For small car company, MINI is one that really seems to divide opinion amongst car enthusiasts; on one hand there are those who love BMW’s modern reinterpretation of the classic car company, and it’s additional models merely add diversity for buyers after the retro look and go-kart handling. On the other hand there are those who see the cars the company produces as sacrilege…too big to be faithful to the original Mini’s mantra and too expensive to be a car targeted at anybody other than label-whores and estate agents.
By the far most controversial of BMW MINI’s models has been the Countryman. Sure the original hatchback was abit of a fatty, and the Coupe looks like a blind person designed it’s roofline, but a 5 door MINI? And a quasi-SUV one at that? Sacrilege! But despite this reaction by some the Countryman has been a massive success and has become one of the brands top selling vehicles, and personally it is my favourite vehicle from the brand.
Externally the car is pretty far removed from its namesake, but with 5 doors and a traditional hatchback it is pretty conventional for a modern vehicle. Off road styling cues such as chunky bumpers and wheel arches, as well as a bold grille and headlamps (alot less cutesy than normal MINI’s) make the car appear larger than it is, but in reality it’s only slightly over 4 metres long…which for a real life comparison is only a few millimetres longer and wider than a Ford Fiesta! Retaining MINI styling details like the floating roof and chrome accents means the Countryman is a pretty good looking and cheeky vehicle; I personally like this more masculine look but the grille has had comments about looking abit like a gurning chimp.
Inside is standard MINI fare, which is good and bad. A large central speedo and toggle buttons are fun details and very different to the majority of rivals, but this retro approach might wear a bit thin after a while-especially if the navigation is specified and a screen ends up dominating the speedo. Equipment levels are typically quite low, but the essentials such as air-con are included and the equipment packs help tie in items that are often specified by buyers. With the navigation, I am personally a fan of BMW’s iDrive, but the MINI version with its small toggle appears a bit fiddly although the system itself is still excellent (the Apps are a tad gimmicky but at least cheap). Rear space is limited in the 4 seater version (which comes with 2 individual rears rather than a bench), but the 5 seater is fine and matches most similarly sized rivals.
Speaking of rivals, well I’ve already gone over some in another post, but alongside the likes of the Juke you can also add cars as varied as the Range Rover Evoque and even the Golf GTI. This is possible because the Countryman comes with such a wide range of engine choices; three 1.6 petrols (in three states of tune…the Cooper S with a turbocharger and 184bhp), and two 1.6 diesels plus a 2L diesel for the Cooper SD. Most buyers go for mid spec Cooper models but all models offer good fuel economy (a BMW trait), even with ALL4 (4WD) in the more powerful guises. Yet another strength of any MINI is agile handling, and although the extra size and bulk of the Countryman mean that a little of the sharpness has been lost, the longer wheelbase also means that the car rides a little better.
I am not a particularly big fan of the MINI brand or its products…they are excellent at what they do but the cynic in me sees some of the interior detailing and reliance on retro themes as a little too kitschy. That said, the Countryman is probably the only MINI product I would consider buying because of its exterior looks and low running costs, but with a starting price of £16.5k it is by no means a cheap option and it’s popularity means it retains a lot of value.
The success of the Countryman have led to a 3 door version being developed. The Paceman has met even more negative reviews because of its dubious styling and seemingly pointless existence (neither a coupe nor a SUV), but neither do I dislike that car either. More interestingly though, the upcoming new MINI hatchback might be offered with a 5 door option, so presumably will be slightly cheaper than the Countryman and almost as practical. Also, spy shots seem to suggest that the interior will be alot less retro than before, so another win for common sense! We will have to see, but for now buyers are continuing to snap up a very talented MINI