Sure, the Mini Countryman is no longer all that mini, but it's still a stack of fun to drive and undercuts its BMW X1 donor vehicle. Is it worth a closer look?
Yeah, I know. An SUV version of a Mini isn't small and isn't like an old Mini. If you can't get past that fact, you're never going to love the 2018 Mini Countryman D.
But, if you have an open mind and look at this vehicle as an SUV with its own character and an awesome sense of style, it may just win you over its BMW X1 donor vehicle.
Despite the fact the Countryman shares a platform with the BMW X1, it takes on its own design and appears more youthful than the somewhat conservative X1.
Countryman pricing kicks off from $40,500 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level two-wheel-drive 1.5-litre Countryman petrol, moving to $44,500 (plus on-road costs) for the two-wheel-drive 2.0-litre diesel Countryman D tested here, with the $47,200 (plus on-road costs) 2.0-litre petrol Countryman S rounding off the two-wheel-drive offering.
Two all-wheel-drive models, the 2.0-litre diesel Countryman SD from $52,300 (plus on-road costs) and a 2.0-litre John Cooper Works from $57,900 (plus on-road costs), complete the line-up.
In comparison to the BMW X1, entry-level pricing undercuts the X1 offering by some $6100, while the X1 is only available with a 2.0-litre petrol engine in all-wheel-drive trim, commanding a $60,700 (plus on-road costs) price tag.
The front-wheel-drive diesel variant tested here really is the sweet spot in the range. With 160mm of ground clearance, it's barely equipped to go for an off-road expedition, but it's enough clearance to get you to a camping site surrounded by muddy roads.
Under the Countryman D's bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 110kW of power and 330Nm of torque, which is sent through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. That results in a combined fuel economy figure of just 4.8 litres of fuel per 100km – a seriously remarkable figure.
It feels pretty quick in standard trim, shooting from standstill to 100km/h in just 8.8 seconds. In all-wheel-drive trim, the uprated version of this engine gives the diesel a peppy acceleration figure from standstill to 100km/h of 7.4 seconds. To put both of these numbers in perspective – they're not too far off a Volkswagen Golf GTI, which does the same sprint in 6.4 seconds with the aid of launch control.
If you're purchasing the Countryman as a family car, you'll be pleased to hear that there's 450 litres of cargo capacity available with the second row in place. Once the second row is folded (in a 40/20/40 fashion) that space increases to 1390L.
Second-row leg- and headroom are surprisingly good, but it's slightly let down by narrow doors that can make access to the second row a bit cumbersome for taller passengers. The second row also features a pair of ISOFIX seat anchor points.
A 12V power outlet is surrounded by two air vents in the second row, with ample storage in door pockets for anything your kids can think of cramming into them.
At the front of the cabin, there's a feeling of space and size that doesn't quite match the vehicle's exterior. In typical Mini fashion, the central cluster is circular, while the speedometer and tachometer sit statically attached to the steering wheel.
A 6.5-inch colour infotainment system comes standard, which includes satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio. External connectivity includes USB, 3.5mm auxiliary input and Bluetooth audio and telephone streaming.
A BMW iDrive-esque controller sits at the bottom of the console and is used to navigate through the infotainment system. It's a piece of cake to use and quite intuitive in terms of menu layout. It also features unique Mini styling to differentiate it from Mini products.
Customers can customise their Mini with a range of exterior colours, stripes and additional packages. But in our opinion, must-have options that you need to tick include the Chilli Package ($1500), which adds LED headlights and fog lights, selectable drive modes and LED daytime running lights. We'd also go for the Dynamic Damper Control option ($700), which adds adjustable dampers to help smooth the ride out.
Other standard features include: dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, six-speaker sound system, rear-view camera with front and rear parking sensors, proximity key with keyless entry and start, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, electronic differential lock, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, semi-automatic parking, run-flat tyres and speed sign recognition.
We hit the road for a loop of highway and country roads to see how well the Countryman D would cope with some of the unique Australian road conditions.
The first thing we noticed was how quiet the engine was. Normally with diesels, engine noise can intrude into the cabin when accelerating or in bad cases when the car is idle.
Out on the highway it felt like the fuel gauge was broken – it barely shifted over the 75km highway trip. The ride on the Countryman D's 18-inch alloy wheels is great, with road joins and surface variations dispatched without any concern.
Visibility out on the highway is excellent out the front, sides and rear. Unlike the smaller Mini products, there is a huge collective glasshouse surrounding each of the seats, which makes it easy to see out of the car.
As we left the highway for some country roads, the ride quality on choppy urban surfaces really surprised us. Again, the 18-inch alloy wheels were expected to crash over bumps and potentially unsettle the ride in the urban grind.
It's in these conditions that the punchy diesel engine really shines. Hitting peak torque from just 1750rpm, there's always plenty of capacity to dart out of a side street or accelerate in traffic.
Despite only sending torque through the front wheels, there was plenty of traction available.
While the Countryman is built in the Netherlands, it was developed in Europe with most of the development work completed in the United Kingdom. Some of the UK's regional country towns offer similar road surfaces to Aussie country towns – rough, with soft edges and plenty of pot holes.
We drove over a variety of country roads and gravel roads, and found the Countryman coped incredibly well. Riding on 225mm tyres with 50-profile rubber, there wasn't any intrusion often present with run-flat tyres. Run-flat tyres tend to feature firm sidewalls to protect the tyre when a flat occurs – they also allow extra cargo space due to removal of a space-saver or full-size spare tyre.
If you come across a stretch of sweeping bends, you'll love the fact the body sits fairly flat and retains that darty Mini feel. It still feels nimble and fun, which is what owning a Mini is all about.
If there was one negative, it'd be the wind noise at highway speeds. It's easy to catch wind noise over the wing mirrors and around the doors.
I ended my time with the Mini Countryman D really loving how different it felt and how much value it offers in that sub-$45K price bracket. It delivers the perfect mix of style, fun behind the wheel and interior space.
Would I spend the extra $7800 for the more powerful all-wheel-drive Countryman SD? Potentially – it offers the surety of permanent all-wheel drive, plus extra kit.