Updated Mercedes-Benz E-Class gets new gearbox and extra standard equipment
MINI Countryman Cooper SD All4 review (2011 onwards)
Summary - A move further upmarket (and up in price) by MINI may be just what the increasingly popular Countryman needs to cement its acceptance. SD engine remains impressive, but it's the overall package that's key here.
We like - Cooper S styling, all-wheel drive, strong in-gear performance, fun handling, additional practicality over a MINI Hatch
We don't like - lacks the vibrancy of a MINI Cooper SD Hatch, still-controversial looks, expensive, rattles from rear of cabin
The MINI Countryman Cooper SD All4 is one of the most technically intriguing MINIs on sale. It combines a Golf-sized body with appealing Nissan Qashqai-style crossover looks, along with a BMW 2.0-litre diesel engine and high-tech four-wheel-drive platform. Oh, and a £23,190 price tag.
That's not cheap, but for a few thousand pounds more than a standard MINI Cooper SD Hatch, you do get a vastly more practical car. Plus, while the enlarged five-door styling has been controversial, it still remains a MINI, so is still a 'small' car with bespoke premium appeal.
As with the Hatch, it looks just like the MINI Countryman Cooper S. It has the more aggressive front end with air scoop set within the front bumper, plus a chunky rear wing, bumper and twin exhausts set in both sides. Even details like the Cooper S honeycomb grille are carried into the Cooper SD.
All4 4WD versions are hard to spot over regular front-drive models. Only the badge on the front wing gives the game away. They're not even any taller than standard: the four-wheel drive is there for on-road traction and muddy field prowess, rather than off-road ability.
More generally, the Countryman is proving to be a developing success for MINI. Those tired of the MINI Hatch's practicality constraints previously had to move to other brands. Now, MINI's providing an alternative, creating an out-of-leftfield yet entirely workable single car for five-up households.
While there's been the flash Cooper S on sale from the start, its economy isn't that family-friendly, particularly in winter-ready All4 guise. Enter the Cooper SD, then, with the looks, performance, handling, economy and CO2 emissions to tick all boxes. Is it as great as the MINI Cooper SD Hatch, though?
Fitting a 2.0-litre BMW diesel engine into a MINI Countryman isn't the awe-inspiring proposition it is in the smaller Hatch, but it's still impressive. 143hp and 224lb/ft of torque (more even than the tuned John Cooper Works model) give OK in-gear performance, plus 0-60mph in 9.4 seconds.
The All4 4WD test car is actually faster than the front-drive car in acceleration, proving the efficiency of the four-wheel-drive setup. It also means the engine's strong pulling power, spread across a near-1,000rpm rev range, can be fully utilised without the traction control cutting in.
The SD engine is quieter than in the Hatch as the larger bodywork means it's further away (and also allows for more soundproofing). Oddly, this means you're more aware of the higher-pitched turbo whistle, although this does provide a high-tech backdrop.
The Countryman SD is a good performer, then, but it isn't a sporty one. It weighs 1,395kg, instead of the 1,150kg of the Hatch, and you really feel this (particularly when waiting for the turbo to spool up at low revs). Befitting the Cooper SD badge? Not really: it just doesn't have the vigour of a hot hatch.
Ride and handling
The MIN Countryman is not as tenacious as a MINI Hatch - but it is more dynamic than the family hatchback norm. MINI has ensured its entrant into this sector still possesses the driving fun the brand is famous for: it's just refined things and made it more broadly honed.
The high, upright driving position may put you off at first, but the MINI Countryman soon convinces. Steering is fairly immediate, the front end turns in well despite the extra mass of the engine, and it generally feels a fair bit livelier than many family hatchbacks.
All4 means it handles all weather conditions well, despite the extra drive of the engine. The Countryman SD doesn't 'flow' quite as well as the Hatch on twisting roads, though. The slight turbo delay causes pauses in gear changes and out of corners at times, which is occasionally frustrating.
Ride quality is good, though. The MINI Hatch is a firm machine, but while the larger Countryman is also taut, it's more able to provide long-distance comfort thanks to extra suppleness. Families will prefer this more compliant approach.
The Countryman's slightly narrow doors, particularly in the rear, conceal a surprisingly roomy cabin - again, most notably in the rear. Head and legroom are really impressive, and the seats are mounted high, padded firmly and support well.
It's very 'MINI' in layout. The flat, upright dash is a clear relative of all other MINIs, with Cooper SD specifics including a Sport button that alters the DSC parameters, weightens the steering and makes the exhaust louder.
It's not 'MINI' in boot, though. This is 350 litres even in base guise - slide the seats forward and it expands to 450 litres. Standard are two bucket-style rear seats, with the MINI centre rail running between: a three-person bench is a no-cost option, but deletes the rail.
Details frustrate. The bar-type handbrake is awkward and ergonomically flawed, while the scratchy lower dash plastics undo the good work of premium-finish materials up top. There are far too many rattles from the trim in the rear of the car over bumps, too - surprising in a BMW Group car.
Economy and safety
Remarkably, even this MINI Countryman SD, with All4 4WD, still manages to return CO2 emissions of 130g/km. This is an important tax barrier that is a credit to the fanatical BMW Group fuel efficiency experts. 57.6mpg average is a great result for a family all-wheel-drive hatch.
It's safe, courtesy of a full airbag brace as standard, plus DSC stability control. This is the tuned-up Cooper S version too, which offers more functionality than standard cars' stability control. Importantly, given its extra size, rear parking sensors are standard.
The MSN Cars verdict
The MINI Countryman SD All4 isn't the exciting hit hot hatch the MINI Cooper SD Hatch is, but it's still creditable because of its all-round abilities. It's fast enough, flexible enough, very practical and very green. It's also pretty expensive, but this may not work against it, either.
That's because the Countryman arguably needed an extension of the higher-end range, to see it matched with the Golfs and Nissans it rightly should be. With a tech-packed and useable £23k diesel, will the acceptance of the MINI Countryman be further enhanced?
|Need to know|
|Engines, diesel||1,995cc 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo|
|Power, bhp||143 @ 4,000rpm|
|Torque, lb ft||224 @ 1,750-2,700rpm|
|0-62 mph, secs||9.4|
|Top speed, mph||121|
|Ratings||MINI Countryman Cooper SD All4|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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