The new, larger and much more practical second-generation Mini Countryman crossover has arrived in Australia to take on new rivals such as the Audi Q2, and even mainstream players such as the Toyota C-HR.
With a length of 4.3 metres, this new iteration is 200mm longer than before, making it a Mini by name but not by nature, The real gain is superior rear legroom and 30 per cent more cargo space than its unloved and overlooked predecessor, which still managed 570,000 global sales over its lifespan.
Mini is also claiming a vastly improved cabin layout, more equipment, superior safety credentials and reduced fuel consumption. This more than justifies the $3400 price increase at base level to $39,900 plus on-road costs, it suggests.
The 2017 Mini Countryman range launches with four variants: the Cooper ($39,900), Cooper D ($43,900), Cooper S ($46,500) and Cooper SD ($51,500), the latter being the only all-wheel drive version on offer. The rest are front-wheel drive only.
Mini has certainly upped the standard equipment on offer.
The Cooper gets the following features over the old version: a rear-view camera, front parking sensors, auto park assist, keyless entry, DAB+ digital radio, 18-inch alloy wheels on run-flat tyres, electric tailgate and logo projection from the side mirror.
Standard fare on the ‘base’ car also includes active cruise control than can bring you to a complete stop on its own at speeds below 140km/h, plus autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning and a system that tells you the speed limit at any time.
These features join other standard equipment such as cloth/leather seats, interactive LED lighting on the fascia, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, a 6.5-inch screen controlled by BMW’s iDrive buttons, Bluetooth/USB and six airbags.
The days of Mini being stingy on equipment are over, and as such the sub-$40k Countryman Cooper becomes a genuine option for someone looking at a top-level mainstream offering such as a C-HR Koba, Mazda CX-3 Akari or Honda HR-V VTi-L.
In fact, the equipment on offer in the Cooper is so good that it makes the rest of the range look a little bit less value-packed.
The Cooper S and SD models get extras such as a rear passenger armrest, a nicer steering wheel, and full LED headlights, though much of their extra cost comes instead due to more capable drivetrains as we’ll detail later. The base car is loaded.
The Countryman’s cabin follows the lead set by the new UKL platform-based hatch and Clubman, in that it retains the familiar retro design but feels better-made, less rattly, and is full of tactile surfaces and fewer oddities (which once existed in the name of style).
There are also big door pockets, a useable centre console and a decent enough glovebox, making it at least nominally family friendly. The rounded fascia is distinctive, but at least it’s legible, while the plane-like switches and toggles are all interesting enough.
The rear seats are surprisingly capacious – with the exception of limited elbow room – and suitable for a pair of larger adults. They’re also set up on a 40:20:40 split-folding basis, slide fore and aft up to 130mm, and even recline. Amenities include standard air vents, ISOFIX anchors and big bottle holders.
Even with the $2400 two-pane sunroof, it’s sufficient for a family car, or a weekend getaway vehicle, which is something the old Countryman certainly was not.
Luggage space with the seats in use also grows to 450L (up 100L), and there’s a two-stage floor, liberated by the lack of spare wheel, given the run-flat tyres fitted. For a few hundred bucks, Mini will even sell you a flip-out picnic bench that hangs off the bumper.
The only major gripe we had with the cabin on our brief launch drive was the small infotainment screen. It’s a shame that even on the Cooper S and SD you have to pay $2400 for the Multimedia Pro pack that gives you a 8.8-inch touchscreen.
At least this outlay also bundles in a 20GB hard drive, uprated harmon/kardon audio system and even a flip-up head-up display. We’d suggest ticking this feature box to future-proof your vehicle, because it’s a fair amount of extra kit for the money.
Mini being Mini, there are also a million-and-one options to buy if you’ve deep pockets. One of the cars on this week’s local launch had a price-as-tested above $60,000 before on-road costs…
Under the bonnet of the base Countryman Cooper is the 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol used in the Mini hatch and BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. It makes 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, is matched standard to a six-speed automatic transmission (there’s no more manual, duel to low demand) and FWD.
The 0-100km/h time is 9.6 seconds (claimed) and fuel use is 6.0L/100km on the combined cycle, down 21 per cent over the less powerful old 1.6 base car.
It’s still a terrific little engine, with most of its torque on tap from down near idle and a buzzy, thrumming note that suits the brand. So engaging and willing is this engine, that it makes the base Cooper the most compelling case on offer, given its sharper price.
Next up is the Cooper D with its 110kW/330Nm 2.0-litre diesel (0-100km/h in 8.8sec, fuel use of 4.8L/100km) matched to an eight-speed auto this time, and FWD. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to drive this variant, but the $4000 premium seems steep.
The Cooper has the familiar 2.0-litre turbo-petrol from the hatch version with 141kW and 280Nm, cutting the acceleration time to 100km/h from standstill to 7.4sec. It’s matched to an eight-speed auto and FWD like the Cooper D.
The problem is, at $46,500, you’re only $2000 shy of the 162kW/350Nm Volkswagen Tiguan Highline with AWD and superior cabin space, so despite the engine’s willing huff and gruff exhaust note, it doesn’t really appear to stand up to scrutiny in value terms.
Finally there’s the $51,500 Cooper SD, with an uprated 2.0-litre turbo-diesel punching out 140kW and a strong 400Nm of torque, matched to a 8AT and in this case, AWD. The electronically controlled All4 system is front-biased but reactively sends torque to the rear via a propellor shaft and hang-on clutch on a fully variable basis.
Dynamically speaking, the Countryman is a little ripper. It turns into corners and changes direction eagerly and stays flat through corners against lateral forces. The S and SD also get an understeer-mitigating system up front.
The ride is always firm, but never jarring over sharp hits or ungraded gravel, and noise suppression is much improved. In other words, it’s signature Mini, with some refinements.
Do you need the SD’s AWD? Not unless you like twisty roads in winter (on a snow run) or gravel. In this case, sure, though we’d like it to be optional with the Cooper S, please.
You can also add adjustable dampers to the Cooper S and SD, which we’d recommend if you also like the look of bigger 19-inch wheels. Otherwise, so long as you’re cool with a firmer ride (it’s a Mini after all), you’ll be fine.
From an ownership perspective, there’s a three-year/unlimited kilometre factory warranty, while you can bundle in the first five-years of servicing costs at the time of purchase if you want the easiest ownership experience imaginable.
As you can probably tell, we’re very sold on the base Cooper, which has all the same key features and cabin updates as the rest of the range, a spirited little engine and the right design ethos.
The new Countryman actually gets less appealing the more you spend, though your friendly local Mini sales-person might beg to differ. Of course, the 170kW AWD John Cooper Works hot petrol version might change our minds when it arrives in a few months…
The 2017 Mini Countryman is now a proper crossover SUV, whether you like it or not, and not merely an overweight and under-styled hatch. It’s practical while remaining fun-to-drive, looks more resolved than ever, and is even sharp value at entry.