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First Drive: MINI Countryman

By / 4 years ago / Road Tests / No Comments

MINI maximises the potential of its controversial, but big-selling, crossover. By Alex Grant.

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SECTOR: Crossover PRICE: £22,465-£29,565 FUEL: 40.4-64.2mpg CO2: 113-159g/kmLove it or loathe it – and chances are you’re in one camp or the other – the outgoing Countryman was transformative for MINI. Not only was it a head start in a now-booming segment and useful for retaining customers who’d outgrown the hatch, but it was also the five-door model that widened MINI’s fleet potential.

That latter point isn’t unique to the Countryman any more – there’s a longer-wheelbase five-door hatch and Golf-sized Clubman to cater for drivers who can’t live with three doors – and MINI has realised that its crossover may be better positioned elsewhere. So the newcomer moves up a segment, becoming a rival to the likes of the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

The X1 is an interesting rival, as the two are related. Though the MINI is slightly smaller, it shares the BMW’s platform and gets some of its family-friendly features. That means more cabin space, twice the boot capacity, larger back doors and a sliding rear bench with an adjustable, three-piece backrest. Engines are also shared; 1.5 and 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines, and a pair of 2.0-litre diesels in the Cooper D and Cooper SD. To put the latter two in context, they’re what BMW would badge 18d and 20d in the equivalent X1.

The change of segment is expected to shift demand slightly. Where the outgoing Cooper D used a 115bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine, the newcomer’s 148bhp 2.0-litre puts it into the heart of this segment’s volume. That’s expected to drive volume into the lower-spec diesel rather than the 188bhp Cooper SD, which mandates four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox. It’s possible to add both of those to the Cooper D, should you need the extra traction or convenience.

Equipment levels have stepped up a notch, too. Re-aligned to match the rest of this class, satellite navigation, parking sensors and a 6.5-inch screen are included from the entry-level model. That said, MINI is expecting most customers to opt for the £2,980 Pepper pack, which adds climate control, selectable driving modes, sports seats and LED headlights.

It adds up to a competitive corporate offering. The Cooper D returns 64.2mpg in two-wheel drive form, the cabin is well insulated from diesel noise and vibration and the wide spread of torque gives lively in-gear performance. It feels tuned to be a little sharper to respond than the X1 but, unsurprisingly, the Countryman drives a lot like its BMW cousin; sure-footed if firmly sprung as the brand’s products usually are, reassuringly weighty in its controls and no top-heavier than a hatchback. It’s good fun.

There’s no indication of an entry-level One D version yet, but the significant fleet addition coming later this year is a plug-in hybrid. The Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 will use the same drivetrain as the BMW 225xe iPerformance, with a turbocharged petrol engine and electric rear axle offering hot hatch pace, four-wheel drive and tax-friendly 49g/km CO2 emissions. But, even from launch, the biggest MINI to date should be plenty capable of finding new fans.What we think

Better proportioned, better finished and positioned in a key segment, the Countryman has all the right ingredients for a bigger footprint in fleet.

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.