The MINI Countryman re-invents itself in third generation form. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The third generation MINI Countryman serves up an even trendier confection for youthfully-minded customers in the lower-mid-sized SUV segment. There's a divisive look, a completely redesigned and more practical cabin and full-electric drivetrains for those wanting them. It's all about as far from the original wood-panelled middle-class '60s Countryman estate as you could imagine.
Here's a different kind of MINI Countryman. The third generation version of the brand's lower-mid-sized SUV has grown in size. First to leave space beneath it in the range for the company's new Aceman small SUV. And second so it can share all its underpinnings and powertrains with BMW's X1 and iX1 models. This MK3 Countryman is built in a BMW factory too, the Leipzig plant that makes the 1 Series; it's the first time that BMW's and MINIs have run along the same production line.
Petrol power continues, but as our previous 'BMW iX1' reference suggests, the big news this time round is that instead of the electrified Countryman offering being a Plug-in Hybrid, it's a full-EV. As with the second generation MINI Cooper Electric, there are two battery variants, though here, they use a completely different battery and platform. What this Countryman does now share with that smaller MINI model is its completely redesigned cabin with its new screen and media technology. It's a rejuvenated proposition.
MINI wants to be a full-EV brand - but not quite yet. Which is why, though new full-electric variants headline this third generation Countryman line-up, a huge proportion of sales will still be of the combustion models. With diesel consigned to history, these are all of the petrol-powered sort and must all use auto transmission. The big numbers are likely to be accounted for by the entry-level front-driven Countryman C with its 1.5-litre 168hp three cylinder turbo unit, good for 62mph in 8.3s en route to 132mph. The other two combustion Countrymans have four-cylinder 2.0-litre units allied to MINI's All4 four wheel drive system. The Countryman S offers 215hp (0-62mph in 7.1s and 142mph); and the Countryman JCW All4 has 296hp (0-62mph in 5.4s and 155mph).
What about the full-EV variants? Well there are two, both using a 64.7kWh battery. Things kick off with the single motor Countryman Electric E, which offers 201hp, 62mph in 8.6s and a range of 287 miles. The alternative is the Countryman Electric SE, which adds an extra electric motor on the rear axle, creating a nominal four-wheel drive system. This boosts total output to 308hp with 494Nm of torque and the 62mph sprint time drops to just 5.6s. But range drops too - to 269 miles.
Different chassis settings are available depending on the model you choose, including an adaptive suspension option that lowers ride height by 15mm. You can select between seven 'MINI Experience' modes - 'Core', 'Green', 'Go-kart', 'Personal', 'Vibrant', Timeless' and 'Balance' - each with a corresponding soundtrack.
Design and Build
Back in 2010, the original Countryman was bigger than any MINI model we'd previously imagined. Well now, at way past 4.4-metres in length, it's a lot bigger still, 13cm longer and 6cm taller than the second generation design introduced in 2016. Some will find the swollen stance visually challenging and there are some curious touches, like the heavily stylised C-pillar with its contrast-coloured panel. Black plastic wheel arch surrounds and roof rails supply the crossover vibe, big wheels (17 to 20-inches) suit the current trend and there's much the same octagonal grille and range of lighting signatures as you'd get from the latest MINI Hatch, though here, the LED headlights are of a lozenge shape.
The minimalist interior is a big departure from what went before and in design is carried over almost completely from the cabin created for that new-era MINI Hatch - though the extended dimensions here allow for an enlarged centre console. There's no instrument binnacle. Instead, dominating everything is the brand's latest 9.4-inch LED 'MINI Interaction Unit' round central screen, which you'll have to get used to looking at for speed unless you specify the optional Head-up display. You can flick between different settings for this very thin 240mm-diameter display, with sporty or retro typefaces, and it incorporates a new ambient lighting system which sees projectors flash a light show across the new textile dashboard at night.
Virtually all the previous buttons and switches have been removed from the fascia and centre console (including unfortunately, the old rotary infotainment controller). A small panel with a few short-cut buttons is all that remains, along with the drive selector and a start/stop switch designed like an ignition key attached to the dash.
In the back, the new platform has freed up an extra 130mm of leg room and the backrests can now individually adjust through six positions by up to 12-degrees. As before, the seat base slides - by up to 13cms. Boot space is improved to 460-litres - or 1,450-litres with the backrest folded. And there's space beneath the boot floor - enough to store the set of charging leads needed by the EV versions.
Market and Model
Prices start at £28,500 for the 1.5-litre Countryman C. You'll need £33,900 for the 2.0-litre Country S All4; or nearly £40,000 for the 2.0-litre Countryman JCW All4 performance model. If you want to go all-electric, the Countryman Electric E starts from £41,500, while the Countryman Electric SE All4 model starts from £46,600.
There are three available trim levels - 'Classic', 'Exclusive' and 'Sport' - and all are well equipped. The 'Classic' trim presents the brand's logo in a new colour ('Vibrant Silver'), and there's a range of three external paint finishes ('Melting Silver', 'Midnight Black' and 'Nanuq White'), plus two roof colour options and three wheel options.
The 'Exclusive' trim adds additional exterior design elements, such as the option for a Multitone Roof with a combination of six different colours, as well as offering the front grille in 'Vibrant Silver' to match the MINI logo. Finally, the 'Sport' trim offers a distinctive front and rear design including a redesign for the front bumper, rear bumper, side skirt and spoiler, while using high-gloss black as the frame for the front grille and logo colour. You can combine that with a contrasting Chili Red roof and optional red/black bonnet stripes. MINI boasts that this is its most connected SUV ever, courtesy of a revised 'My MINI' app; and a "Hey MINI" personal assistant voice control system, via which owners can choose digital depiction of a British bulldog named Spike as their screen avatar of choice.
Cost of Ownership
Like every other brand, MINI's parent company BMW has long ago stopped development of combustion engines, but it has at least added a light sprinkling of electrification to the 1.5 and 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol units carried over from the previous generation model - in the form of a 48V mild hybrid system. This set-up works as mild hybrid systems these days usually do. Fitting a powerful 48-volt starter-generator and a tiny second battery enables a significant increase in the amount of brake energy that can be regenerated and stored. This energy is used not just to supply the electrical system but also to lighten the combustion engine's workload and boost its power. The starter generator also increases efficiency by assisting the engine when driving at constant speeds.
That hasn't made a huge difference to the efficiency figures of the fossil-fuelled Countryman C, S and JCW models. Think about 48mpg on the combined cycle for the base three cylinder 1.5-litre Countryman C, which is WLTP-rated at between 138-155g/km of CO2. Think about 44mpg for the 2.0-litre Countryman S All4 (and 155-169g/km); and about 40mpg for the Countryman JCW All4 (177-188g/km).
As for the Countryman Electric models, well we gave you the range figures for these in our 'Driving' section - 287 miles for the E and 269 miles for the SE. The 64.7kWh battery that both variants use can be rapid-charged rates of up to 130kW and so connected, can be replenished from 10 to 80% in half an hour. The 'My MINI' app provides a convenient overview of the vehicle status and charging process, including current battery status, charging-optimised route plan and charging history.
It's tempting to say that this is a different kind of MINI Countryman. The evolved look, the redesigned cabin and the switch from PHEV to full-electric drive are all things that suggest that. Ultimately though, the thing that really makes this third generation design different is its subtle shift up-market in size and price. As a result, many of the customers who chose first and second generation versions of this model will now find themselves looking at MINI's smaller Aceman crossover instead.
If though, you can still stretch to a Countryman, then there's lots to like here, providing you appreciate the slightly divisive styling. In terms of rear seat room and boot space, this now a proper competitor for a Qashqai-class lower-mid-sized SUV, with a little sprinkling of premium appeal that might also tempt in folk who would otherwise have opted for a poshly-badged model in this class. The redesigned interior is a big improvement, the efficiency stats look competitive and this model's fun-to-drive USP has been retained. If all that sounds tempting, then a new MINI Adventure awaits.