Carzone tests the largest MINI model on Irish roads
Pros: Cabin quality, stands out from the crowd, great engines
Cons: Styling quite subjective, more expensive
This is the new second generation MINI Countryman which has just gone on sale in Ireland and it’s the largest MINI in the brand’s 57 year history. Offering bulkier styling along with increased room and practicality, the Countryman has grown into a small SUV and competes with cars like the Audi Q2 and BMW's X1. The Countryman is more expensive than before however and it doesn’t drive quite as sharply as MINI's smaller best sellers. We spent a week with the Countryman after its Irish launch to see how well it is suited to Irish roads.
What is it like?
The increased size of the Countryman is obvious from the outside and it has much more road presence thanks to a bulkier bonnet and re-shaped rear, with a higher registration plate and sculpted bumpers. MINI purists will argue that the new Countryman is simply too big to be a true MINI whereas we think it’s quite handsome, so its styling is quite subjective. This car is kitted out with MINI’s optional JCW Chili Pack, which means it has stylish 18-inch John Cooper Works alloy wheels, a sports styling kit and a rear spoiler to mention a few niceties.
The best improvements are found inside the new Countryman, with higher quality materials, a neater dashboard arrangement and a more luxurious feel to the cabin. The Countryman is the first MINI to feature a touch screen infotainment system and it’s hard to miss the vibrant 8.8-inch display in the centre of dashboard, while our test car also has MINI’s extended interior light package which illuminates the cabin in various colours and areas throughout the cabin; a lovely touch at night time! There’s more leg room than before for rear seat passengers, while the car certainly feels spacious up front. Boot space at 450 litres is quite good and on par with most cars in the class.
The Countryman has been launched with the same turbocharged petrol and diesel engine range as the MINI Clubman that we reviewed late last year. Our test car is one of the most powerful Cooper SD models, with a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine producing 190hp and 400Nm of torque, so 0-100km/h is possible in just 7.4 seconds! That’s not far off hot hatch performance, but Irish buyers will likely gravitate to the more sensible options in the range, such as the entry level Cooper Countryman for example, which features a 136hp 1.5-litre petrol engine. Our top of the range test car is the ALL4 model which means it has an all-wheel-drive system and also a silky smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox, though manual and two wheel drive versions are available on lower specification models.
The Countryman is based on the same platform as BMW’s X1 and it’s significantly longer and wider than the first generation model, so it doesn’t handle with the same vigour as the smaller MINIs. The drive is nonetheless engaging and fun for a car of this size; it grips corners brilliantly and there is very little body roll in tight turns, while the all-wheel-drive system offers reassurance in wet conditions. Ride quality is very good with a quiet and comfortable feel on most roads, although the sports suspension is a little on the hard side for bumpy backroads.
In terms of running costs, the Countryman performs well. Our test car has an automatic gearbox, all-wheel-drive and a powerful diesel engine, so it’ isn't the most frugal choice. We averaged around 40MPG in fuel economy during our test and annual motor tax for this version comes in at €280. If you’re looking for better running costs, the small petrol and lower power diesel engines in two-wheel drive are a better option, with higher fuel economy and lower motor tax ratings. There are three distinct driving modes with Green, Mid and Sport, all adjusting power delivery and delivering different economy ratings as a result.
Prices for the new Countryman start from €33,580 for the entry level Cooper D petrol, and standard specification is strong, with roof rails, MINI’s Connected system, cruise control, park distance control, satellite navigation and alloy wheels included. At this price, the MINI Countryman sits between the Audi Q2 and BMW X1 in terms of affordability and as is usually the case with MINI cars, the Countryman is available with an endless range of customisation options, such as a picnic benches, custom interior finishing and body graphics.
Carzone verdict: 3.5/5
The new MINI Countryman is much improved over its predecessor and brings a new level of refinement, luxury and comfort to the class. The extra space on offer will make it a great option for those who love or have owned a MINI in the past, but need the practicality of a larger family car that still manages to stand out from the crowd. Higher specification Countryman models are quite expensive however, particularly when kitted out with optional extras. Taking this into consideration, we’d recommend the Cooper D version which offers the best mix of affordability, performance and spec alike.