Car reviews - Mini - Countryman - range
Roomy and high-quality cabin, standard equipment and safety technology, base model majors on value, enthusiasm, refinement and fun
Room for improvement
Base more impressive than pricier models, diesels on larger wheels do not ride well, lack of equipment added to top grades
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9 Mar 2017
SALES of small SUV models may have expanded, but the space that a now-greater number of rivals compete in has also converged.
‘Premium’ models – such as this Mini Countryman – have added more equipment and greater technology while barely raising the cost of entry, while mainstream models have crept up with higher pricetags attached to new flagship offerings that now sport properly premium levels of kit.
This has led Mini to name everything from the Volkswagen Tiguan to the Audi Q2 and the BMW Group’s own X1 as rivals to this second-generation Countryman. The entry model grade starts at $39,900 plus on-road costs, or a tad higher than a middle-tier Tiguan 110TSI Comfortline ($36,990) but below a Q2 ($41,500) and X1 ($49,500).
Yet with a 450-litre boot (100L larger than before) and a stack of newfound rear legroom (50mm extra teamed with sliding bench and reclining backrest versatility) this Mini now sits closer in size to the cheaper Volkswagen and pricier BMW than the style-centric Q2 (or even Q3).
The entry-level Countryman also gets everything from 18-inch alloy wheels and foglights, to dual-zone climate control with rear airvents, keyless auto-entry, digital radio, satellite navigation, active cruise control, speed-limit recognition software and low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) all as standard, so it is no ‘stripper’ model.
Fittingly, time in the newest Mini started inside the un-optioned cabin of the entry model grade. Pleasingly, this interior delivers a newfound premium feel even without extra-cost additions, with soft-touch plastics everywhere, an intuitive BMW iDrive system and superb front sports seats with the sort of high-quality cloth trim that makes the optional ($1700) leather redundant.
The only rear omission is a centre armrest with cupholders (optional) but the back seat itself and the amount of room offered is terrific, teamed with the versatility of that acrobatic bench and backrest.
Although the 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic combination appears paltry on paper, its 220Nm of torque is delivered between 1400rpm and 4300rpm before 100kW of power almost immediately takes over from 4400rpm until 6000rpm. The entry Countryman also weighs a reasonable 1465kg.
For comparison, a Tiguan 110TSI Comfortline makes 110kW/250Nm and is 15kg lighter.
Mini claims 0-100km/h in 9.6 seconds, but the turbo triple feels faster than that. It is wonderfully energetic, being tractable yet quick to spin, thanks partially to a three-cylinder configuration’s reduced internal friction and greater low-rev torque characteristics, even before turbocharging.
Steering the entry Countryman over the hilliest and twistiest section of the launch drive loop also produced the biggest smile of the day. If that classic Mini spirit is all about maximising every last bit of energy, then this small SUV more than fills the brief.
The steering is sharp yet progressive and nicely mid-weighted, while ride comfort on the standard suspension and 18-inch wheels is firm but beautifully rounded and controlled. Just as cornering tends towards gentle understeer, a quick lift of a formerly pinned-down throttle tucks the Countryman’s nose in beautifully.
It costs $4000 to jump to the Countryman D, with its 110kW/330Nm 2.0-litre diesel and eight-speed automatic promising consumption of 4.3 litres per 100 kilometres (down 1.2L/100km on entry Countryman) and 8.8s 0-100km/h performance. But the heavier oiler also places an additional 40kg on its nose.
Driving the D immediately after the petrol triple proved disappointing. The engine is noisier and feels slower because it seemingly takes forever to rev towards its redline. It shares all interior equipment with the entry Countryman, but our test car added optional ($1300) 19-inch wheels.
This Mini also proved tetchier for ride comfort and noisier in terms of road roar, with lower-profile tyres, and potentially firmer suspension to offset the extra up-front weight, both likely taking blame.
Although we missed driving the $46,500 Countryman S that uses a 141kW/280Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, for an additional $6500 it only really gains 41kW/60Nm, LED headlights and a rear armrest over the entry Countryman.
As the price continues to head north, the equipment level generally remains the same. Finishing the day in a $51,500 Countryman SD further highlighted this as an issue, given that only an ‘on demand’ all-wheel drive system is added for yet another $5000 over the Countryman S.
The SD’s kerb weight of 1610kg compares unfavourably with the 1535kg S and, although its powered-up diesel engine makes 140kW and 400Nm, a 7.4s 0-100km/h is shared between the two.
Compared with the light and sprightly entry Countryman, the Countryman SD on optional 19-inch wheels again proved lumpy and the diesel relatively uninspiring. There is decent poke, sans sparkle.
There is by now $11,600 difference between the base and flagship models, for which the top model only promises to be 0.9L/100km more frugal, 2.2s faster from standstill to 100km/h and with an all-wheel drive system added. In some ways, it is a law of diminishing returns.
Viewed another way, and although an un-optioned entry Countryman can be highly recommended to a small/medium SUV buyer, it also offers a number of possibilities for the family who wants more.
For example, it can be further optioned with a panoramic sunroof, larger 8.8-inch touchscreen with head-up display, auto-dimming rearview mirror and leather-trimmed and electrically adjustable front seats with heating all for a total $48,550 plus on-road costs.
Perhaps awkwardly for the BMW Group, a fully-loaded entry Mini SUV is now potentially more appealing than an un-optioned and still-pricier X1 with which it shares its platform and engines.
Mini might also list only the Tiguan as a mainstream rival, but those considering the ultra-popular, similarly powered and similarly spacious Hyundai Tucson Highlander ($47,450) and Mazda CX-5 Akera ($47,710) can also now confidently cross-shop them with this ‘premium’ contender.
Once panned for not being a ‘real’ Mini, the only debating point now is whether the latest Countryman is the most cohesive and convincing of all the available bodystyles relative to the competitor set. The brilliant entry model suggests that does not require an argument at all.
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