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Mini goes large with a ‘compact’ SUV that’s bigger than a Nissan Qashqai

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This is the BMW Group’s third swing at the idea of a family-sized modern Mini. The Mini Countryman SUV has been around as a model since 2010 but until now it has had the aura of a water-tester model – a gauge of the receptiveness to the idea of a bigger Mini.

With this third-generation model, however, there’s a certain new-found presence and gravitas about its appearance. That’s partly to do with the size of this ‘modern Maxi’, which has increased significantly. But it may also be to do with a change in attitude about the car from both the Mini and BMW Group management.

This car becomes the first Mini to be built in Germany, at BMW’s Leipzig plant, alongside the BMW 1 Series and 2 Series. Accompanying the shift in production base comes a key reappraisal of powertrains too. Alongside three internal-combustion options, this is the first Countryman to go electric, broadening Mini’s zero-emissions segment coverage significantly.

The new Countryman leads a wholesale redefinition of the Mini showroom range for 2024. We’re getting not only new combustion-engined and electric ‘core’ Mini hatchbacks but also the Aceman electric crossover, which will fill the gap between Mini’s new smallest and largest models (the Clubman estate having been phased out).

Stand by, then, to find out what experience has taught BMW about what works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to maximising its enduringly successful Mini recipe.

Range at a glance

MODELS POWER FROM
C Classic 168bhp £29,335
S All4 Classic 215bhp £34,735
JCW All4 296bhp £41,520
E classic 201bhp £42,080
SE all4 Classic 309bhp £47,180

The Countryman comes with a choice of three combustion engines and two fully electric models, with the model grade choice extending from Classic through Exclusive and up to Sport trim.

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Options are corralled into packs (Level 1, 2 and 3). The first (£2800) has automatic high-beam headlights, wireless charging, head-up display etc and is standard on S, SE and JCW models. Level 2 (£5300) adds premium audio, a panoramic sunroof, factory navigation and various ADAS systems. Level 3 (£7500) brings a larger fuel tank, heated electric seats, augmented-reality navigation and Mini’s Driving Assistant Professional.

DESIGN & STYLING

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mini countryman review 2024 02 panning

This Countryman is 130mm longer and 60mm taller than the second-generation model. At 4444mm long, 1661mm tall and 2069mm across the mirrors, it’s now even longer than the Nissan Qashqai, as well as wider across the body and taller, counting our test car’s roof bars. 

So, having been a B-segment crossover-hatchback, the Countryman is now unashamedly C-segment size. If the idea of such a large Mini doesn’t philosophically appeal to you, though, the design execution of it might just win you over in the metal. Despite its bulk, the Countryman does look like a Mini: one higher-waisted and much longer in profile than you’ve ever seen before, but of broadly the right aspect to seem a natural enough fit at least in terms of design. Squarer and more serious-looking in its detailing and a little smarter in its body surfacing than previous generations, it’s a fairly handsome design – if a little awkward in its proportions towards the elongated rear of the body profile.

The new car uses an updated version of the same platform as the 1 Series, 2 Series Gran Coupé and 2 Series Active Tourer, which Mini has adapted to accept battery-electric powertrains as well as combustion options, in much the same way as the X1 and X2 now can. 

The Countryman C (as tested) sits at the bottom of the model range and is powered by the BMW Group’s long-serving 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol triple teamed with 48V mild-hybrid assistance, making 168bhp and 207lb ft. The only gearbox option is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which can be had with (at extra cost) or without shift paddles. Drive goes exclusively to the front wheels. 

Above our test car are more powerful 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo Countryman S (215bhp) and Countryman JCW (296bhp) ICE models, both with part-time four-wheel drive. And above both of those on price sit the all-electric fare: the front-drive Countryman E (201bhp) and dual-motor, four-wheel-drive Countryman SE (309bhp), both of which draw power from a battery of just under 64kWh of usable capacity and advertise up to 287 miles of range.

Like its predecessors and BMW platform relations, the Countryman has all-independent suspension, with lowered springs and frequency-selective dampers on more powerful models.

INTERIOR

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Size isn’t the only compromise the Countryman has to make to mix it as a full-sized family car. Where Mini hatchback owners will be used to sitting lower at the controls, with their legs outstretched in front of them, the Countryman’s driving position feels notably more perched and bent-legged (to make space for second-row occupants). It’s not very ‘Mini’ ergonomically, then, but more evocatively so in other ways.

There’s a medium-sized steering wheel but no conventional driver’s instrument binnacle. Instead, both instrumentation and multimedia graphics are carried on a central, circular infotainment display that’s roughly the size of a dinner plate. 

The upper door cards, like the dash, are upholstered in a knitted textile that’s 90% recycled, with a bold colour fade running front to back – which I quite like. The chunky, upright interior door handles are a little too easy to break a nail on, though.

This is an OLED display, Mini proudly crows, brighter and more crisply rendered than it might otherwise be, and clearly a homage to the Smiths' central speedo of Sir Alec Issigonis’s original Mini. It’s much larger than the original Mini’s instrument, though, at 240mm across; it can be interacted with only via the touchscreen or voice command, rather than by a physical cursor controller; and it has some particularly bright, stylised display modes that can adversely affect your night vision.

If you want only instrumentation from it (rather than sat-nav mapping etc), you can tap the upper display portion to enlarge it into a set of full-screen digital dials. Also, unlike in a Tesla Model 3 or Volvo EX30, Mini does offer a head-up display, which places at least some useful instrumentation information close to your natural line of sight, so you don’t have to look away from the road quite so often. In our view, though, this ought to be a standard-fit item, not an option, since it makes a significant contribution to ease of operation.

Elsewhere around the cabin, Mini does a very creditable job of conjuring a clear sense of material richness and style, with an original touch. The Countryman’s designers preferred recycled knitted textiles to expensive mouldings on the upper dashboard, which do look appealing and alternative.

Second-row space is fully adult-appropriate, although the moulded plastic upper seatbacks (there for carrying tablet-holder accessories, we suspect) are a bit of an eyesore for those behind them. 

Boot space is accessed via a near-vertical hatchback, and although the boot is a little shallow, its 450-litre capacity is usefully practical, albeit not quite on a par with that of cars such as the X1 or Mazda CX-5.

Multimedia system

The Countryman is the first Mini to use the latest Operating System 9 infotainment system, which has been based on Android software so it supposedly feels like a smartphone (famously, those things you’re not allowed to operate while driving) to use. 

Its circular 240mm screen is lit almost to its edge and has the job of an instrument binnacle to do as well as everything else (touch the upper portion and the instruments expand to fill the whole display) – which, in our book, is a bit too much. 

It’s reasonably easy to navigate, thanks to a well-structured home screen and a useful range of shortcuts, but we’d much prefer a physical cursor controller, to make it less distracting. 

OLED display technology makes it particularly bright and clear – sometimes (at night especially) a bit problematically so.

Extended networked functionality for the navigation system and a full selection of Android-based apps, with gaming options, can be added via a Mini Connected subscription package from £15 per year.

 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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mini countryman review 2024 24 performance

The entry-level, petrol-engined Countryman C makes a bit more power and torque than the average £30k family SUV and, needing a little under nine seconds to hit 60mph from rest in slightly damp test conditions, it proved itself a bit peppier than most entry-level-engined conventional rivals.

In isolation, though, the powertrain feels quite ordinary: not especially keen or energetic when accelerating – although, since this is the feeder model, not meek or underpowered either. The car is quick enough in outright terms and maintains good, easy drivability without, we suspect, getting anywhere near to undermining the case to move up to a Countryman S.

The three-cylinder engine runs quietly and is well isolated, with just enough of a thrum as it spins up to let you know it’s there, but nothing unworthy of a premium product.

The driveline controls are somewhat simplified. You select drive via a small lever just below the multimedia system. There’s no S mode for the gearbox and no shift paddles as standard (so we couldn’t lock in a gear to record in-gear acceleration runs), but there is an L mode to hold a lower ratio – to climb or overtake, for example.

Even in damp conditions, traction under the optional 19in wheels was sufficient to take full power from rest with hardly a hint of slip or ESC intervention. Mini’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox does the kind of slick job of swapping cogs that might lead you to mistake it for a ‘proper’ auto. And the brake pedal, though a bit grabby and overassisted when cold, improves for progressiveness as the system warms.

The top-of-the-range Countryman JCW, with its 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and part-time four-wheel drive, has more pace and audible presence than the lesser C - but neither is quite enough that you’d mistake the car for a specially developed, low-volume performance halo model. The car’s engine sounds quite bassy and deep to begin with, until you realise that most of that menacing throb is being produced by the car’s audio speakers. Turn off the engine noise fakery and the car’s actual combustion engine sounds quite thin, strained and unenticing.

Although the JCW’s four-wheel drive system enables it to find all the traction it needs, it feels a little slower in outright terms than you might expect of a near-300bhp Mini – because this isn’t a small or especially light car after all. You do get manual shift paddles for the dual-clutch gearbox as standard here, but even when you use them, the JCW lacks the command overtaking pace and country-road energy of a top-level performance engine. It’s quick enough, but not especially exciting.

Assisted Driving

The Countryman is the first Mini with level-two semi-autonomous driving technology, although you have to spend plenty on options to get it. 

Some of the car’s driver assistance systems (adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping assist, speed limit detection with automatic adoption) come as part of the Driving Assistant Plus package with the Level 2 options pack. But if you want extended automated lane assistant functionality, including hands-off motorway driving in heavy traffic up to 40mph (now legal in the UK), you need Driving Assistant Professional, fitted to the Level 3 pack (£7500). Our test car had it, but we didn’t find it revelatory: you still need to supervise and remain ready to take control.

The adaptive cruise control reads the movements of preceding cars consistently well, though; its speed limit recognition seemed accurate and dependable; and its crash mitigation systems were never triggered unnecessarily.

RIDE & HANDLING

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mini countryman review 2024 26 front cornering

Given the lower-order status of its powertrain, there’s perhaps just a hint of pressure on the chassis of the Countryman C to make the difference – to conjure up that extra 5-10% of Mini-ness to compensate for where it may be lacking elsewhere, and to make the car’s authenticity as a Mini really, finally hit home.

It certainly has that telltale flavour of something with a dynamic agenda. It feels about 10% more stiffly sprung than might make the optimum, middle-of-the-road balance of ride comfort and handling precision. So it’s not only a bit more reactive to ride inputs than the average crossover-SUV, but also busier through the steering and given to tramline and bump-steer just a little.

The driving experience mode switch changes the layout and colouring of the multimedia screen quite markedly. Be warned: ‘Timeless’ mode lights it all up in a sort of 1950s Bakelite creamy white, which ruins any night vision your eyes had adjusted to.

There’s a liveliness about the driving experience that, on smooth roads, is just about understated enough to be endearing. However, it does undermine slightly the car’s potential to broaden out the reach of the Mini brand to people who don’t particularly appreciate the ‘terrierishness’ of its long-touted ‘go-kart’ dynamic character.

The steering is typically quick off-centre and medium heavy. Generally, it’s not particularly rich with feedback, though, and the way it reacts to bump and camber, when they present more persistently, can become grating (though we’d bet the standard 18in wheels mitigate the problem at least somewhat).

Where the roads suit it, the Countryman C certainly has flat, keen handling manners and plenty of lateral grip, and it avoids the more languid unchecked body movements of bigger SUVs. It handles much more like a moderately sporty hatchback, in other words, than something taller and heavier.

But there’s no denying or covering for its outright size, which definitely works to undo some of the clear intent of the chassis tuning. The way this Mini fills its lane, as you look out over its ample bonnet and snout – and changes direction with only the moderate sort of interestedness you’d expect of a car that, for all its sporty tuning, still has a longer wheelbase than the Toyota RAV4’s – puts a cap on how much fun it can be and how inclined you may be to drive it with the enthusiasm that you can’t help but expect a Mini to inspire.

Most of the same can be said of the range-topping Countryman JCW model, although it goes everywhere a little quicker, handles flatter and grips harder. In this case, Mini’s standard-fit lowered suspension springs and frequency-selective dampers actually produce a more settled ride on country roads, though it’s a slightly tauter-feeling one. Body control is improved and the Countryman’s tendency to fidget slightly on its springs is mostly dialled out.

But while the JCW can corner more quickly than the C, it doesn’t have the incisiveness on turn-in or the sense of carefree abandon in its appetite for changing direction that we might expect from Mini. The four-wheel drive system does little to make the torque distribution feel pretty prosaically 'native front-wheel drive' and there is simply a slightly limited amount of fun on offer.

Comfort and isolation

The Countryman C suppresses noise and vibration quite well. Despite its upright windscreen angle, it doesn’t admit much wind noise, although there’s a moderate amount of road noise. According to our decibel meter, the cabin is quieter than the X1 sDrive23 and Qashqai mild hybrid at anything above 30mph, which speaks well of Mini’s growing commitment to premium-brand sophistication.

The car’s slightly reactive, up-and-at-’em ride speaks less well of that, though. The ride feels especially testy in terms of its lateral (or anti-roll-bar-born) stiffness, as a result of which it’s prone to head-toss on uneven surfaces and a little open to misdirection over bumps, as we’ve mentioned earlier.

Engaging in strictly objective terms, and taking the Mini brand out of the equation entirely, you might well conclude that a fairly practical car like this really ought to ride in a more settled fashion, in consideration of the comfort of those on board. But if that only served to make the Countryman feel more conventional, we wonder if owners would really want it.

Our test car’s front seats (John Cooper Works sports items) were retentive, supportive and broadly comfortable, although their unusual ridge down the centre of the squab was a minor comfort quirk reported by some testers.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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The Countryman C looks quite well priced on superficial inspection, but it has the potential to become moderately expensive in the spec you might prefer. The difference lies in the optional equipment.

In Classic trim, without any options, it has no heated seats, head-up display, wireless phone charging or sliding rear seats. You get sat-nav, an automatic gearbox and a powered tailgate. 

But Mini expects the vast majority of customers to upgrade the car’s equipment via a bundled pack (Level 1, 2 or 3). If you’re buying a Countryman S, SE or JCW, Level 1 equipment is standard. But if you want to take an entry-level Countryman C to, say, Level 2 (premium audio, panoramic roof, adaptive LED headlights, roof rails, Driving Assistant Plus radar cruise control etc), it becomes a £35k car – a sum that would buy any number of larger SUV rivals.

For now, the Countryman commands strong enough residual values to mitigate those high-ish after-options prices but, where combustion-engined models are concerned especially, it might not indefinitely.

The fuel efficiency of our test car was respectable but not a selling point in itself. Over a full week’s testing, including track work, we were a little disappointed to narrowly miss an indicated 40mpg. The 46.9mpg that the car recorded on our motorway touring economy test was a little better, though.

VERDICT

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There’s an ambitiousness about the new Mini Countryman that’s quite likeable. Seeking to successfully weave the fun-loving handling dynamism and carefree vivacity that characterises the brand’s smaller cars into one as unashamedly full-sized as this SUV can’t have been an easy mission. It’s a losing mission, needless to say, but no fool’s errand. And the fact that the Countryman takes it on at all gives it a certain spirit and pluck that we suspect people will warm to. 

This car is at least fresh and distinctive and it has more than just outward design affectation to hang its Mini badges on. There’s some cheery, peppy character about its performance – and perhaps a little too much trademark Mini verve and life about its ride and handling, which occasionally feels misapplied to a car of this size and brief.

The Countryman’s space, desirability, drivability and refinement go some way to justifying its pricing, though, even if it climbs pretty high once you account for those de rigueur options packages. But a little of the roundedness, maturity and no-nonsense everyday comfort and ease-of-use of a more polished premium product is lacking.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.