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Mini’s modern-day Maxi is back for another swing at the hatchback mainstream, but is the Countryman good enough this time?

The new Countryman’s press literature implores us to appreciate Mini’s bigger picture.

By 2010, BMW’s idea of the Mini had been around for a decade. The slightly larger and haplessly left-field Clubman had appeared in 2007, but otherwise the brand was locked into the supermini archetype prescribed to it by Alec Issigonis’s original.

Underneath the new Countryman is BMW’s UKL platform in its larger Mk2 guise — the same version that underpins the BMW X1

‘Going large’, therefore, was always the Countryman’s hard sell. The first Countryman was recognisably a Mini, albeit puffed out to ensure entry into the far more profitable crossover segment.

In retrospect, it seems a fairly logical step, but Mini previewed the idea with concepts before launching it and even made a Mini WRC version – a gestural grope at the original Mini’s rallying heritage.

The first Countryman did as advertised in proportional terms, yet it failed to kick off the transformation of Mini into a broader brand.

That was a hurdle at which the related Paceman, and both the Coupé and Roadster, would also fall before being discontinued.

But at least the Countryman did sell fairly well: for several years of its life, this was Mini’s most popular new car.

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Now the model returns for a second swing, trumpeting, it must be said, much the same point it made last time round: namely, that size counts. To show Mini means business they have also added a hybrid to the Countryman range too.

And so Cowley’s modern version of the car whose closest antecedent in the original Mini’s history is probably the 1969 Austin Maxi gets larger still, gaining five ‘full-size’ seats as part of the deal, plus the obligatory styling makeover.

Alongside improved practicality comes better material richness and a more generous level of standard kit. On the technical front, both two and four-wheel drive are again offered, mated to engines (two petrols and two diesels) that carry over from the current Clubman.

And so the idea of a larger, more mature, more capable and more liveable Mini remains the Countryman’s promise. Time to find out if it’s been better realised at the second time of asking.

 

Mini Countryman FAQs

Is the MINI Countryman available as a plug-in or electric?

Yes it is. The MINI Countryman was the first plug-in hybrid from the British brand, and shares its petrol-electric powertrain with parent firm BMW. Comprising a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that drives the front wheels and an electric motor that powers the rear axle, it develops 217bhp and can carry the Countryman nearly 32 miles in EV mode. There’s no currently all-electric option - if you want battery power alone you’re limited to the much smaller MINI Electric hatchback.

What are the main rivals for the MINI Countryman?

With its rugged over roader looks and family hatchback-sized body, the MINI Clubman is every inch the compact crossover. The closely related BMW X1 packs the same premium appeal and engines, but is a little more comfortable and spacious. It’s not as upmarket, but the SEAT Ateca is just as good to drive, while in Cupra guise it matches the high performance Countryman John Cooper Works for power - as does the Volkswagen T-Roc R. The Mercedes GLA is more expensive, yet delivers greater refinement and more hi-tech features.

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How much power does the MINI Countryman have?

There are four engine options for the MINI Countryman - all of which are turbocharged petrols - starting with the 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder Cooper. The PHEV plug-in hybrid uses the same unit but combines it with an electric motor to deliver 217bhp - that’s more than the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the Cooper S, which serves up 175bhp. At the top of the Countryman range is the high performance John Cooper Works that uses the same engine as the Cooper S, but tuned to deliver 302bhp and a 0-62mph time of 5.1 seconds.

What choices of gearbox are there for the MINI Countryman?

Despite a relatively limited engine line-up, the MINI Countryman has a surprisingly wide selection of gearbox options. A slightly notchy six-speed manual is standard on Cooper and Cooper S models, while a slick-shifting seven-speed twin clutch automatic is available as an option. The plug-in hybrid is fitted exclusively with a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission for the front wheels and single-speed reduction gear for the electric motor that’s mounted to the rear axle. Finally, the John Cooper Works also gets a traditional auto gearbox, but here it has eight gears, as in the mechanically identical BMW M135i.

Where is the MINI Countryman built?

Despite its heavy British branding, the MINI Countryman isn’t actually built in the UK. Most European models are constructed in the Netherlands, at the Nedcar factory that was originally constructed to build cars under the Volvo and Mitsubishi joint venture, before then being turned over to make the first generation Smart ForFour and Mitsubishi Colt. The Countryman is also assembled by BMW India in Chennai, at the Gaya Motor facility in Jakarta, Indonesia and at the Inkom plant in Malaysia.

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How many generations of the MINI Countryman have there been?

The Countryman has proved to be a popular addition to the MINI line-up and is now in its second generation. The original car made its debut in 2010 and was effectively built on a bespoke platform, which it later shared with the quirky Paceman three-door coupe crossover. The current car arrived in 2016 and is based on the BMW UKL2 platform, which it shares with the BMW X1, X2 and 2 Series Active Tourer.

Mini Countryman First drives