We can’t expect Mini to build ten-foot-long, era-defining city cars any more, but we do expect the BMW-owned company to turn out cars that are fun to drive and show up their rivals as sloppy, dull and character-free.
Unfortunately, the latest Mini Countryman doesn’t manage that. It’s undoubtedly a more rounded product than its predecessor and makes gains in all the areas you’d expect, from quality, through equipment and safety, to performance and economy. But in making a more mature, refined product, the Countryman moves even further away from the characteristics that until now have allowed even the least-mini Minis to put a smile on your face.
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And the Countryman is getting expensive. While that’s to be expected, and similarly-sized crossovers stray into similar pricing territory, we can’t help but notice the availability of some proper evo performance favourites for similar money - notably a wide range of hot hatchbacks, most of which are as practical as the jacked-up Countryman but considerably better to drive.
Mini Countryman in detail
> Performance and 0-60 time - Decent on-paper figures, but performance is blunted somewhat by the Countryman’s weight. Cooper S feels disappointingly strained.
> Engine and gearbox - Petrols and diesels, manuals and autos, front- and all-wheel drive. There’s plenty of variety here.
> Ride and handling - The Mini that doesn’t feel like a Mini. Perfectly competent, and rides well, but the fun-factor is slowly being lost.
> MPG and running costs - Diesels are most frugal, but petrols aren’t far behind. All-wheel drive harms the on-paper figures.
> Interior and tech - Better quality than before and all works well, but for some the cabin’s retro look will be a bit too much.
> Design - Some uncomfortable details and proportions. It’s hard to be original when your product lineup has to draw inspiration from a 1959 city car.
Prices, specs and rivals
£22,465 will get you behind the wheel of a Cooper Countryman, provided you stay away from Mini’s extensive options range. All-wheel drive (available on all models) adds £1090 to that figure, while the automatic transmission will set you back £1495.
Next up is the Cooper D at £24,425, while the Cooper S starts at £24,710. To step up to the Cooper SD (auto only) will cost you £27,965, and the John Cooper Works ALL4 begins at £30,675.
It goes without saying that all models are therefore a fair chunk of money, and the equivalent cash would net you plenty of options in the hot hatchback class. For Cooper money you could get a Ford Focus ST, while the JCW is well into Volkswagen Golf R territory.
But let’s assume that only a crossover will do. The new kid on the block is Toyota’s C-HR, whose futuristic styling is a counterpoint to the Mini’s retro vibe and has the nimble handling, precise steering and throttle-adjustability that were all characteristics you might have found in a Mini back in the day. Engine options are unfortunately limited (there’s a 1.2 turbo and a 1.8 hybrid) but it’s a compelling alternative.