Despite the name, it’s clear the new Mini Countryman is targeted at city drivers rather than country folk. Why? Well, to start with, it doesn’t have a badge anywhere on the car that says “Countryman”. It seems unlikely that Mini’s owners BMW forgot to add it – more likely that it didn’t want to discourage urban buyers or tarnish the heralded Mini brand with an outmoded name that seems incongruous with the car. Which leads to the obvious question: why call it Countryman at all?
At first sight it’s bigger, boxier, even taller that its older sibling – it’s about the size of a VW Golf – and so therefore a very maxi Mini and surprisingly large. The cabin is now confidently able to transport a family in its five seats and in some comfort too, something the existing Mini can’t do unless your family is very young or very short. What’s more, it also has full-size doors for rear seat passengers, which will be a welcome addition to save Nan’s back, or yours if you’re lifting baby seats in and out of the rear.
Which is why Mini has developed the Countryman of course, to capture some of the car market that caters to growing families. Yet inevitably one must question how successful it has been. The boot seems quite small at 350 litres for a car of this size and price, so carrying the usual kid paraphernalia could be tricky.
So maybe, then, it’s nothing to do with families. Maybe it’s a genuine 4WD crossover that Mini has created in the Countryman. But that’s tenuous too. The car is fitted with an all-wheel drive system that directs all the power to the rear wheels if the front wheels lose grip, but even Mini doesn’t seem to be suggesting the car has any serious off-road abilities. Inside, there is nothing to suggest that the car has off-road capability either, so think soft road rather than off-road. In fact, it’s pretty much all regular Mini – including the oversize retro-style speedo in the middle of the dash which, with a version of BMW’s multimedia iDrive system, makes a strange analogue and digital combination. The hand brake lever is so big as to be absurd. It’s been designed to allow clearance for a new Mini centre rail that will allow buyers to personalise their Countrymans with the ability to mount objects along it including an iPod, sunglass holder and cupholder...you get the idea.
On the road, the Countryman feels very much like the existing Mini to drive, which is a good thing. Even in this iteration – the Mini Cooper D Countryman ALL4 – with its 1.6 litre, 112hp diesel engine, the car is quicker than I expected and feels very sporty.
It will be interesting to see if the Countryman attracts new converts to the brand. And if you’ve already bought into it, you’re probably already configuring your Mini Countryman online.