What is it?
The least mini Mini is a bulked-up crossover with the option of four-wheel-drive. Some people are rude about the way it looks, but whatever you think of the idea of a bloated Mini, it's actually a welcome addition to the range, and one that families will love. The styling causes arguments, but some will see that as all the reason they need to go and buy one. Mini is growing up, and the Countryman is a pretty good shot at its first SUV.
Even if you pick the 4WD option (that'll be £1,200 please), the Countryman effectively remains a front-wheel-drive car, with up to 100 per cent of drive to the rear wheels if traction is lost. That's good for piece of mind on greasy roads but it also works as a performance tool, for increased grip when you're in the mood for a blast. If that's your sort of thing, you'll be pleased to know there are Cooper S, Cooper SD and 218bhp John Cooper Works versions (the latter is an unlikely VW Golf GTI challenger, and priced accordingly).
The 184bhp S engine moves things along quickly enough, though it's never electrifying, and it's a similar story with the 143bhp SD diesel. Only the JCW is truly swift. The less performancey engines include a pair of petrols, plus two diesels with 90 or 112bhp. The Golden Dolphin award goes to these motors - Mini claims they can do 64.2mpg on the combined cycle, while emitting 115g/km CO2.
On the inside
It's a Mini, so the cabin is dominated by a huge circular dial housing the speedo and other information readouts. Following criticism, the plastics have been upgraded and everything's now softer to touch. Mini's even replaced the centre console electric window switches with door-mounted controls.
In the back, it's tolerable. It's a tall and long-ish car, so there's real head and legroom, and in four-seat guise the rear seats can be adjusted back and forth to create more, or less, space in the boot. Note, though, for 2014, the Countryman now comes as standard in five-seat guise, with the sportier four-seat setup available as an option.
Here's where the Countryman stands out among other junior SUVs, with the diesels topping 60mpg and the petrols not lagging too far behind. And they need to be efficient, to compensate for the initial outlay of buying the thing in the first place - the range is bookended by the £16,629 1.6 One petrol at the bottom end and the £28,610 JCW at the top. But be restrained when ticking those option boxes - there are loads of 'em, and they could make you very poor indeed. The only must-have is the tlc servicing pack: happily, this does the opposite.