Mini has been gently easing itself into the fleet sector with increasingly relevant products, but with the new Countryman the easing process is now over and it’s here very much on merit.
On the road
On the road
In many ways, this second-generation Countryman follows a similar path to its Clubman sibling, in that the new car effectively moves up half a segment on its predecessor, and it is now into the crossover heartland to take on the likes of the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai and even premium competition such as the Audi Q3 and even the Range Rover Evoque; the Evoque may start at a much higher price point, but it’s undoubtedly in the ballpark for practicality and if you’re a bit liberal with the options list it’s quite easy to spec a Mini up to the entry Rangie’s level.
The most efficient model at launch is the 150hp diesel driven here, although Mini’s first plug-in hybrid will come along this summer, followed by a more efficient diesel model by the end of 2017.
However, for now the 150hp unit, offering very competitive official figures of 113g/km of CO2 emissions and an official average economy of 65.7mpg, will be the big fleet choice. There are also two petrol engines available, including the corking little 1.5-litre 136hp three-cylinder unit, and the 190hp Cooper SD diesel, but the engine tested here will be the main seller, mainly thanks to its competitive emissions figures.
Mini is again offering its All4 four-wheel drive system, which will come as an option on all engines for between £1600-£1730. Likewise the Steptronic automatic gearbox, which is an option that costs between £1495 and £1745 depending on model, apart from on the Cooper SD where it’s fitted as standard.
So, the new Countryman is big news for Mini in fleet terms, but it’s also big news for customers, because the company claims it’s the largest and most versatile model it has ever launched. Mini isn’t exaggerating: the new car is 200mm longer than the last Countryman, more than a third of which is in the wheelbase to make more space for occupants. It is also three centimetres wider, again freeing up more space on the inside of what feels like a larger and more sensible car.
There’s plenty of storage space inside the characterful interior, including bottle holders in each door pocket that are big enough to hold a one-litre bottle. There’s also a conveniently shaped space at the bottom of the centre console that’s useful for keys, pens, change and phones. The glovebox isn’t massive though.
The front sports seats, which are fitted as part of the £2980 Chili pack, are extremely supportive and comfortable, although the headrest is a bit hard.
Despite its slightly hefty price, that Chili pack should prove popular because, among the goodies it provides are a satellite-navigation upgrade, 17-inch alloys rather than the standard 16s, heated front seats, climate control and keyless entry.
All Minis now get satnav as standard, and Bluetooth and DAB radio are also fitted to every Countryman in a kit list that pretty much mirrors that of the Clubman model, although rear parking sensors and the chunky roof rails are both also standard for the Countryman, the former because it’s a larger car and the latter to portray the model as the “adventurer” of the Mini range. Predictably, there are pages of options with which you can personalise the car, as is always the case with Mini.
Rear passengers will find that the car’s growth over its predecessor has provided them with plenty of head and leg room. If the passengers are small, and can therefore sacrifice some leg room, then an extra £300 gets you the option to slide the rear seats back and forth by 130mm to prioritise leg or boot space as required. Even with the seat as far back as it’ll go there’s 450 litres of boot space, 100 more than the old car could muster. It is, though, a little annoying that you can’t drop the 40:20:40 split rear seats from the boot, only from the rear seats.
The boot is a flat, square shape, and has a handy underfloor storage section. A clever little £150 listing among the options is what Mini calls a picnic bench. In truth, it’s only a durable sheet with a padded cushion that’s attached to the boot floor and folds across the bumper. However, anyone who has perched kids on a dirty bumper to change shoes will appreciate the useful touch.
The 150hp diesel engine doesn’t need working too hard to pick up momentum, and on paper the Mini accelerates to 62mph faster than equally powered cars in its basket of rivals, something that translates to the driving experience.
Refinement is above average without being class leading, everything is pretty quiet, and the ride quality, while a touch firm, carries the payoff of fine handling and minimal body roll, all of which is combined with Mini’s typically precise steering. It’s no go-kart, but it stands up well from a driver-enjoyment point of view. The only thing to really let the side down is the notchy gear change, topped off by a badly proportioned gear lever that never feels like a good fit with the palm.
Mini is looking at competition from both sides with the new Countryman. As a premium crossover, it is competing with well-specced versions of the Nissan Qashqai, mainstream players such as the Mazda CX-5, and premium presences including the Audi Q2 and Q3 and BMW’s X1.
Mini has also highlighted the Range Rover Evoque, a car that is significantly more expensive than the Countryman, but entry-level versions are well within its reach once you start adding a couple of options packs to up-spec a Countryman. However, the Evoque also enjoys peerless and astounding residuals of almost 50%, while the Countryman is predicted to be in the high 30s. Still good, but more mainstream, and not quite where smaller Mini models have been. It’s maybe a touch surprising to see KwikCarcost predicting that an Audi Q3 will retain 46.1% of its value where the Mini is at 37.3%.
Nevertheless, the excellent emissions combine with a P11D that’s below its premium rivals’ to make for lower monthly benefit-in-kind payments for company car drivers and NI payments for companies. Service, maintenance and repair costs are also below those of other premium models.
The new Countryman is a more grown-up car that’s an excellent all-rounder. It’s efficient, practical, good to drive, has decent whole-life costs, good equipment levels if you stump up for the Chili pack, and its looks are a big step forward from the old car’s. There’s a lot to like and, as long as you’re not part of the diminishing group of objectors to the increased footprint of the Mini brand, it’s a proper and serious crossover competitor.
The first BMW Mini Countryman resurrected a name Mini used in the 1960s, and when it arrived in 2010 it planted the British brand into the crossover segment.
It has maybe never been as fondly loved as the hatchback because of its controversial styling, combined with the fact that purists felt the Countryman was a step too far from the brand’s roots.
Nonetheless, the Countryman gave Mini fans somewhere to go when they needed more space, as well as giving the brand something to appeal to the buyers flocking to the Nissan Qashqai and other cool crossovers.
It was facelifted in 2014; the subtle redesign effective in taking away some of the less appealing elements of the looks, and that car has run through to its replacement’s arrival in spring 2017.
The new car is larger, enjoys a more resolved look and is packed with technology, so should be successful in driving Mini further into the crossover segment, especially because the first generation has got the world used to the idea of Minis not necessarily being quite so mini any more.
What they said
What they said
The new Countryman is the largest and most versatile car in Mini’s line-up offering a high level of equipment, including satnav, Bluetooth, cruise control and rear PDC. The Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4, the brand’s first plug-in hybrid model, offers a fantastic fleet proposition with CO2 emissions of just 49g/km and average fuel economy of 134.5mpg. We expect it to be a popular choice for fleets thanks to low running costs and the high specification.
Head of Corporate,
Need to know
Three things we like...
Optional 'bench' costs £150
No need for a key with retro start button
Branded 'puddle lights' look pretty cool at night
...And one we don't
Gear change is clunky and gearlever is subjectively uncomfortable to hold
Great performance figures from a 150hp diesel, and it’s a typically pleasing BMW Group offering.
The 113g/km emission figure puts the Mini, at worst, on par with rivals, although the 4x4 system increases that by 14g/km.
Much better family transport although as in many rivals, boot space still isn’t huge. Cleverer features are optional extras.
Nav, DAB radio and Bluetooth are all standard, but you need to spend from the options list to kit a Countryman out properly.
Much better than the last countryman, but still not as stylish and elegant as some rivals. Standard roof rails help.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The ride is a touch on the hard side, but the Mini handles well. Refinement is above average, and the Chili pack’s optional sports seats are supportive and comfy.
Plenty of Mini character is retained inside this larger model, but it’s also still practical and logically laid out. Decent cabin-storage options.
Two USB sockets and one aux are fitted, and the audio/nav system is user-friendly and operated via a rotating dial between the seats
Whole life costs 7/10
The Countryman’s residual value prediction isn’t great versus its premium rivals, which lets down an otherwise good set of costs.
CCT opinion 8/10
There’s plenty to like about the new Countryman, which is more grown up and sensible without losing the brand’s charm and character.
Plenty of strengths and not many weaknesses, divisive styling and RVs apart. The Countryman comes back at its crossover rivals with plenty more in its armoury.