One of the first players in this field way back in 2010, today’s Countryman is actually the new-from-the-ground-up second-gen F60-series launched in March. Larger and roomier in every dimension than before, it brings a hefty boost in standard equipment to help offset a substantial $3400 price increase for the base Cooper auto from $39,900.
That’s still less than what Audi charges for pint-sized Q2, which starts off from $41,100 for the 1.4 TFSI COD S-tronic Design we requested, or $47,800 for the limited-run Edition #1 we ended up receiving.
Using a variation of the MQB modular architecture underpinning the current Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf among a slew of other VW Group vehicles, the Q2 is meant to be a sort of coupe-like crossover rather than a family-focused premium carryall, and is aimed squarely at the massively successful Mercedes-Benz GLA, as well as the Infiniti Q30. And, of course, the Mini SUV that started it all.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT – Winner: Mini Countryman Cooper
In isolation, the Q2 Design seems reasonably well specified, with AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking, automatic self parking, reverse camera, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control air-con, leather upholstery, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and 17-inch alloys.
However the Countryman offers plenty more still, and for less, including the adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, Forward Collision Warning and automatic high-beam system tech that Audi charges another $1600 as part of an Assistance Package (fitted to our car). And then the base Mini blitzes its compatriot for features like a powered tailgate, keyless entry, push-button start, DAB+ digital radio and 18-inch alloys. Note though, the tyres are runflats so there is no (space-saver) spare as in the Audi.
At least the Edition #1 is alone here with an LED exterior and interior light package, sequential-action indicators, privacy glass, 19-inch alloys and some additional fancy trim inserts, although its front sports seats and 40/20/40 folding rear backrest are also Cooper inclusives. The Audi just cannot win the spec battle. BMW reckons there’s $6500 worth of extra kit over the previous model. Maybe it should be called the Maxi Countryman!
Both Germans offer a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
INTERIOR AND VERSATILITY – Winner: Mini Countryman Cooper
The Q2 wins hands-down as far as interior aesthetics and quality are concerned, with a designer austerity that’s as visually seductive as it is lushly tactile and richly aromatic. Definitely one for the sensory pleasure seekers.
Gorgeous graphics, clear markings and beautiful switchgear highlight an obsessive attention to detail that enhances what is actually a top-class effort in terms of ergonomics and practicality. That the Audi excels in the mundane stuff like occupant space, seat comfort, driving position, ventilation and storage is quite a feat.
By comparison, the Countryman’s dash is an obvious, busy retro pastiche that borders on being garish. Well made and easy to navigate for sure after a brief period of familiarisation, it has none of the Q2’s charm or sophistication. Important stuff at the petite premium SUV segment.
What the Mini does maximise is space and utility (thanks in part to a 75mm wheelbase stretch over the old version, making the Countryman’s 69mm longer than the Audi’s), on finely supportive seats, front and rear. That back row’s 40/20/40 bench slides and reclines individually for extra versatility, with ample comfort and storage. Three adults could fit back there without too much bother while the Q2 would be a squeeze. Central air outlets, better vision all-round and super-easy entry and egress underline the Cooper’s function-over-form focus.
Further back still, both boots are surprisingly large, though again it’s the Countryman that has the most bountiful cargo area with the biggest and deepest floor. Volume capacity is rated at 450 litres against the Q2’s 405 litres.
Finally, no matter where you are seated, the Mini is substantially quieter as well as far more comfortable to ride inside – sealing the deal for the way better-equipped Cooper from an everyday useability point of view.
ON THE ROAD – Winner: Mini Countryman Cooper
The Q2’s standard 1.4-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol turbo is just terrific, providing a strong, steady and sweet stream of thrust right up through the rev range. Paired to a seamless seven-speed S-tronic dual clutch transmission, there is initial step-off hesitation, but after that, and especially when the lever is slotted into ‘S’ for Sport, it perfectly fits the performance SUV image that the Edition #1’s big wheels and fat tyres promise. Just what you’d expect from something wearing the four rings.
No qualms about the Countryman’s 1.5-litre turbo triple either, which feels like the little engine that could, with its unexpectedly punchy acceleration and lively mid-range oomph. There isn’t much between the two to about 80km/h, actually, with the Cooper keeping the Q2 honest, but after that the latter’s extra cylinder overcomes its circa-100cc capacity deficit to start pulling away. Decisively.
Curiously, the Cooper’s six-speed torque-converter auto is a tad sluggish shifting up, resulting in an odd robotised manual-like delay between ratios. Note, too, that – unlike the Audi – there’s a rorty thrum to the Mini’s exhaust note as revs rise that’s in stark contrast to the sewing-machine slickness of its rival. Remarkably, there was just 0.2L/100km in it once the real-world fuel figures were tallied up – in the Q2’s favour. Again, both are awfully close.
Where the two begin to really converge is in dynamic behaviour.
Predictably the Q2 is the sportier of the duo, with fast and precise steering for sharp, taut handling characteristics. The front end sticks doggedly to a chosen line, providing excellent feedback and control. From behind the wheel, there’s just no way the Edition #1 on 19-inch rubber feels like an SUV. More like a spicy hatch.
The flipside is a firm suspension tune that turns from busy to terse on anything other than smooth surfaces, undermining occupant comfort in the process. Like our passengers, our car was crying out for adaptive dampers, so we strongly recommend these. Plus, there’s just too much road and tyre noise droning in, particularly from the (torsion beam) rear end. This is a vocal little runabout.
Meanwhile the Mini prioritises comfort to its eternal benefit. The steering isn’t quite as eager as the Q2’s, and there is noticeably more body movement through corners, but the Cooper still turns in with deft enthusiasm, backed up by excellent grip. Its (multi-link) rear end will gently push the front through a corner in a fluid arc if the driver’s on it. And the ride, not always settled or supple admittedly, just smothers away bumps compared to the Audi.
About the only real criticism we can level to the Countryman is that its handling feels like an SUV that’s been tuned to seem Mini-like, rather than the previous version which was the Mini of SUVs.
VERDICT – Winner: Mini Countryman Cooper
Have no doubt that the Q2 Edition #1 is absolutely on-brand. Gorgeous proportions. Stunning detailing. Advanced tech. Searing powertrain. Exceptional efficiency. Athletic agility. And a premium price tag to match. If the above traits matter most, this is your car.
But while we lament the… err… gentrification of the Mini’s one-time raffish edginess – most noticeable in the latest Countryman – it is the better equipped, more comfortable, roomier and more practical of the two. And the Cooper’s still great fun, almost as gutsy and toweringly capable dynamically.
A small but hard-earned victory for the Mini.
Model: Audi Q2 Edition #1
Engine: 1395cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v turbo
Max power: 110kW @ 5000-6000rpm
Max torque: 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch
Fuel use: 5.6L/100km
Kerb weight: 1355kg
Model: Mini Countryman Cooper
Engine: 1499cc 3-cyl, dohc, 12v turbo
Max power: 100kW @ 4400-6000rpm
Max torque: 220Nm @ 1400-4300rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel use: 6.0L/100km
Kerb weight: 1390kg