By Patrick James on 2017-03-05 - The author has been a motoring writer for more than 16 years. Formerly motoring editor at the Coventry Telegraph, he now produces motoring copy, on new car launches and road tests on a freelance basis.
Countryman SD All4
IT may be called a MINI, but the latest Countryman from BMW, which has just gone on sale and is now a firm challenger in the compact SUV/crossover market is anything but mini.
Now, even bigger than its immediate predecessor, the interior is the best yet. It has a real quality feel while still retaining many of the retro features of the original BMW-launched MINI, with its huge dinner-plate sized central display panel and array of rocker switches.
It is longer, taller and wider and even if the increase is not huge, it does feel bigger and features a new range of petrol and diesel engines.
It certainly looks the crossover part with its high stance off the road, muscular look with integrated roofbars and flared wheelarches, eye-cathcing alloys, smart eliptical headlights and a honeycomb grille.
While not always to everyone's taste, the brand usually attracts attention when parked up.
The interior has an executive feel to fixtures and fitting and quality soft touch finish, while is the purple ambient lighting throughout the car adds a classy touch.
In fact the use of lighting is a key feature with the changing colours on the central control screen depending on what driving mode you are in and the clever puddle lights which reflect the winged logo onto the ground in the dark.
There are other clever options including picnic bench with a foldout loading sill cushion on the luggage compartment lid for outdoor use and, for the first time, touchscreen to the central console.
As ever, it is not cheap, but high residuals mean you will always get a fair chunk of your money back when selling.
Priced from £22,465, the four-wheel drive automatic driven here will set you back nearly £30,000, but there is a good level of standard kit, which includes satellite navigation, radar and parking sensors, Bluetooth, emergency e-call and more.
The two-litre diesel tested here proved lively, refined, and economical, with a claimed economy of 57.6mpg and emissions of 129g/km.
Mated to the eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox, it slips effortlessly through the gears to deliver excellent acceleration. It is barely audible on the motorway, although the high stance of the car means there is wind noise and some tyre rumble on lesser roads.
The interior dash is dominated by the circular consle which houses navigation and multi-media system, but controls can still be operated from the control dial between the two front seats.
There are five full-sized seats and the extra length means extra rear seat legroom, while the rear bench seat slides to provide extra stowage space. The leather upholstery in this model has neat sporty stitching and is firm and comfortable and fully adjustable, while headroom is good and there is good all round vision.
There is never going to be a fantastic amount of space in the boot, but 450 litres is decent, which increases dramatically when the split rear seats are folded to 1,390 litres. The boot is opened romotely with the key or by kicking underneath to trigger a sensor for hands-free opening.
Minis have always been famed for their handling and for a tall car it handles well. The four wheel drive gives added confidence when cornering in the wet with ALL4 drive capable of delivering all the drive to either axle.
The steering is direct, almost heavy, but precise. Acceleration is also good, although the Cooper S badging is a bit over the top in terms of real performance. It hits 60mph in just over seven seconds and for a more lively drive, switch to Sport mode and paddle gearchange, which sharpens up engine and suspension settings, while delivering those pleasing colour changes to the central control panel.
MINI Cooper Countryman SD All4 Sport auto
Mechanical: 190ps, 1,995cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving four wheels via 8-speed automatic gearbox
Max Speed: 129mph
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
Combined MPG: 57.6
Insurance Group: 25
C02 emissions: 129g/km
Bik rating: 25%
Warranty: 3yrs/100,000 miles
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