BMW's relentless pursuit of new niche markets for its MINI range made it inevitable that sooner or later it would enter the 4x4 crossover field. That happened in 2010 with the launch of the Countryman – longer, wider, taller and with five proper doors.
Four petrol and three diesel engines are on offer, ranging from the 89 bhp diesel to the 216 bhp turbo petrol in the John Cooper Works model. A 2.0-litre SD diesel was added to the range in March 2011. Six-speed manual gearboxes are standard with the option of an automatic.
The JCW – launched in 2012 – is the only one to have the ALL4 four-wheel drive system as standard but it's optional on Cooper S, Cooper D and Cooper SD models. This automatically distributes power between the front and rear depending on which wheels have the most grip.
Bang for your buck
As with other MINIs the Countryman is available in ONE, Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works trim. Standard equipment across the range includes air con and a CD audio system with various MP3 integration options. The top two models have a more aggressive look with a redesigned grille and different bumpers. Standard roof rails make it easy to attach a top box or roof rack.
An optional Sport pack available from 2011 has exterior aerodynamic changes, Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), 17-inch alloy wheels and interior changes including part leather trim and JCW sill plates.
Performance ranges from 0-62 in 12.7 seconds and 109 mph in the petrol MINI ONE to 0-62 in 7 seconds for the JCW. The 1.6 Cooper D does the sprint in 10.2 seconds with a top speed of 112, the 2.0 SD manages 9.3 seconds and 123 mph.
What you'll pay
A 10 plate ONE petrol model will be around £12,500, an 11 plate petrol Cooper around £14,500, expect to pay about £1,500 more for a diesel. A fully loaded, 62-plate Cooper SD ALL4 will set you back the thick end of £28,000.
What to check
Check for a full service history as many cars will have been sold with a fixed-price servicing deal and should have been well looked after. All MINI models with the newer Peugeot-based engines were recalled in 2011 for attention to the oil filter and the oil seals on the timing chain tensioner.
Major MINI parts can be expensive. Expect to pay around £200 for a clutch, £450 for a power steering pump and £80 for a front brake disc. Service parts are more affordable, an air filter is around £20 an oil filter £12 and front brake pads £40.
How it drives
You wouldn't expect the Countryman to drive as well as the standard MINI. With its higher ride height and greater weight it doesn't handle as well and rolls more though the ride is good. Viewed against other small SUVs though the Countryman is one of the best dynamically. The steering is quick and the gearshift quality is light and positive. The JCW has a lowered ride to provide a sportier drive but at the expense of a much harsher ride.
The basic 1.6 models provide competent performance but don't really sparkle. The SD is better but noisy so if you want performance you need the Cooper S or JCW models. Whichever you choose opting for the ALL4 four-wheel drive system takes the edge off the performance.
Inside there are the usual MINI styling cues with a big central speedo and the rev counter mounted ahead of the driver. A rail divides the front seats and you can attach sliding accessories to it – specify individual rear seats and this runs through to the back. The seat and steering have plenty of adjustment so you can find a perfect driving position and a nice touch is that the rev counter moves with the wheel so you can't obscure it. In the back there's lots of headroom and the standard bench seat has a 40:20:40 split backrest to provide flexibility for loading.
The MINI Countryman is aimed at people who like the SUV style but want a more competent on-road package. In this respect it has little competition, take into account its solid residual values and the Countryman is an attractive used buy.