With the Countryman, MINI has proved that it can stretch the brand beyond a range of three-door hatchbacks, convertibles and estates.
It's been designed to attract buyers to the MINI brand who've previously been put off by the lack of practicality and space. But, what's it like for a MINI fan (me!) with a family, to live with the Maxi-MINI? To find out, I spent a week with this £19,875, Cooper D All4.
On the outside, the Countryman looks vaguely like a BMW MINI. It certainly is much better in the metal than in the pictures. After nine months sales and more on UK roads, it's certainly less controversial.
There's a fishy look to the front design, the headlights look like standard ones that have been swept back and the upright chrome slated grille looks far more MINI and as such more attractive.
The Countryman's rear styling is less successful and best described as bland. The large rear badge might double as the boot handle, but is there really any need for it to be that big? I'm not a fan of the huge rear light clusters either.
Overall, I think that the Countryman is a very colour-sensitive design and the Royal Grey did our test car favours. If you're in the market to buy a Countryman, make sure you choose your roof, body and wheel combinations carefully!
Inside, it's as typically extrovert as the rest of the MINI range and owners of BMW's premium small car brand will feel right at home. From the massive dinner plate-sized speedo with optional sat-nav screen, to the bunch of rocker switches situated frustratingly below the air-conditioning controls.
The front and rear passenger compartments are joined by a rail to which you can fit various accessories. I wonder whether it's a bit of a gimmick, as our test car was fitted with a sunglasses case that felt flimsy at best. Other gimmicky parts of the interior include the hand brake, which is fiddly to get on and off and can make hill starts a bit of a chore.
As a MINI owner, the biggest novelty during the time I had the car were those extra two-doors. It certainly made getting my son in and out of the back of the Countryman no harder than my Wife's Volkswagen Golf. There's plenty of head and legroom for two adults to sit in the back too.
Things were going well for the Countryman, too well in fact and I was thinking that ownership of my two-seater Cooper S GP might be in jeopardy. That was until my wife tried to get Harry's buggy into the boot – it didn't fit! Capacity should have been roughly the same as her Golf at 350 litres, but the Quinny wouldn't go in. Maybe it's just the shape, either way it's an epic fail in my wife's opinion as she really liked the Countryman. Still, fold the rear seats folded and loadspace increases to 1170 litres.
So what's the Countryman Cooper D like to drive? Well, it feels as though MINI Engineers have worked hard to give the biggest MINI some of the characteristics of the regular car. For example, considering the tall ride height, the Countryman corners surprisingly flat with very little roll. With the All4 four-wheel drive there's plenty of grip too.
The ride on the 17-inch alloy wheels was very comfortable, but it cannot mask road imperfections such as potholes. I'm not sure about the steering either, as it feels too sharp, too quick and can make the car feel a bit twitchy in corners.
However, the biggest disappointment with the Countryman Cooper D has to be the performance. BMW's new 1.6-litre N47 turbo diesel engine is smooth, torquey and well matched to a slick six-speed manual gearbox but it feels disapointingly slow on the road. This is despite a top speed of 112 mph and a good 0-60mph acceleration time of 11.6 seconds.
There's no doubt the Countryman is a capable drive on and off-road, but despite the extra practicality, for me it's just too big, heavy, expensive and in the Cooper D's case too slow to be a called a MINI. If you're in the market for a Countryman diesel, I'd advise saving a bit more money and buying the gutsier Cooper SD.