Car reviews - Mini - Countryman - Cooper SD
One of the best-handling small SUVs money can buy, quirky inside and out, NVH levels, reasonably practical
Room for improvement
Performance blunted by extra weight, gruff engine idle, getting pricey for a tall hatchback
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25 Sep 2017
AFTER arriving Down Under in 2011, Mini’s take on an SUV, the Countryman, arrived in all-new second-gen guise in March this year.
The largest model in Mini’s stable, the range launched with two petrol and two diesel-powered variants, joined later by the performance-honed John Cooper Works hero.
Topping the range of non-JCW Countryman models is the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel SD, the market’s most powerful diesel-powered small SUV.
Mini’s brand ethos has always been about making cars that are small, lightweight and a hoot to drive. At 1535kg, the Countryman SD is not only the largest Mini in its history, but is also the heaviest variant in the range.
Can the Countryman SD strike the balance of being a practical, small family hauler while still offering the potent performance and dynamics for which Mini has become known?
Price and equipment
AT $51,500 plus on-roads, the Mini Countryman SD All4 is the most expensive non-JCW variant in Mini’s five-variant range.
Comparable offerings from other manufacturers include the Mercedes-Benz GLA220d ($51,200 plus on-roads), the BMW X1 sDrive18d ($50,600) and the Audi Q2 2.0 TDI quattro Sport ($49,100).
The Countryman is in line with the pricing of these other premium offerings, however the SD tested had a number of extras that raised the cost slightly.
Our Countryman was upholstered with Chester leather in the handsome British Oak colour ($1900), and featured the novel but slightly goofy Mini Yours Interior Style illuminated option ($600) that lights the passenger-side dash with wavy patterns at night. While this feature is unique and quirky, it also feels a bit tacky, and reminds us of the ‘jazz’ pattern famous for adorning milkshake cups in the 90s.
Other optional extras included a sport steering wheel wrapped in Walknappa leather ($200), a luggage partition net ($300), and the Multimedia Pro Package ($2400) that includes Mini’s Navigation System Professional with 8.8-inch touchscreen, head-up display and a 12-speaker Harman/kardon sound system.
Extras included, the price of the Countryman increased to $56,900 plus on-roads – $1000 shy of the range-topping Countryman JCW.
Standard equipment on the SD All4 includes automatic climate control, automated tailgate function, Bluetooth and USB audio streaming, DAB+ digital radio, a 6.5-inch touchscreen (when the 8.8-inch unit is not optioned), navigation system, camera-based speed limit info display, storage package with flat loading boot floor, Comfort Access with keyless start, adaptive LED headlights, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors with Park Assist, active cruise control with stop and go function and autonomous emergency braking.
Black 18-inch pin spoke wheels were also added as a no-cost option, over the standard silver hoops.
The Countryman SD has just about all the standard equipment expected for a car of its price.
However we feel a few of the features listed as options – namely the leather upholstery (cloth/leather is standard), larger touchscreen and head-up display – should probably be included as standard for a manufacturer that markets its products alongside the European luxury manufacturers.
The Countryman’s interior is a true reflection of Mini’s fun and quirky brand ethos, with unique designs and switchgear featuring throughout the cabin.
Its interior is personified by the eye-catching centre console, which is dominated by a circular ring that houses the 8.8-inch touchscreen display and accompanying buttons. It can light up in different colours, and even begins to glow red when the parking sensors detect the car is getting too close to an object.
The optional 8.8-inch touchscreen offers smooth, fast and clear operation, and the slick navigation system benefits from the larger screen.
It is controlled through a button cluster similar to the BMW iDrive unit, which allows for simple and intuitive operation.
Three dials comprise the air-con cluster, with digital screens on each dial indicating temperature, strength and ventilation.
Another of the Countryman’s signature quirky features is the set of toggles in the place of traditional buttons, which control functions including the engine on/off switch, traction control, auto stop and parking cameras.
Connectivity options include Bluetooth, USB, auxiliary and 12V ports, and DAB+ digital radio. Music is piped through the optional but excellent 12-speaker harman/kardon sound system, which offers superb sound quality, even at high volume.
One of the few stylistic touches we don’t like is the gear stick, which feels clumsy and out of place in the trendy Countryman cabin.
The optional Mini Yours Sport leather-wrapped steering wheel has a solid, chunky feel, a hallmark of BMW Group vehicles. It feels comfortable in the hands, and contains paddle shifters as well as all the buttons necessary for music and cruise control operation.
A glass head-up display gives readouts of vehicle speed and speed limits, and can also display such things as radio channel selection. It is useful but is part of the $2400 Multimedia Pro package.
One of the highlights of the interior is the Chester leather upholstery in British Oak, which combined with the black-and-British Oak dashboard makes for a handsome interior. The quilted leather is stylish and comfortable, but is a $1900 option, with the alternative upholstery being a mix of cloth and leather.
The seats are neither electric nor heated, and for $51,500, electric seat adjustment should probably be included.
With its increased dimensions, the new Countryman has a spacious interior, both in head and legroom. Rear seats also have ample legroom, and the backrests can be tilt-adjusted to find the ideal mix of comfort and boot space.
The 40/20/40 split-fold seats can be folded almost flat, and provide a surprisingly large cargo space – 1390 litres up from 450L – enough to hold the contents of a sizeable trip to Ikea, or all the equipment needed for a weekend away camping.
Rear occupants get a pair of A/C vents and a 12V port, while the reasonably sized boot can be opened and closed with the automatic tailgate function.
The Countryman’s interior may not be for everyone – those looking for an interior with a minimalist layout (as is in vogue at the moment) should look elsewhere, but those wanting to stand out will feel at home behind the wheel of the Countryman. On top of its quirky design it is also surprisingly practical, as a vehicle marketing itself as an SUV should be.
It would be made even better with the inclusion of some optional extras (leather upholstery, larger touchscreen, HUD) as standard.
Engine and transmission
Powering the Countryman SD is a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder engine capable of 140kW and 400Nm, which sends power to all four wheels via an eight-speed sports automatic transmission.
It is the most powerful diesel engine in its class, and would fit right in under the bonnet of mid-size and even large vehicles.
In our time with the Countryman we recorded a combined fuel economy figure of 7.8 litres per 100km doing mostly urban driving, well up on the official combined cycle figure of 5.2L/100km.
Being a diesel, it is not expected that the SD’s unit will produce a particularly exciting exhaust note, however the sound it generates comes as a pleasant surprise. You could be forgiven for mistaking its engine for a petrol unit, due to the tough, rorty sound it makes, especially when the transmission is in sport mode.
The SD gives a lovely bark at high revs, and willingly accepts hard treatment.
While the engine is a keen and willing unit, it does not provide the most nimble of acceleration usually associated with an S-branded Mini.
Performance is still strong, but doesn’t quite have that smile-inducing extra level of fizz that Mini is all about. The weight of the Countryman blunts the dynamism of the engine, however it still has plenty of get up and go and is a polite and cooperative engine for day-to-day driving.
Acceleration could be better off the line, however once moving it becomes more formidable. The engine’s best work is done when the car is already travelling at least 20km/h, and feels much more like an S-branded model when there is less stopping and starting.
The eight-speed sports automatic transmission works well with the SD’s engine, shifting smoothly at any rpm despite the plentiful torque, which can often lead to jerky gear changes, particularly on downshifts.
Having eight speeds means the transmission is able to keep the engine torque levels in the sweet spot, and can quickly shift up or down as the situation requires. Using the paddle shifters makes for sweet, sharp gear changes.
Switching the transmission to sport mode transforms the engine into a snarling, angry beast, with the auto willingly holding gear changes to really let the engine sing.
The auto-stop function works quite well on the Mini, however we are still not sold on it as a feature, full stop.
At idle, the engine can sound quite coarse and gruff, giving it an unrefined feel. However pushing the loud pedal soon makes you forget all of that.
The SD’s engine makes for great day-to-day driving and enjoys being pushed in sports mode, however the performance hit caused by the weight of the vehicle makes it feel as though it hasn’t quite earned the ‘S’ in SD quite as much as other Mini models.
Ride and handling
Mini’s trump card since its inception has always been its agile handling due to its lightweight and tiny dimensions.
While modern Minis have grown significantly since the original surfaced in 1959, nimble handling has remained a key component of the brand.
Although the Countryman is the largest and heaviest Mini of the lot, that importance placed on handling is immediately apparent, with the SD able to throw itself around as well as any of its smaller, lighter siblings.
Buyers would be hard pressed to find a non-performance small SUV that is capable of handling as well as the Countryman SD, which feels far more like a hatch than an SUV.
Mini’s All4 four-wheel-drive system gives the SD plentiful grip and poise though corners, and combined with the traction control, makes wheel slippage almost impossible.
The impressive grip and stability is also felt through the chassis, with great balance and poise making sharp turns feel softer.
That said, the extra weight that comes with the Countryman SD was felt compared to other Mini models, and the handling and cornering did feel a bit more sluggish in comparison.
Steering feedback is well weighted and precise, and combined with the chunky and comfortable steering wheel gives the driver confidence navigating both tight corners and tight spaces.
Driving in urban areas is a breeze, with the right mix of vehicle dimensions, engine power and handling precision. This vehicle would make a great choice for city owners looking for a potent blend of performance and practicality, with a mind for a weekend trip out to the country or the beach.
The SD’s ride is comfortable, soaking up bumps with ease and never feeling jarring or harsh. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are excellent, thanks in no small part to the thick doors and seals of the Countryman. The vehicle has a feel of being solidly built, which helps improve noise levels and rigidity but comes at the cost of extra weight.
While the Countryman’s dynamic capabilities are limited compared to other Mini models, it is still a handling whizz in the small SUV segment, largely retaining the go-kart feel of Mini with its short overhangs, all-wheel drive and direct steering.
It is an enjoyable and easy car to drive, and makes a good fit for someone looking for a fun driving experience from a small SUV.
Safety and servicing
Mini offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty across all models, and servicing intervals are dependent on each different vehicle and the amount it is driven.
It also offers pre-paid servicing packages that are available for purchase in the first 12 months of vehicle ownership.
In March, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) tested the Countryman D variant, handing down a five-star rating.
It scored 90 per cent in the adult occupant protection test, 80 per cent in the child occupant protection test, and 64 per cent in the pedestrian protection test. Dual frontal, side and head airbags are fitted as standard, as are autonomous emergency braking and a manual speed limiter.
Mini has succeeded with the Countryman in creating a vehicle that improves the practicality levels of the diminutive Mini platform, while retaining the quirkiness and driving fun associated with the brand.
Its portly kerb weight means that the dynamic edge is not quite there compared with other Minis, however in comparison to the rest of the small SUV market the Countryman is still at the front of the pack for handling and chassis balance.
Generous interior dimensions mean the Countryman is a viable family car option (although not with any more than two children), and the quirky interior layout and exterior styling gives it a point of difference from its rivals.
While it may not be the most car that $51,500 can buy, those who are determined to own a small SUV with panache and potent performance should definitely put the Countryman SD on their shortlist.
Mercedes-Benz GLA220d from $51,200 plus on-roads
Benz’s A-Class-based GLA received its latest update in June, three years after going on sale Down Under in 2014. The front-drive GLA220d can’t quite match the output of the Countryman.
Audi Q2 2.0 TDI quattro Sport from $49,100 plus on-roadsThe top-spec model in Audi’s Q range is the diesel-powered 2.0 TDI quattro Sport. It features all-wheel drive, good equipment levels and cute styling.
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