The BMW X1 and Mini Countryman are desirable options for those who want a car with the chunky looks and raised ride height of an SUV, but the practical compact size of a family hatchback.
Both have the option of petrol or diesel engines, automatic and manual gearboxes, and have four-wheel-drive models available.
How much will the Mini Countryman and BMW X1 cost?
Given the prestige badges, it’s no surprise that these cars aren’t cheap, but the Mini costs considerably less than the BMW. Most buyers looking for a car in this class want a diesel engine, and the cheapest diesel Mini - an 89bhp 1.6-litre, front-wheel-drive One D - costs £17,620.
The cheapest BMW X1 is the rear-wheel-drive 115bhp 2.0-litre diesel sDrive16d, which costs £24,230, although the What Car? Target Price shows that you’ll be able to haggle the BMW’s price down to almost £22k, where a Mini dealer will drop the Countryman One D’s price only by about £1000.
The most popular engines in each range are the 112bhp Mini Cooper D, which costs £19,370, while the 181bhp, four-wheel drive BMW X1 xDrive20d costs £26,760.
Both of these cars have the potential to get very expensive. The X1 range goes up to £35k and the Mini’s up to nearly £25k, but these high-end models will lose value more quickly than the cheaper, more efficient models, and are very hard to justify given the high purchase price.
If you’re after a petrol model, the Countryman is likely to be the better option because it has a broader range of petrol engines, starting from £16,615. The BMW’s only petrol option is intended to be sporting rather than affordable, so you can only get a 2.0-litre petrol that starts at £27,270.
Company car buyers will benefit from low emissions in the cheaper diesel models of both these cars, but the higher list price of the BMW means that the Mini will still be usefully cheaper.
What are the BMW X1 and Mini Countryman like to drive?
Both are set up to feel encouraging to drive, with agile, composed handling and plenty of grip whether in the four-wheel-drive models or not. It’s worth remembering the X1 models that aren’t four-wheel-drive (xDrive) are rear-wheel-drive (sDrive), so it won’t be quite as capable in icy conditions as the front-wheel-drive Mini models.
Quick steering response in both means that they can feel a little nervous at motorway speeds, but the BMW’s is lighter and more predictable than the overly heavy steering in the Mini.
Avoid the M Sport suspension in the BMW, because it makes the X1 firmer and more uncomfortable without making it more fun. You can spec standard suspension for no cost even on M Sport trim level, although even on this softer set-up the BMW feels unsettled over scruffy roads.
Even so, it’s better than the Mini, which is too firm and consequently feels quite jarring over typical town roads, and jittery on the motorway.
The diesel X1 is slightly more refined than the diesel Countryman, although both allow too much engine clatter to intrude into the cabin at higher speeds. Petrol Countrymans keep engine noise to a minimum, but wind and tyre noise are still quite boomy on the motorway.
Which engine should I get?
If you want a diesel, then the 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel 18d is the best buy in the X1, particularly if you go for the cheaper sDrive model. It pulls strongly through a broad rev range, so you don’t have to work it hard to make good progress.
The 89bhp Mini Countryman One D doesn’t feel much slower than the more powerful Cooper D, which it shares its 1.6-litre diesel engine with, and the One D is also flexible enough to be relaxing.
Petrol X1s make little sense, because they're neither good value nor fun to drive, but the petrol Countryman models make sense because they’re cheaper than the diesels. All use varying versions of the same 1.6-litre motor; we haven’t driven the entry-level, 97bhp petrol One, but the 120bhp Cooper feels fast and is flexible and refined, so it’s not worth the extra for the more powerful models.
We haven’t driven an automatic Mini Countryman (it’s available with a six-speed automatic on most models), but the standard six-speed manual gearbox is better to use than the overly springy shift and heavy clutch in the X1, so unless you have to drive an auto you’re better off with a manual Countryman.
What are the BMW X1 and Mini Countryman like inside?
Neither is up to the standards you’d expect given the prices.
The Mini has a funky, retro designed cabin that puts style before ease of use so it takes a while to get used to where everything is. There are some cheap-feeling, hard plastics in obvious places around the cabin and some of the switchgear feels a bit flimsy.
The BMW is similarly disappointing in terms of its cabin materials, and is way off the standard set by most other BMW models, falling short of the dense, high-quality materials that you can get in the similarly priced 3 Series. Its pedals are also more offset to the right than the Mini’s, although both have good all-round visibility and range of adjustment to the seat. The fiddly seat controls are a pain in both.
How practical are the BMW X1 and Mini Countryman?
Both of these cars offer similar interior space and flexibility to a standard family hatchback such as the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf. That means that there’s plenty of space for two adults in the back seats, with ample headroom in both. That said, taller passengers may find their knees brushing the back of the front seats, particularly in the Mini, which has a touch less legroom than the BMW.
However, you can solve that in the Mini because its 40/20/40 split rear bench slides to allow you to free up more leg- or boot space depending on what you need at the time.
It’s a shame that you have to pay £155 extra to have a variable boot floor that makes the load bay flat.
The BMW has the bigger boot, offering 420-litres of boot space next to the Mini’s 350 litres, and its back seats are also split 40/20/40, allowing each back rest to be adjusted to a different angle or dropped flat individually.
What equipment do I get and which trim is best?
BMW’s iDrive system is standard in the X1, meaning you get a 6.5-inch colour screen that you control via a rotary switch mounted in front of the gearlever. It’s the most user-friendly infotainment package of all the mainstream systems, with logical menu layouts.
You also get digital radio, Bluetooth, USB-input, multifunction leather steering wheel, rear parking sensors and 17-inch alloys as standard even on base SE cars, so it’s really not necessary to go for a higher spec. Just add the £990 Business Media package, which brings with it voice control and sat-nav, and you’ll have a well-equipped car.
All Mini Countryman models come with air-con, rear-parking sensors, Bluetooth connection, USB input and a digital radio, but you’ll have to add the £1800 media pack to get the big colour screen mounted in the huge central speedo housing.The pack also adds sat-nav, enhanced Bluetooth audio streaming, voice control, online connectivity and an upgraded trip computer readout, so is well worth it.
The £2595 Chili pack is also worth look at, which is available on all models except the One, and includes a multifunction steering wheel, auto lights and wipers, climate control, sports seats and foglights among other extras.
Which one’s safer?
Both the Mini and the BMW get six airbags and the full five-star Euro NCAP rating, with both doing well in adult and child occupant tests. It’s reasonable to assume that both are equally safe family cars, even by the standard of the newer models, although the latest family hatches such as the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf get seven airbags and score higher for adult passenger safety as a result.
Which one should I buy?
There's little reason to recommend these cars over competition such as the new Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti, both of which are better value, more relaxing to drive and more practical. However, if you’re set on a BMW X1 or a Mini Countryman, the Mini is the one to go for, simply because it’s cheaper while offering similar practicality and a prestige image.
Even so, it's worth bearing in mind that the BMW has a slightly better ride and refinement, and if you’re looking at spending more than £20k, then the low-end X1s will be cheaper to own than the high-end Countryman models.