Newest MINI is

biggest of them all

MINI Countryman, front action
MINI Countryman, front action 2
MINI Countryman, front static
MINI Countryman, front runway
MINI Countryman, side action
MINI Countryman, rear action
MINI Countryman, rear static
MINI Countryman, static above
MINI Countryman, picnic bench
MINI Countryman, badge detail
MINI Countryman, rear seats
MINI Countryman, front seats
MINI Countryman, dashboard
MINI Countryman, wheel detail

THE biggest MINI in the brand's history is chasing buyers who love the name and everything that goes with it - but need the space for a growing family.

So, the new MINI Countryman is longer and wider than a VW Golf and comes with leg room for grown ups in the back and a decent sized boot.

You can even have it with all-wheel drive and there's a version on the way soon with an electric motor to help MINI-mise your petrol bills.

It's years, of course, since MINI meant small - even the original name was puffed up into capitals when BMW bought the company and produced its first non-Mini MINI in 2000.

A steady increase in size as fresh versions appeared was matched with a rise in the cost of enjoying your new MINI, but the buyers didn't mind and bought them in shedloads.

They were for ages, along with the right Porsche, the new cars that lost value more slowly than anything else. Not quite true today with so many MINIs on the road, but you get the idea - owners love them.

They also love making the cars feel especially their own and are happy to pay for the privilege. The new MINI Countryman range starts at £22,465 for a petrol powered Cooper but you can bet very few (none?) ever leaves the showroom in this basic state.

Actually, not that basic. Every new Countryman comes with satellite navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth and cruise control. It also enjoys the sort of interior space those Golf-like dimensions (4,299mm long, 1,822mm wide) allow, along with a boot that can be made larger by sliding the rear seats forward by up to 13cms.

Back seats in place, there are 450 litre of space available, rising to 1,309 litres with the seats folded, both comfortably beating the Golf hatch but a good way short of that car's estate version.

If that all sounds most un-MINI-like, a lingering look at the interior brings you back on track with a dashboard dominated by a huge circular housing for the sat nav, but really there in homage to the speedo's positioning in the first Mini back in 1959.

Then there are an array of self-consciously retro flick switches, again echoing the brand's past but now joined by modern controls for functions like the navigation system (also with a touch screen if you upgrade) and all built to a standard the owner of an older Mini would think quite impossibly good.

Further adding to the feeling that buying your new Countryman is just the start of an exercise in tick box restraint are add-on packs that pile on tempting upgrades.

Most owners will find an extra £2,980 for the Chilli Pack that includes automatic air conditioning, sports seats and LED headlamps, for instance.

There's more; a media pack (£950) brings the smarter sat nav, while for £2,300 there's a MINI Yours Pack with bigger alloy wheels, leather seats and a choice of panels on the dash (chestnut suit you, sir?) that light up in a gently alluring way.

We're not done yet. The MINI Teck pack (£2,090) adds a superbly crisp rear view camera, Harmon Kardon hi-fi, head-up instrument display and the better nav system.

Finally, for £850 you can have the sliding rear seats, automatic powered tailgate and - MINI is really proud of this - a padded 'picnic bench' roll that hides beneath the boot floor but can be draped over the rear bumper as a temporary seat while you change your loafers for running shoes before the morning jog.

The cars on the Countryman's launch had all of the above and were all Cooper S ALL4 automatic versions, costing £26,360 with manual gears or £28,050 with the eight-speed auto boxes.

A quick tap or two on the calculator brings the on-the-road price of these cars to more than £36,000. Not MINI at all, you might think.

The Cooper S model's 2.0-litre petrol engine produces 189bhp, enough for the sprint to 62mph in 7.5 seconds and an official fuel consumption of 45.6mpg - the test car showed 34mpg at journey's end.

The Cooper (without the 'S') uses a 134bhp petrol engine (9.6 seconds/51.4mpg) while the pair of 2.0 litre diesels (148/187bhp) offer a mix of performance (8.9/7.7 seconds) with improved economy (64.2/61.4mpg) and reduced emissions.

A diesel engine sits under the bonnet of the currently most costly of the newcomers in the shape of a £29,565 Cooper SD ALL4 Countryman. Expect the coming plug-in hybrid model to challenge that when it arrives, promising to be fastest of the lot, and with a 134mpg result in the official test.


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