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So, you want a MINI, but don't want it to be mini? Then the MINI Cooper Countryman is for you.
It takes all the good aspects of the MINI - fun handling, funky looks, curvy interior, economical engine - and transplants them into a bigger package. By bigger, we mean a lot bigger. The Countryman variant has four doors, so not only does it give you more interior space (as in adults can actually get in and not suffer DVT) but it's also a lot more practical.
No more climbing over a forward-folded seat, no more waiting for the driver to get out before you do. And as a driver, you don't have to exit the car just because someone behind you wants to. Yes, the Countryman's liveability makes it extremely appealing. But there's more to a car than practicality. If that's the only quality you were after, then we'd all be driving Kia Grand Carnivals.
Let's chat about the elephant in the design studio - the Countryman's styling. Okay, so it's not as pretty as a regular MINI. I think I've worked out what the issue is, too. It's the headlights.
Compared with a normal MINI, the Countryman's headlights are no longer round, but have a bit of a wobbly look to them. The grille has thankfully been revised though, doing away with the downturned-mouth appearance of the first model. It makes it a much happier looking car, which is exactly how a keen driver will feel when they've hopped behind the wheel.
The MINI Countryman is still a brilliant drive - no change there, then. But the biggest change is under the bonnet. This is the MINI Cooper D Countryman, meaning a diesel engine powering the car. It's the same 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel as in the regular MINI Cooper D (incidentally, the automatic version gets a 2.0-litre four), running through a six-speed manual, and depending on your model, it's either front- or all-wheel drive.
We've had both versions before under CarAdvice road test scrutiny, and we like them both, however the one reason you'd buy a diesel MINI is for its economy.
With the MINI Cooper D getting a staggering 3.8 litres/100km, it's the most fun you'll have in an econobox, period. So, how does the Cooper D Countryman fare? Not too bad, as it turns out. Officially, the fuel use is 4.4L/100km. We ran around the suburbs of Melbourne and finished up with 6.1 litres/100km. When you consider that's city only, and for longer runs you'll easily take a litre-and-a-half off that, it's still a very economical car.
The engine is a very good example of a modern turbo-diesel, with a small amount of noise at idle, but perfectly quiet while on the roll. It's smooth and punchy, making its best torque (270Nm) at around 2000rpm when you can feel it really pulling along. Of course, being a manual, you need to keep it in its sweet spot by rowing the gears a bit, but with the fantastically positive change, that's no real effort.
It also has automatic stop/start like the other MINI diesels, so when you put it into neutral and let out the clutch at a set of lights, it will stop the engine, saving fuel. To restart it just push in the clutch and it cranks to life before you've even engaged first gear. Yes, it really does start that quick.
You'll notice that in our review of the Cooper D, we criticised the cramped rear seats and the tiny boot. Well, that's all been taken care of by this car. Yes, the boot isn't huge, but it's still bigger, and there's good headroom and legroom for rear seat passengers. Oh yes, opt for the five seat version - the four seat car with the rail down the centre entirely defeats the purpose of this MINI, which is practicality.
The driving controls are all typical MINI, meaning excellent steering feel, a great driving position, good brakes and chuckable handling. It still has the raised suspension of the Countryman, meaning easier entry and exit for people coming along for the ride.
Speaking of which, the ride is an excellent balance of firmness for handling and bump absorption. Really, it's a great compromise. The seats are also very comfortable.
So, what's not to like? Well, the price. At $40,950 plus options and plus onroads, it may seem a bit steep. Especially when cars like the Mitsubishi ASX are around $31,990 in diesel form. But what you're getting is a whole lot nicer to drive and something a bit more interesting than the lacklustre ASX. Plus, you can get an automatic in the Cooper D Countryman whereas the in ASX you can't.
But you have to put it into perspective. The Cooper D (two-door hatch) is $33,750, a difference of $7200 to add extra doors and a slightly bigger boot. Is it worth it? Well, that depends on how often you'll be carrying passengers.
If it's all the time, then you may consider it money well spent. But if it's only occasionally, then it may be a big ask for something that doesn't handle as well as the Cooper D, uses more fuel, and is a little bit dopey-looking.
The MINI Cooper D Countryman is a good car and it is very practical. As a front-wheel drive diesel with four doors though, there are plenty of cheaper options out there.
At least you'll have something that's a bit different.
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