THE LAUGHING and scoffing can stop now - BMW’s Mini Countryman is really is doing the business in the sales charts. Purists might bemoan the car’s inflated size, but for anyone wanting a Mini but, inconveniently you might say, also in possession of a family, neither the three-door coupe or curiously designed Clubman possess the requisite amount of space.
Which is where the Countryman fits in. It’s the first genuine five-door hatch of the every expanding range, and since its launch has done much to broaden the brand’s appeal. If you’ve always wanted a Mini but found it wanting in terms of space, this is the car for you.
Predictably the tall stance and wide track of the Countryman lends itself well to comparisons with that other popular class of car, the compact SUV. Mini executives make no excuses for wanting the car to appeal to buyers of such things, and have even included a four-wheel drive option to tempt those who think such kit is essential.
In the real world you’re unlikely to fully exploit the Countryman’s all-wheel drive system, but for some it’s reassuring to know it’s there and can be useful in certain situations but it’s never going to rival something like BMW’s X1.
For everyone else there’s a conventional front-wheel drive line-up to choose from, and for most buyers this will be more than adequate for their needs. The SUV-like stance of the Countryman and its lofty driving position will likely earn it more admiring glances anyway. Running that a close second will be the car’s spacious - for a Mini - cabin.
With its accommodating rear seats the Countryman can be configured with a three seat split-fold rear bench or a surprisingly more practical two seat arrangement. The latter proves easier to flip and fold and, predictably, affords rear seat occupants the ability to spread out a little. A secondary panel can be flipped down to create a flat boot floor for ease of loading and to hide personal items out of sight.
As you would expect, front seat occupants fare just as well. The Countryman’s cabin offers two adults plenty of room, and there’s little chance of bashing elbows with your fellow traveller. Head and legroom is good, too.
The Countryman can be had with a small but impressive range of engines. As with other Minis, you now get all the familiar efficiency widgets such as engine stop-start and brake energy regeneration to help boost the economy and CO2 figures. The default transmission is a slick, six-speed manual with the option of an auto on selected models.
There’s little doubt that a Cooper S with all the bells and whistles offers keen drivers an engaging experience. In the real world, the Cooper D offers a good mix of brisk performance and wallet-friendly motoring. It’s low CO2 profile and fuel-sipping demeanor (64.2mpg, 149g/km CO2) should please those seeking an alternative to the usual company car choices, too.
And despite its modest power output (112bhp), the Cooper D is just as chuckable as the more potent cars in the range. With accurate steering, a slick manual gearshift and a firm but compliant ride, the car should please keen drivers – only this time families won’t feel excluded.
Predictably the Cooper D offers ample low down acceleration to make those stop-start urban journeys bearable, while the diesel’s extra torque makes light work of overtaking slower traffic. Most drivers will struggle to morn the loss of four-wheel drive, as a front-wheel drive Countryman will rarely put a foot wrong unless the conditions are truly terrible. The upside is slightly reduced running costs - no all-wheel drive system working in the background.
The only time your wallet could be at risk is if you choose to look through the many options that are available for the Countryman. BMW knows what it’s doing and, having had over a decade of experience in the field, the Countryman’s long list of audio upgrades, visual customisation options and general convenience features present a tempting proposition.
It might have grown in size but, in Countryman guise, this particular Mini hasn’t suddenly become Mr Sensible. Fun to drive and own, the Countryman’s initial sales success is proof that there remains plenty of potential in the Mini franchise.
FACTS AT A GLANCE?
Model: Mini Countryman Cooper D, from £21,805 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo diesel unit developing 112bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.?Performance: Maximum speed 118mph, 0-62mph 10.5 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 149g/km.
- Power3 (average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: