From £22,2656
All-new bigger Mini continues to make a curious, flawed crossover hatchback, though it’s more compelling to drive than some and more practical than it used to be

Our Verdict

Mini Countryman

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

  • First Drive

    2017 Mini Countryman Cooper S

    All-new bigger Mini continues to make a curious, flawed crossover hatchback, though it’s more compelling to drive than some and more practical than it used to b

What is it?

BMW’s ‘big Mini’, the Countryman, was the car introduced seven years ago to lead the transformation of the firm from early-noughties-era-must-have-supermini to fully-fledged-brand-in-its-own-right. And that it hasn’t so far done that very well may be because it’s not immediately obvious exactly what it has added to the Mini range. By mixing too many vehicle types and relying too much on established notions of what a Mini is, rather than what it might be, the last Countryman ultimately failed to carve out a recognisable identity of its own. And, while it’s a bigger and better car in some ways, the new one fails in much the same way.

The Mini Countryman’s intended as a crossover, of course: that much you can tell from the angry stare of its angular headlamps and the various bits of SUV-apeing bodykit sprinkled about it. And yet it may be the least ‘crossed’ crossover you’re ever likely to come across. With dimensions a match for a normal family hatchback every which way but for a slightly raised ride height and roofline, the Countryman’s only slightly raised belt- and shoulderlines leave plenty of room to doubt whether it’s intended as Mini’s answer to an Audi Q2 or just a normal A3. And then you drive it – and the messages become even more confusing.

The Countryman’s engine range mirrors that of the Mini Clubman, starting with the 134bhp, three-cylinder turbo petrol Cooper; including the 148bhp diesel Cooper D at mid-level; and, for now, topping out with Cooper S and Cooper SD models with 187- and 189bhp respectively. A four-wheel drive plug-in hybrid model dubbed Cooper S E, with 221bhp of combined petrol and electric oomph, comes later this year. Behind that, a top-of-the-range 228bhp Countryman JCW will follow, also four-wheel drive – with Mini’s ‘ALL4’ clutch-based four-wheel drive system optional elsewhere in the range.

What's it like?

One of Mini’s main aims was to create a more spacious, practical, comfortable, materially rich and mature-feeling interior than you get elsewhere in the model range. It has delivered in some, but not all, of those respects. The new Countryman is 200mm longer than the last one, with 75mm having gone into the wheelbase to the benefit of cabin length, and much of the rest into a bigger boot. The latter is now big enough, at 450 litres, so put a Nissan Qashqai to shame, and expandable via the standard sliding and folding 40:20:40 back-row seats.

There’s enough room in both rows of seats for proper adults, and plenty of headroom for taller occupants – although the car’s hallmark recumbent seating position and its thin seat cushions still make the cabin less comfy and convenient than is the crossover class norm.

Mini’s attempts to lift the Countryman’s cabin ambience to a more sophisticated level are also mixed. Cabin quality is impressive in places but the car’s plastics become quite hard and brittle at lower levels, while those illuminated dashboard and door trims don’t really add much.

To drive, the Countryman confounds your expectations of a modern crossover hatchback by its conformity to Mini’s own modern dynamic template. This is a firm-riding, direct handling, relatively highly strung prospect that feels less like any sort of jacked-up utility car and more like a typical hot hatchback. Mini’s chassis engineers may well consider this a roaring success, having translated the infamous ‘go-kart feel’ of its smaller models onto a taller car with a longish wheelbase. But if the intention was to broaden the dynamic reach of the firm’s model range here, the achievement’s quite plainly a lot less.

Even on optional-fit adaptive dampers, the Countryman handles anything other than millpond-smooth tarmac with a tiresome restlessness, suffering with plenty of headtoss, tramlining and bump-steer on quicker B-roads, and feeling wooden and unyielding on broken town roads. It steers very quickly and heavily; handles more coherently than the last Countryman on account of tighter body control and slightly improved steering feedback, but like so many of its siblings remains more compelling to drive when you’re just punting around than it is when you examine it at greater speed.

The Cooper S’ turbocharged engine feels quite strong and has useful accessible torque, but works better with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox when driven at a relaxed pace than in manual mode when pressing on. Mini’s ALL4 driveline, meanwhile, comes up with all the traction that the car needs even in slippery conditions, but isn’t clever enough to augment the car’s fundamental handling poise on the road, which could certainly be better balanced.

Should I buy one?

Overall, things seem to have improved a little without changing a great deal for Countryman owners. This car’s main mission, curious as it may continue to appear outside of a Mini showroom, is to represent Cowley’s much-loved supermini at 150% scale; not to bring people into the Mini ownership orbit as much as to prevent them from leaving it.

But, while it may be exactly what a Mini owner wants from his next ‘family’ car, the Countryman’s not our idea of a great modern crossover hatchback; not, at least, on first acquaintance with a Cooper S model. Cheaper, simpler versions may better balance the ride comfort and ease-of-use desired of a crossover against the handling dynamism we all expect of a Mini – but even now it’s clear that the wait for a really good Mini crossover, designed with the freedom and vision that the increasingly important segment deserves, will go on.

Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4 auto  

Location High Wycombe, UK; On sale now; Price £28,025 Engine 4cyls in line, 1998cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 189bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 207lb ft at 1350-4600rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerbweight 1530kg; 0-62mph 7.2sec; Top speed 138mph; Economy 44.1mpg; CO2/tax band 150g/km, 29%  Rivals: Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI Sport, Mercedes GLA 250 4MATIC Sport

Join the debate

Comments
13

18 January 2017
Interesting to hear Sir Kenneth Grange (designer of the Inter City 125 train and many iconic products) on Desert Island Discs recently say that he thought most modern cars are extremely ugly because they are born from computer fantasies rather than fundamental good design. Hard to disagree when you look at this troll-like object that would make Issigonis spin in his grave. I'd really like to see what a modern car maker could come up with if they started with some old-fashioned principles, like making the interior the right size first and getting the driving spot on. Dress it up like a tart afterwards if you really must. Car design is ar** first at the moment.

18 January 2017
It costs a lot of money these days to look this bad.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

18 January 2017
Sir Kenneth Grange is so wrong as it is not computer generated fantasies but it is the egotistical bad designers who penned this one, missing the point of what a MINI branded product is. The last Countryman is beautiful compared to this aberration.
I understand it drives much better but that is lost as it looks awful as does the whole current range of MINI's of which there is not one small car among them.
MINI officially has lost its way from what it started with the first BMW MINI

18 January 2017
I like the size of the car, but it is ugly, but what modern car is not? It is hard to find a car without a oversized/fake air intake.

18 January 2017
Modern car design needs to pander to the Chinese market, which likes big grilles, hence the current trend for huge intakes, which filters down through a car range even onto cars not destined for that market because it has became the corporate "design language".

They also have big guppy fronts and long overhangs so that motorists can knock down pedestrians and not have them die from hitting the engine block, especially on tall SUVs.

Having said that though, I see what BMW are trying to do. Think of it less of reinventing the Austin Mini economy car, and more reinventing a modern day "cool Britannia" Austin, look at this more as a spiritual successor to something like an Austin 1300 or Maxi.....

18 January 2017
The car doesnt need to be ugly to appeal to the Chinese Market.
The size of the car is OK as well it is just its execution it is muddle and over detailed and not in the spirit of the brand MINI.
Also to be "Cool Britannia" set the studio up in the UK again and get some real "Cool Britannia" back into the brand

18 January 2017
I can't help feeling that the concept is OK - I think a MINI small SUV could be a reasonable stretch of the 'brand', but this is so contrived, poorly resolved and confused in its execution, that it makes me concerned once again that BMW does not know how to handle this brand. Maybe they should hire David Saddington from JLR ...
The car-buying public gets what it deserves, unfortunately ...

18 January 2017
Not sure that's true, the first generation Countryman was a strong seller, and this will no doubt also be a strong seller

They do seem to have brought the Clubman and Countryman together with this generation, they now seem very similar to each other to the extent that you wonder why they need both?

18 January 2017
Mikey C wrote:

Not sure that's true, the first generation Countryman was a strong seller, and this will no doubt also be a strong seller

They do seem to have brought the Clubman and Countryman together with this generation, they now seem very similar to each other to the extent that you wonder why they need both?

Clubman is a rival to the A3 market, people who go up and down the motorways daily. Well, thats what Mini want you to think anyway. The Clubman is more towards families

18 January 2017
The zealotry with which journos seem to hate the Countryman keeps astonishing me.

As the first Countryman undoubtedly was a roaring success for BMW (and BTW still is with my wife) maybe the concept and design weren't that wrong. As an SUVey stylish compact crossover from a premium car maker it appeals to an affluent urban clientele (in spite of its name) which certainly was more important for its designers than whether Sir Alec Issigonis would have approved...

Admittedly, noise and suspension comfort left a lot to be desired and some fun could really only be had on B roads, i.e. not the normal habitat. However, I always quite liked the styling and that in my view has successfully been transferred to the new model which has brought useful increases in size. Hopefully comfort has increased as well. The review seems to imply that it hasn't which is, however, hard to believe, given the enormous progess in the normal Mini hatchback.

I would gladly trade 10% of the sportiness for a 20% increase in comfort and long distance ability and my guess is that this is what BMW has done here.

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Lexus LC500
    Car review
    20 October 2017
    Futuristic Lexus LC coupé mixes the latest technology with an old-school atmospheric V8
  • Maserati Levante S GranSport
    First Drive
    20 October 2017
    Get ready to trade in your diesels: Maserati’s luxury SUV finally gets the engine it’s always needed
  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK