It shows off its status – some eight inches longer, slightly wider, with a three-inch longer wheelbase. There are aluminium roof rails and matching door sill caps. Even the headlamps have a different shape from those on other Minis, marking its flagship status. Inside, there’s more room in every direction, greater seat movement, and the rear door apertures are larger. The back seats have a five-inch travel. When folded, this new Countryman offers 220 litres more cargo space.
My demo car was the Cooper D, for diesel. It doesn’t enjoy being hurled into twists and hummocks the way the regular Mini does. The sportier Countryman S models are better equipped for such things.
The interior has the same bright design, the oversized centre instrument display carrying all information and the navigation screen – and now the first Mini with touchscreen operating. It’s exciting and fun.
It has the nice touches – the toggle switches and the red flip switch for on and off. Depending on what kit you add, it glows with coloured bands and backlighting, with pinpoint, sparkly reflections. The circumference of the dial changes colour denoting the response mode chosen, from gentle greens for sensible to red for vroom vroom responses. After dark the driver gets a Mini logo “puddle” light shining on the ground. The whole Mini thing is a sensory experience.
Countryman is the most expensive Mini and being the largest is the most practical. It may also be the most likely to attract the woman about town and country (yes, I see it as a woman’s car) who could afford an Evoque but wants something slightly handier or cheaper.
Navigation, Bluetooth phone connection and emergency call-out is standardised. New options include a powered tailgate with fob or “foot-wave” triggering. There’s a clip-on cushion so you can sit on the rear opening and eat sandwiches while you survey whatever is out there.
It brings the latest engines and transmissions and the ALL4 4x4 grip option on all models. Prices start at £22,465 for the 134bhp three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol Cooper with a respectable 0-62 time of 9.6 seconds. Add £1,495 for automatic gears and £1,730 for the ALL4 system.
A petrol ALL4 automatic version is offered with plug-in electric hybrid assistance which gives a claimed (and unlikely) 134mpg, 49g of CO2 and 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds: you can get one in June from £31,585. There’ll be a slightly quicker John Cooper Works model, price from £30,675. There’s also a tempting Cooper SD diesel automatic with 187 horse power and up to 295lb ft of torque. Its headline claims are 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds, 64mpg and 113g CO2. Price from £27,965.
Petrol 189bhp Cooper S models cost from £24,710, or £26,410 with automatic gears. Diesel power – still strong despite health probes – opens at £24,425 for the 148bhp Cooper D, the model tested here. By the time my demo car had been dressed with desirable extras the bill had risen from £24,425 to £32,145. The principal culprits were “island blue” paint, uprated systems for navigation and connectivity and Bluetooth with wireless phone charging, 17-inch special alloys with run flat tyres which allow travel after a puncture, heated sports seats in the front, sliding rear seats, driving mode selection, climate control, adaptive LED headlamps, a leather wheel, a powered tailgate, the “picnic bench”, a larger fuel tank and so on.
Because three in four Countryman buyers have chosen an enhancement pack, the Pepper kit is now standard – helping hoist the price of the car. Most buyers of the new model are expected to go for the Chilli pack. It includes automatic air conditioning, driving modes, sports seats trimmed in part-leather or cloth/leatherette and LED headlamps. The price of the pack is £2,980, but the saving for the customer is £1,150 over buying the items separately.
Despite its proliferation of accessories, there were times when I couldn’t achieve the ideal rain wiper setting – too fast, too slow. Must have been too much wrong rain. The manual gear change was resistant compared with, say, the rival Mazda CX-3. Engaging reverse, top left in the gate, was an ache without a lift-up collar on the shaft – fitted to the Nissan Qashqai I am driving now. Still, with the Countryman you get all that bespoke Mini satisfaction. It’s not yet a joy to drive. It’s far from nimble compared with other Minis. There was too much tyre noise on some surfaces – though not as bad as with the Mazda, it was noisier than the Qashqai and that bright newcomer in the SUV class, the Audi Q2. Emotionally, though, you’ll fall for the Countryman’s image and that cabin.
Verdict: Not cheap. A bit bumbling. Lovely inside.