WHEN THE MINI Country man was launched in 2010, it challenged the assumption that a Mini was, by definition, small. While this made it a controversial addition to the range, it didn’t hinder sales; more than half a million have been shifted in the past six years. Therefore, unlike the short-lived Mini Roadster and Mini Coupe, the Countryman was always going to be replaced, and the second-generation version will arrive in UK dealerships in February 2017.
This all-new SUV is even bigger than the original, making it a direct rival for the Nissan Qashqai, as well as prestige-badge models such as tire new Audi Q2. Yet despite the Countryman’s increase in size and sharper creases on its bodywork, tire design is still very much an evolutionary one. The shape of the headlights and side windows, in particular, is pure Countryman, although there is a simpler and less aggressive take on the traditional Mini front grille. Mini claims the new car will not only be roomier than the previous model but also feel higher quality inside. It will be the first Mini available as a plug-in hybrid, too.
The hybrid Countryman (called the Cooper SE) is four-wheel drive, with a 134bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine powering the front wheels and an 87bhp electric motor driving the rears, while the batteries have-enough capacity for an electric only range of around 25 miles. Official claimed fuel economy is a whopping 1345mpg, and CO2 emissions are just 49g/km.
As with all plug-in hybrids, though, you’ll only achieve these sorts of figures in the real world if most of your journeys are short and you top up the car’s batteries after each one. It takes 3hrs 15mins to recharge the car from an ordinary three-pin socket or 2hrs is mins from a specially designed wallbox. With both the engine and tire electric motor running, the hybrid produces 221bhp and is the fastest model in the new Countryman range, capable of 0-62mph in a hot hatch-rivalling 6.9sec.
There are four conventionally powered versions of the new Countryman: the entry-level Cooper uses the same 1.5-litre petrol engine as the hybrid, the Cooper S a 189bhp 2.0-litre petrol, and the Cooper D and Cooper SD have 2.0-litre diesels with 148bhp and 187bhp respectively. Although All4 is designed to improve traction in treacherous conditions rather than turn the Countryman into a real off-roader, a more rugged version of the car is believed to be under development; we expect this to have a raised right height, modified bumpers and front and rear skid plates.
While the outgoing Countryman mimics the classic Mini in having its speedometer in the centre of the dashboard, the new car follows the latest Mini hatchback and Clubman estate by placing it in front of the driver. The layout of the controls has also been improved; you now get simple rotary knobs for the air-con, and the infotainment system has shortcut buttons to make switching menus easier. As before, the infotainment screen is set into a dinner plate sized ring in the centre of the dash.
However, it’s now flanked by rectangular rather than round air vents, so it no longer looks like a silhouette of Mickey Mouse’s head. In fact, the whole interior has a more grown-up feel to it. The Countryman’s increased size has allowed for more rear leg room, so adults should be able to sit in the back comfortably. Plus, the boot is bigger than that of a Qashqai or Q2. Sliding rear seats that let you free up even more luggage space at the expense of some leg room will be an option, and the rear seats fold 40/20/40 for even more versatility.
The only way is up
Unfortunately, a big price hike accompanies the Countryman’s extra space. More positively, the standard kit list now includes sat-nav, air-con, Bluetooth connectivity and automatic emergency city braking, while the Countryman’s pricing is comparable with that of the Q2.