano black on the dashboard, an extra £155 adds to the upmarket feeling. The Cooper-spec Countryman gets SatNav, DAB radio, cruise control, parking sensors, Bluetooth & autonomous city braking. As with BMW’s, there’s a massive options list, with my test model fitted with the Chili Pack, which adds heated front sports seats, MINI Driving Modes; Green, Mid & Sport, automatic air-con, front LED fog lights, adaptive LED headlights & comfort access, leather steering wheel & those 17” alloys & Chili will set you back an additional £2980. Other extras added to my teat car included a powered boot lid, £375, a sliding rear seat bench, £300, ( free on the last model ) & a padded picnic bench which pulls out of the boot allowing you to sit on the bumper to change your shoes, for £150.
The standard infotainment system is a 6.5″ colour display with SatNav including European mapping For £950, you can upgrade to MINI’s new 8.8″ XL infotainment system that now features touchscreen capability for the first time. My test car had this fitted & I found it great to use & simple to understand. I tended when driving, towards using the scrolling wheel & buttons located in front of the hand brake., rather than touching the screen. Whilst this works extremely well, it’s both too low & too far back to be completely comfortable & takes some getting used to. Wireless smartphone charging is also part of the Media Pack, with the charger located in the armrest between the front seats. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration yet, very strange… although MINI’s Connected app offers some services.
Interior space is definitely improved with the Countryman now 4.3m long, 1.82m wide & 1.56m tall, which is 20cm longer & 3cm wider than the previous car, although the height hasn’t increased. MINI has extended the wheelbase of the Countryman by 75mm, which benefits rear legroom. Two will fit nicely in the rear, but passenger three will struggle for legroom thanks to the large transmission tunnel running through the middle of the car. Bootspace is now up with the competition, offering 450 litres, 100 litres up on the old car. It also extends to 1390 litres with the seats folded, whilst the three rear seats can be split 40/20/40 for increased versatility. This is further enhanced by a useful split-folding boot base, two elastic fabric holding ties, one on each side, a small storage bin on the left & a 12v input on the right. Inside the cabin there’s two cup holders behind the gear lever & in the front & rear doors, 4 door pockets that will also hold cup as well.
Despite it’s increased bulk over the 3-door MINI, our old Countryman was great fun to drive. And, the new model is the same with corner-gripping fun coupled to an excellent six-speed manual gear box & plenty of torque making the new 2.0 litre 148bhp engine even better to drive than the old 1.6 version. On the motorway this new unit is amazingly quiet & with cruse-control engaged the miles just disappear. On smooth motorways, the ride is exemplary, but that’s not quite the case on bumpy pot-holed urban roads, where a combination of the run-flat tyres, hard suspension & very supportive seats can make the car a bit bumpy. The steering is also quite heavy as is the clutch & these too, take a little getting used to.
Now that my son is almost six-feet tall, the increased space inside the cabin is especially noticeable. Not only has he got more leg room than before, the sculpted rear seats mean increased head room as well. The larger boot is far more practical & deeper front to back than the stingy Mk1.
Driving around the NW on a combination of roads for 300 miles or so, gave me a disappointing fuel economy figure of 42.9mpg. I tried out all of the driving modes & to be fair, even engaging the Green mode did not make this figure climb any higher. I’m not quite sure how you can achieve 65mpg+ in the Cooper D although to be fair, we did not get much more than mid to late 30’smpg out of our 1.6D version back in the day.
In conclusion, the latest MINI Countryman is bigger, better equipped, but more expensive then the outgoing model, with a basic Cooper D Countryman costing £23,850. Add all of the options included on my test version & this jumps to a whopping £32,145 & whilst the Chili Pack is well worth the investment, you can probably do without the rest. For business users, the MINI Countryman Cooper D with the Chili pack is currently on offer from £255 per month, with a £1530 initial rental, whilst the Cooper D minus Chili is £221.
Despite my reservations about the latest models looks, don’t let this put you off. I can honestly say that I fell for MINI’s larger, lumpier sister, just as I had for it’s predecessor. The simple fact is that all cars are now getting bigger & this Countryman is no different. I loved the interior with it’s retro looks & clever design & it’s a much more practical proposition than before, making it a car that Mrs Walker may well be ordering in the not too distant future. The MINI Countryman is a car that car enthusiasts love to hate, but certain types of buyers don’t care what others this model will I’m sure, will prove to be at least as popular as the original.
Unquestionably a MINI in all things except size 3.5/5