We run the rule over the hottest diesel Countryman to see how convincingly it fulfils its SUV remit.
Tell me about this car:
The Countryman is the biggest Mini body size currently available. It runs on the same chassis as BMW’s X1 SUV, so the Countryman has the space inside to handle family duties. The SD All4 Cooper version gets a peppy 2.0-litre diesel engine and all-wheel drive, which means that you’ll be able to not only put all of that 170kW down in the wet, but you’ll also be able to take advantage of the elevated ride height with a bit of light-duty off-road use.
Now clearly we wouldn’t recommend taking the Countryman to places that would give a Jeep Wrangler something to think about, but it eats up muddy tracks and gravel roads, offering a real sense of security. The diesel engine also returns excellent fuel economy. Even with a fairly heavy right boot we’ve been seeing around 6.3L/100km which isn’t too far off the manufacturer’s 5.2L claim.
The looks are polarising and the interior has a lot going on, but perhaps the Countryman’s biggest Achilles heel when it comes to crossing over to mainstream buyers is its price. At $51,500 before you start adding options, it can get very expensive very quickly compared to workaday SUV alternatives. That said, it’s a premium car with real character, and that’s a commodity that’s in short supply amongst smallish SUVs. And it’s clearly one that customers are prepared to pay a premium for, if Mini’s bullish sales predictions are anything to go by.
- Handling is taut and precise, with good steering and a fire-and-forget all-wheel drive system that requires no intervention from the driver. Should you get too excitable, the Countryman has a really good stability control system that will bring everything back into line in all but the most extreme circumstances.
- The automatic gearbox is smooth and quick-witted. You also have the option of either using the stick to change gear manually, or there’s a pair of paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Flick the drive mode into Sport and you probably won’t need to do much work yourself. The software’s that smart.
- The fascia delivers the sort of surprise and delight that’s a Mini trademark, with funky ambient lighting, beautifully tactile metal toggle switches and huge dials. Some of the infotainment functions take a bit of mastering, but after a while it’s all fairly easy to navigate.
- There’s quite a bit of space out back. Where the old Countryman had 350 litres of luggage capacity with the rear seats in space, the latest car now boasts 450 litres. Fold the 40:20:40 sliding rear seat and you get up to 1,390 cubic litres of fresh air at your disposal.
- Fuel economy is very good at a claimed 5.2L/100km.
- The rear parking sensors and camera combo are excellent and if you so wish, the car will even parallel park itself. The user manual disclaims any damage done to your alloy wheels if the system misjudges a kerb, so do bear that in mind.
- The active cruise control system does a great job in stop/start traffic. You’ll need to give the throttle a prod if the car comes to a complete halt, but otherwise it’ll happily trundle along in slow-moving lines by itself.
- The styling is, to put it kindly, divisive. It’s certainly a bit more socially acceptable than the old Countryman , with a more mature look, but there’s a lot going on, from the big headlights to the fake vents, body mouldings and chrome detailing.
- There are a few odd specification omissions. For a car that feels as high-tech as the Countryman does inside, it’s a bit strange that you can’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mirroring. A Kia Picanto offers it, so why not a fifty grand Mini? Mini’s parent BMW argues that the inbuilt infotainment offers all of the same functionality.
- The ride quality is decidedly firm. It jolts over bumpy roads and never really settles even on relatively smooth freeways.
- The indicators are the work of the devil, being one-touch items that are supposed to stay on for a few blinks with a light tap or stay indicating with a heavier touch. The problem is, when you make a quick lane change on the freeway, you can set it indicating and the lane change doesn’t offer enough steering input to cancel the blinkers. You’re then likely to start indicating back the other way as you try to cancel them.
- The rear seats fold by using a fiddly fabric toggle at the seat base. A big tab at the top of the seat back would be a far friendlier solution.