Most of the 'new' Mini range sparks debate regarding how true the German-owned British manufacturer has stayed to its roots, but none more so than the Countryman.
However, in terms of the overall design, it's like someone took the Hatch 5-Door, put it in the photocopier and enlarged it by 1.5. All the hallmark elements are there – round headlights, grille shape, tall roof with prominent glasshouse, upright tail-lights, and short overhangs. They've just been enlarged.
On test, we have the flagship variant of the core range, the Countryman SD All4, priced from $53,900 before on-road costs.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tyres, satin silver roof rails, cloth/leather trim, dual-zone climate control, an automatic tailgate, keyless entry and start, LED interior ambient lighting, a 6.5-inch touchscreen navigation system with real-time traffic updates, wireless Apple CarPlay integration, a six-speaker sound system, and DAB+ digital radio.
There are also adaptive LED headlights with LED daytime-running lights, LED fog lights, high-beam assist, rain-sensing wipers, courtesy lighting with Mini logo projection, heated exterior mirrors, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, speed sign recognition and an automated parking assistant for parallel manoeuvres.
Families will get peace of mind from the Countryman's 2017-stamped five-star ANCAP safety rating. In addition to the aforementioned active safety systems, the Mini crossover is equipped with six airbags and ISOFIX mounts for the outboard rear seats, though oddly there's no blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning or lane-keep assist systems available at all on the Countryman; features that are available at least as an option on rivals.
It's a healthy amount of standard kit, though you'd hope so for what is a mid-$50,000 small SUV. While there's not a whole lot separating the SD from the standard Countryman in terms of equipment, you'll find the biggest changes under the bonnet – power comes from a beefy 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, but we'll get to that a little later.
Our tester is also fitted with several single-item options and option packages, including the Thunder Grey metallic exterior paint ($900), perforated leather sports seats ($1700), Satellite Grey interior colour line ($250), piano black interior trim inserts ($600), the Multimedia Pro Package that includes a larger 8.8-inch infotainment screen, a head-up display and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system ($2400), the Climate Package ($2400) – adds a panoramic glass sunroof, sun protection glazing, and heated front seats – along with the 19-inch Mini Yours 'Masterpiece' alloy wheels in grey ($1300).
That brings the as-tested ticket to a hefty $63,450 before ORCs, or nearly $10,000 more than the base price. Even in the premium segment, that's a lot for a small SUV.
At least the Countryman looks and feels expensive, though. Our tester's grey exterior and black roof may come across a little austere compared to the more vibrant configurations available, though it's a handsome and classy design to this reviewer's eyes, no less.
It's instantly recognisable as a Mini despite its extra size, though the full monty of bright colours and contrasting stripes is our preferred specification – let us know what you think in the comments.
Not much differentiates the diesel SD from the petrol-powered S other than the badging and 'All4' branding, the latter signifying the all-wheel-drive system reserved for the SD and flagship John Cooper Works versions, though you'd be hard-pressed to tell otherwise.
Inside, the cabin is beautifully finished, with an abundance of soft-touch materials in the upper and lower sections of the dashboard and doors, along with tasteful splashes of chrome and (optional) piano-black trims.
The dashboard, like other Mini models, is dominated by a circular motif housing the infotainment system and a prominent LED lighting strip around the border, along with the retro-cool toggle-style switchgear that is again a hallmark of the brand.
Our tester is also optioned with the Satellite Grey interior colour line ($250), which adds light contrasting elements to the door panels and lower section of the dash to break up the swathe of dark materials.
It's really well executed, though it could be a little too much design flair for some. At least it differentiates itself from its increasingly generic competitive set.
The Cooper SD comes as standard with a chunky John Cooper Works sports leather steering wheel, which feels great in the hand and is attractive to the eye.
Front passengers are treated to comfortable sports seats that offer good back and under-thigh support, and there's plenty of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel so drivers can find a comfortable driving position.
Storage isn't bad up front, though we'd appreciate larger cubbies under the centre stack and under the centre armrest – the latter also housing a wireless phone charger that doesn't have enough space to accommodate 'Plus'-sized iPhones or other larger smartphones for that matter.
In the back, the Countryman offers plenty of head and leg room for two fully grown adults, with amenities including a fold-down centre armrest (one area of difference between Cooper S/SD and Cooper models), along with rear air vents.
Being a smaller SUV, the Mini won't be the most accommodating for three adults across in the rear bench over longer journeys, though it can be done.
We appreciate the soft-touch materials used for the back doors too, something that is often overlooked by some manufacturers in the name of cost-cutting, meaning rear passengers in the Mini are treated to the same upmarket trims as those in the front.
Behind the second row, there's a 460-litre boot with the rear seats in place, which expands to a rather large 1390L with them folded. Not only are those figures amongst the best in class, the Countryman is more spacious in the luggage area than numerous medium SUVs that are technically a size above – meaning there's plenty of room for prams, shopping, sports gear, or flat-pack furniture.
Does it still have that signature 'go-kart feel' on the road, though?
While it cannot match the nimbleness of the Hatch, the Countryman maintains a level of poise and dartiness that belies its physical size.
The steering is beautifully direct and communicative, and the vehicle itself feels taut and rigid without being uncomfortable. Speaking of comfort, our tester rode pretty well across most road surfaces despite the larger 19-inch wheels and run-flat tyres, though it does lean towards the firmer side of things. Adaptive dampers are optionally available for $700, and that's a box we'd happily tick.
As for the engine, the SD All4 is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that features in various BMW Group models, making 140kW at 4000rpm and a meaty 400Nm between 1750 and 2500rpm.
Drive is sent to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system exclusively via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic with paddle-shifters. It also has a launch-control function, but we don't think you'll be taking this to the drag strip anytime soon.
The diesel impresses with its oodles of torque low in the rev range, and there is next to no clatter or any rattles from the engine. It's super refined, and has an almost sporty note to it when pushed.
Mini claims a 0–100km/h sprint time of 7.4 seconds, the same as the front-wheel-drive petrol-powered Cooper S. While they might be as quick as each other on paper, the diesel feels far more muscular and more effortless in the way it delivers its acceleration when compared to the petrol, while also being better on fuel.
There are also selectable drive modes for when you're feeling a little more sporty or chasing eco-friendly greenness, with each tailoring the throttle response, engine noise and steering weight accordingly.
We travelled over 370km during our week with the diesel Countryman, managing an indicated 7.1L/100km over mixed conditions including peak-hour traffic to and from work mixed in with some highway and freeway stints.
From its 51L fuel tank, the Countryman SD should realistically offer 650–700km per fill in mixed driving, and closer to 800km if you do more freeway miles. However, our indicated figure is nearly 2.0L/100km more than Mini's 5.2L/100km combined claim. Like all variants, the SD features idle stop/start technology to save juice when at a standstill.
In terms of cabin refinement on the move, the Mini feels well insulated from road and wind noise, though the run-flat tyres will exhibit a bit of roar over rougher surfaces.
Ownership, meanwhile, is fairly par for the course when compared to other premium marques. Like all Mini models, the Countryman SD is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with three years of roadside assistance, while its condition-based servicing schedule means you'll head back to the shop when the car reckons you need to, not when the service book does.
If you prefer the idea of an all-inclusive service package, the company offers two options – dubbed 'Basic Cover' and 'Plus Cover' – both applicable for five years or 80,000km, whichever comes first.
Basic asks for $1295 over the aforementioned interval, and covers the 'basics' (it's all in the name, right?) like oil service (fluid and filter), an annual vehicle check, air-con microfilter, air filter, fuel filter (petrols only), brake fluid and spark plugs (petrol only).
Meanwhile, the 'Plus' package is $3650 for the same five-year/80,000km period, and adds cover for consumable items like brake pads and discs, wiper blade rubbers, along with the clutch disc and plate where applicable.
All told, the Countryman SD All4 offers a sporty drive and punchy performance, while also minimising the amount you're going to spend on fuel. If you add the practical and well-finished interior, coupled with the funky design and near-limitless customisation options, it's a compelling offering within the premium small-SUV segment.
However, the diesel is still pretty expensive compared to the Countryman S – it's a whopping $4400 more – without adding any extra specification bar the diesel engine and all-wheel-drive system. The diesel engine also lacks the character of its petrol equivalent.
You could do a lot worse than the Mini Countryman SD All4, but we reckon you should seriously evaluate which engine option suits you best.