By Jonathan Crouch
With decent space for four people and a good trunk, the first generation MINI Countryman opened up MINI ownership to buyers who found the smaller models in the range too impractical. It was especially aimed at buyers who think of the Qashqai-class crossover SUV models, giving them more performance, more precise handling and all the eye-catching retro design cues that underpin the brand's success. Let's look at this model as a used car purchase.
In the late 1960s, Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the original British Mini, faced a rather daunting task. Their little city vehicle was a huge success, driven and loved by everyone from Peter Sellers to the Beatles, but beyond that, the family owners had little to go on. What was needed was a four-metre-long, five-door sister model that still retained much of the Mini's slickness. And the result was the Austin Maxi. Forty years later, BMW, then owner of the MINI brand, was faced with a similar problem. Its new turn-of-the-century MINI Hatch was a hit, but it couldn't offer a proper five doors or decent space for rear passengers or luggage. Hence the need for this model, a MINI that could: the Countryman. At the time of the original version's release in 2010, never had a car with the 'MINI' badge ventured to such size, nor did it boast the level of five-door practicality of this car. . At 37cm longer, 10cm wider and 15cm taller than a standard three-door, this was easily the largest model the brand had ever built. Its name is taken from the old Austin designation for station wagons of yesteryear, models with quaint wood trim on the rear. But this was no Countryman for older men, instead it appealed to the young and vibrant Crossover market, filled with Qashqai class cars that combined design cues from common family hatchbacks and 4x4s to produce a practical road hauler with a dash of flavor. off-road toughness. . thrown away. The MK1 Countryman model was slightly refreshed in 2015 and replaced in early 2017 by a larger second generation version.
What do you get
Anyone who still clings to the vestiges of Britishness in today's MINI brand will be a little uncomfortable with this countryman. The minimal design cues shared between the current hatch and the original Issigonis are forgotten here. Unlike other modern MINIs, it wasn't even built in Blighty, although would-be owners are happy to know that early versions hit Austrian production lines alongside the £150,000 Aston Martin Rapides. Which does not mean that the brand identity has been lost. Quite the contrary, in fact. Look around and all the usual MINI features become apparent, from the square four-wheel stance with wheels pushed to the extreme to the unmistakable font finish with its rounded headlamps. However, everything was sized for this larger five-door car, and in 2010, at the original launch of this model, the wheelbase and overall height of this car far exceeded anything this brand had tested before. And it's the same inside, where an elongated floor plan means that finally, in this model, a MINI can offer two proper rear doors and a rear bench seat where two full-sized adults can sit comfortably. Many buyers were happy with two individual rear seats in this car, but for original buyers, there was also the option of a rear seat, theoretically big enough for three (provided the middle occupant was a very small child). However, that means ditching the entire length of a new center rail system that can hold all kinds of (mostly optional) items. Most Countryman models you'll find will have cup holders and an attached sunglasses holder, but shoppers who've gone free with the options list can snag everything from iPhone chargers to dog bowls. The rear seats can recline for greater comfort on longer journeys. and slide back and forth for a big trunk or plenty of legroom. Unfortunately, there isn't enough space to have both at the same time. Still, the VW Golf's rivaling 350-450 liters is twice that of a regular MINI of this MK1 Countryman-era model, even if the 1170 liters complete with the seats folded down isn't especially competitive in its class. There is a small step in the trunk floor with the seats folded down as well. Up front, all the expected MINI design cues are present and correct. With the exception of the rather difficult-to-use airplane-style parking brake, owners familiar with the brand's smaller models will feel right at home. There's the usual oversized speedometer, here with an optional high definition color screen in the centre, showcasing the clever MINI Connected system, capable of mirroring everything to your iPhone for easy reference while driving. Plus, the usual (and initially slightly confusing) chrome controls for windows, air conditioning, and locking are all bundled together. what to look for
what to look for
Overall, the MINI Countryman owners we met in our buyer survey were quite satisfied, but inevitably, we ran into some issues. There are several reports of the panel creaking when hit, so watch out for that on your test drive, along with the irritating door hum that one owner we encountered had to put up with. There have been reports of heavy clutch wear on 'ALL4' 4WD models, although this is not an issue on post-2012 models which had a more durable clutch assembly. There have been reports of surface rust taking over some components, specifically the water pump and wheel nuts. Additionally, corrosion has been reported on the optional two-tone alloy wheels. Finally, we encountered some owners who reported that the interior reading lights had a mind of their own, coming on when the car was locked.
(roughly based on a 2012 MINI Countryman Cooper D 112bhp excluding VAT) Brake pads are £30-£45 for cheap brands and up to £65 if you want an expensive brand. Brake discs start in the £40-£70 range, but you can pay in the £80-£110 range for more expensive brands. Brake calipers sell for around £100. A drive belt costs between £12 and £15. Air filters are in the £16 to £20 range. Oil filters are between £10 and £10. 22 depending on the brand. A set of wiper blades costs around £4 to £15, while a thermostat would cost around £35 to £45, although a more expensive branded item could cost as much as £85. A timing chain would cost between £28-55 £217, although a more expensive branded item could cost as much as £217. A radiator would cost around £245, while a fuel filter would cost between £25 and £40.
This car's price and size suggest it's a little more grown-up than your average MINI, safer, roomier and capable of covering greater distances. But as any teenager will tell you, being an adult can also mean being boring. So is driving a Countryman like driving a MINI? First impressions are that yes. You get remarkably snappy steering that immediately gives the car a sharper feel than you'd get in the sort of rival Golf-sized hatchback or Crossover model you could buy for similar money. A good start then, although as soon as you launch the car hard into a corner it's immediately obvious that you're driving something very different from the MINIs we know and love. This model's Crossover class pretensions see it stand 10mm taller than the brand's stock three-door and weigh nearly 300kg more - stats that have their say somewhere. Even so, it still manages to be one of the top rider choices in this segment, not a class known for dynamic prowess. Few other small Crossovers would dare to come equipped with up to 184 hp, the power offered by the small 1.6 petrol engine. Version of the Cooper S that can hit sixty in just 7.6 seconds on the way to 134 mph. This variant, along with the conventional diesel option, a BMW 1.6 with 112 hp, can be purchased with front-wheel drive or MNI's 'ALL4' 4WD system. This is one of those clever systems capable of automatically varying the power distribution between the front and rear axles based on available grip. Typically, torque will be split 50/50 front to rear, but if conditions get slippery, up to 100% of the power will automatically be directed directly to the most appropriate axle. No complicated handles or buttons to push - the car will decide what to do and how to do it on its own. Of course, this is not an SUV, as this country was designed for snowy sidewalks, slippery grass and a little more peace of mind. remember on a frosty February morning, exactly what many potential buyers want. The rest of the time it'll be the fun family vehicle you bought it for, making up for its added bulk with a ride quality that's much better than a regular MINI, if not as good as some rivals, and a 6-speed gearbox. With smooth shifting that's standard if you don't need the optional 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. Most Countryman owners, of course, will not want to pay for such details as powerful engines, automatic gearboxes and all-wheel drive. And for them, BMW supplied another batch of 1.6s, a 98 hp gasoline unit, also available to Cooper buyers with 122 hp, plus a 90 hp diesel. Don't expect fireworks of performance from them, but most will feel that a rest time to sixty between 12 and 13 seconds on the way to a top of around 107 mph is as fast as they want in such a car.
Here's a MINI, but not as you know it. But then, if it were conventionally sized, this countryman wouldn't be able to keep existing MINIs loyal when they outgrow their city cars and shopping rockets. Nor would it attract new buyers to the brand. Customers like the vibrant SUV-inspired Crossover concept, but want it with a little more asphalt shine. This countryman has done both, albeit at the expense of British style and construction. It's as suited to the urban jungle as a Land Rover is to the Amazon. It's a car created for the times we live in. And a country you could be proud of.