MINI goes large with

new Countryman

MINI Countryman, 2017, front, action
MINI Countryman, 2017, front, cornering
MINI Countryman, 2017, front
MINI Countryman, 2017, side
MINI Countryman, 2017, side, action
MINI Countryman, 2017, rear, action
MINI Countryman, 2017, rear, off road
MINI Countryman, 2017, dashboard
MINI Countryman, 2017, interior
MINI Countryman, 2017, rear seats
MINI Countryman, 2017, toggle switches
MINI Countryman, 2017, drive mode selector
MINI Countryman, 2017, boot
MINI Countryman, 2017, boot, maximum
MINI Countryman, 2017, picnic bench

IT'S the pumped up MINI that's big on every front and now the Countryman is getting even bigger.

In fact it's about to become the biggest MINI ever and at 14ft 1ins tip to toe it's not far short of a Range Rover Evoque.

That's eight inches longer than the previous Countryman - and more than four feet longer than the original Issigonis creation.

Going large means more room inside and more space in the boot which makes the new Countryman even more family friendly but it also means a bigger number on the price tag.

The new MINI Countryman is priced from £22,465 - some £5,000 more than before - and the range topping four-wheel-drive Cooper S automatic we have just sampled tipped the scales at £28,025 - without extras.

To justify the price hike MINI is adding more kit and every Countryman now comes with sat nav, a digital sound system, Bluetooth, cruise control and automatic emergency assistance.

An extra £950 adds an 8.8-inch touchscreen - a first for MINI - and the car we tried was also fitted with a comprehensive head up display panel and a full suite of online connections.

Without doubt it's high on equipment and incredibly well finished.

For the new Countryman BMW has gone Dutch and is building the latest MINI alongside the convertible and some hatchback models at the Nedcar factory in Holland.

Styled in true MINI fashion the Countryman's blown up design is set apart with a more horizontal slant to the headlights and their bright surrounds - other than that it's instantly recognisable as a MINI, only bigger.

The added proportions mean much more room inside, especially in the back where leg and head room are very generous. It is a five seater but probably best thought of as more comfortable for four.

Boot space also increases to 450 litres which is some 25 per cent more than on the previous Countryman and the new model can now be fitted with a powered tailgate and with what MINI calls a picnic bench - a foldout vinyl padded flap which hangs over the back bumper and can double as a seat for life in the great outdoors.

Maximum cargo space is 1,390 litres making the new Countryman high on practicality and with the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system it can tow up to 1.8 tonnes.

The automatic ALL4 system has been uprated to make it more effective on the economy front and with the eight speed Steptronic auto box it is rated at 44.1mpg at best.

Emissions are 146g/km which actually makes the automatic more economical than the manual. It's quicker too at 7.2 seconds 0 to 60 with a top speed of 139mph.

The engine in the Cooper S is a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre developing 192bhp and it pulls the Countryman well. In the main the ALL4 system operates as front-wheel-drive but engages extra traction seamlessly as required.

Off road, and with six-and-a-half inches of ground clearance it is a competent soft-roader.

On our drive we saw an average of 36 to the gallon giving a theoretical range from its 11 gallon tank of around 400 miles. A bigger 13.5 gallon tank can be fitted if long distance work is a priority.

As with all MINIs there are multiple drive modes ranging from sport to eco - or green as MINI calls it - and the auto version comes with paddle shifters.

Although lively enough, its proportions mean it is not as sporty or agile as the smaller MINI models but it's not going to let the side down.

The ride for something which must now be considered as an SUV is above par although by MINI standards it does feel every bit of its 1.6-tonnes.

A reversing camera aids parking while the display itself is top notch, high definition imagery. Classic MINI toggle switches on the dash - and in the roof above the rear view mirror - and the large circular central display echo the original Minis of the 1960s and keep the character of the car alive almost 60 years on.

In the current MINI family - and these days it comes in all shapes and sizes - the Countryman has become one of the more popular concepts selling more than half a million models since it first arrived in 2010.

The newcomer sets out a course to continue that, not just by proving bigger is better but by becoming MINI's first mainstream electric vehicle adding another string to the brand's bow.

Come June the Countryman will be available as a plug-in hybrid with a theoretical fuel return of 134.5mpg - and even in his most visionary moments Mini creator Sir Alec Issigonis could not have imagined that.

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