The Mini Countryman has proved a strong seller over the years, with the British brand shifting more than half a million examples of this small SUV since 2010. But for all its popularity, we've found the Countryman hard to recommend given the number of excellent, larger rivals that cost a similar amount to buy.
One of our biggest complaints was to do with space; there just wasn’t enough of it for a typical family buyer. And it would appear that it wasn’t just us that thought improvements were needed in this area, because Mini is boasting that this new second-generation Countryman is 20cm longer and a smidge wider than its predecessor.
That growth means more room for both rear seat passengers and luggage. The two-part sliding rear bench seat remains, but you now get the option of an electric rear tailgate and even a fold out ‘picnic bench’ that you pull out of the boot floor.
What's the 2017 Mini Countryman like to drive?
The new Countryman is available with three petrol engines, two diesels and even a plug-in hybrid option. However, while the diesels and lower-powered petrols make the most financial sense, only the powerful Cooper S model was available for us to try.
Under the bonnet sits the same 189bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit used in all other Cooper S-badged Mini models. A six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive are standard, but our test car came with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox (£1675) and All4 four-wheel-drive system (£1615).
The 2.0-litre engine might be gutsy enough to give the three and five-door Mini hatchbacks potent performance, but it makes the much heavier Countryman brisk rather than outright fast, even though there's enough low-end shove to keep gearchanges to a minimum.
The automatic gearbox works very well, with smooth shifts under light driving and quick downshifts if you step on it. Cooper S Countrymans come with paddle shifters for if you want to take control yourself, but we rarely touched them, because the auto 'box always seemed to be in the right gear.
Even though this is the biggest Mini yet, plenty of effort has been made to make it drive like its smaller siblings. After pulling away, you soon notice the heavy weighting of the steering. But while current Mini owners may appreciate this heft, we would argue it should be lighter at low speed to help with manoeuvring.
Not only is the steering heavy, but it’s quick, too. This does give the Countryman a darty-feeling front end, but it can be a little too hyperactive at motorway speeds. Hyperactive is also a good way to describe the ride, because regardless of how smooth the road is, you always seem to be bobbling up and down.
This firmness is especially noticeable around town; potholes and sharp bumps are both felt and heard, at least with the 18in wheels of our test car. Things settle a little as you go faster, but you’ll find your head tossed around plenty if you attack a B-road with any gusto. Hopefully less sporty models with smaller wheels will ride a little better.
What's the 2017 Mini Countryman like inside?
Mini might call the Countryman their SUV, but from behind the wheel it feels little different to a regular hatchback. It does have a higher ride height and taller body than other Minis, but Audi Q2s and Volkswagen Tiguans tower over you. Despite this, there’s plenty of head room up front and there’s much less chance of clashing elbows with your passenger than in the previous Countryman.
Rear seat passengers also benefit from plenty of head room, although that’s partially down to a rear seat that makes you recline more than most rivals. And while the new Countryman's extra width makes squeezing three adults in the rear slightly more tolerable than before, tall adults will find their knees are still dug into the front seat if they’re sat behind a long-legged driver.
The boot has grown to be slightly bigger than you’d get in a Nissan Qashqai, although it still lags behind when compared with the Seat Ateca and Kia Sportage. Still, there’s room for a pushchair and a large complement of carrier bags, regardless of where the rear seats are.
The purchase price might be hefty, but Mini now includes more equipment as standard. All versions come with Bluetooth, sat-nav and cruise control. Overall, interior quality has also been improved with more squishy plastics and more attractive trims, but even so, you don’t have to look too long to find hard and scratchy materials.
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