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.