The fourth model range in the MINI family is the new Countryman available with 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines and with the option of two and four wheel drive versions.
Prices range from £16,000 to £20,810 for two wheel drive models and up to £23,580 for the ALL4 versions with an automatic gearbox.
Get a FREE MINI COUNTRYMAN Brochure
Looking for a new car then why not start with a glossy MINI COUNTRYMAN brochure?
All 2,500 units scheduled for the UK market this year are sold and around 15,000 will be available for UK customers next year.
MINI expects 75-80% of sales will be to conquest customers, 70% will be retail buyers, 70% will choose petrol power models, initially 85% of customers have ordered ALL4 version but in the longer term 60% of users will choose the less costly two wheel drive versions.
The likely single best selling model will be the Cooper 122hp petrol, two wheel drive version priced at £17,495. The new ALL4 four wheel drive system adds £1,065 to the cost of a Cooper D (diesel) and £1,220 to a Cooper S.
All versions have a six-speed manual transmission as standard but a six-speed automatic is available for all petrol models now and the Cooper D Countryman will be available from March 2011.
Unlike the other three MINI versions, Hatch, Convertible and Clubman, which are built in the UK at Oxford, the Countryman is built by Magna Styr in Austria who also build BMW's X3 4x4 model.
Future MINI two-seater Coupe and Roadster models due in 2011 and 2012 respectively will be built at the Oxford Plant when the MINI range becomes a six-pack.
MINI Countryman dimensions
The Countryman with four doors and options of four or five seating layouts, plus a rear tailgate, at 4,097mm in length with a height of 1,561mm and a width of 1,789mm it is the biggest MINI/Mini ever in its 51 year history.
The Countryman offers 190-litres more boot space than a MINI Hatch and 90-litres more than a Clubman at 350-litres with the rear seats in use. With them folded the Countryman offers a maximum 1,170-litres of cargo space.
With the demand for 'crossover' vehicles continuing to increase the Countryman is aimed at that sector appealing to those who live in the country and want a versatile premium brand all wheel drive model with more space plus those urban users who fancy a rural type motoring lifestyle, hence the expectation that up to 80% of customers will be new to the MINI brand.
All manual transmission models have Auto Stop/Start as standard and Brake Energy Regeneration to charge the battery is standard across the range as is ESP electronic control stability.
Featuring that typical 'wheel at each corner' stance with short overhangs, the Countryman not only has larger dimensions than its cousins but also a higher ride height. This provides the command driving position preferred by many drivers with a 10mm higher ground clearance for soft off-road driving.
Design and interior
Many design characteristics are classic MINI such as the high window line surrounding the cabin while others are new interpretations of iconic features.
For example the roofline with roof rails, the reinterpretation of the hexagonal radiator grille on the Cooper S models, and the prominent headlight units integrated into the bonnet.
The front of the Countryman is more upright projecting a bolder 'face' which also offers improved pedestrian safety.
The wheel arches are more flared highlighting the robust nature of the Countryman as a crossover and its soft off-road ability while the design of the wide-opening tailgate offers easy access to the large boot space.
Inside the MINI Countryman is all about comfort, practicality and innovative style with a 'premium' feel. The higher seating position offers better visibility for the driver and passengers, a feature particularly appreciated by children.
The multi-function rear seats are arranged with a 60:40 split base for the three rear seat passengers and both rear seat squabs are also individually adjustable, sliding back or forth by 130mm to make the best use of space.
The backrests, by contrast, are arranged in a 40:20:40 split that provides absolute flexibility with all three seatbacks capable of folding flat in any combination.
The interior is dominated by iconic MINI design characteristics such as comfortable optional sports seats, the trademark huge central speedometer and modern switches.
New elements of MINI design language are introduced with the elliptical interior door trims that continue from the front to the rear door and back. Also new is the MINI Centre Rail system.
When ordered as a four seat configuration, in place of the conventional centre console the U-shaped Centre Rail runs from front to rear down the centreline of the Countryman and opens up new, individual options for integrating all kinds of storage boxes, cup holders, power chargers, music players, mobile phones and other accessories such as a sunglasses case.
When ordered with the rear bench seat, as is standard in the UK, the Centre Rail stops between the driver and passenger seats.
At launch the Countryman range will include three petrol - MINI One, Cooper and Cooper S - and two diesel models - MINI One D and Cooper D - as well as two ALL4 all wheel drive models, the Cooper D ALL4 and Cooper S ALL4.
Each model is equipped with an entirely new generation of power units. The petrol engines are the new 1.6-litre four cylinder power plants already announced for the Hatch, Convertible and Clubman models.
These free-revving and refined units are available with 98, 122 and 184hp power outputs with CO2 emissions ranging from 139 to 143g/km. They all feature Variable Valve Timing, similar to the BMW Valvetronic system, and produces more low down torque and better response.
Certainly functions needed as the larger Countryman feels a much heavier and less agile car than other MINIs.
The diesel models are powered by an all-new BMW 1.6 litre four cylinder, turbocharged unit with 90 and 112hp power outputs with CO2 emissions of 115g/km and fuel economy quoted as 64.2mpg.
The lightweight aluminium engines use common-rail direct injection and a turbocharger with variable turbine geometry.
The main attention grabbing news is the use of all wheel drive as an option for the Countryman. This is the first time in MINI's 51 year history that all wheel drive is on offer.
Initially two versions, the MINI Cooper D and Cooper S have the ALL4 option while a MINI Cooper ALL4 version will follow in 2012.
No one needs four-wheel drive to be active all the time so MINI has a typically smart and fuel efficient answer.
The Countryman ALL4 is a front wheel drive car in most normal circumstances, but when any slip is detected on the front wheels, or if the car is being driven enthusiastically, an electro-magnetic clutch, located on the rear axle, engages drive to the rear wheels to improve traction.
To enable this imperceptible change of the driven wheels a propeller shaft from the front axle is driven constantly and is ready to direct drive from the front axle to the rear immediately.
The amount of power fed to the rear wheels is infinitely variable between one and 100 per cent, depending upon the driving conditions.
Dynamic Traction Control allows controlled slip through the driven wheels to aid moving off on loose sand or deep snow. DTC is standard feature on the two ALL4 models and the front-wheel drive MINI Cooper S Countryman, and is also available as an option for the other models.
When the stability system is deactivated (in DSC Off mode) an electronic locking function for the front axle differential comes into play. In tight corners it brakes a spinning wheel as required to reduce slip and enhance handling.
Known as Electronic Differential Lock Control, this system enhances the car's traction without adversely affecting its steering properties.
Bearing in mind Winter is on its way and not forgetting the ice and snow which brought our roads to a standstill last Winter, the demand for Countryman ALL4 versions is very high.
Demand for crossovers is equally good as customers return to buying SUVs so the Countryman is arriving at the right time.
But it is quite a different sort of MINI. Yes it still adopts the go-kart image of a wheel at each corners, it is relatively compact so it's easy to park but it feels significantly more substantial, a MINI but not as we know it.
Where MINI wasn't big enough for some families it now is, but the unique lightweight agility has become bulky and somewhat ponderous.
It is certainly comfortable and offers a relaxed ride and that will appeal to owners outside the normal circle of MINI customers.
Its image and must-have desirability for new affluent customers to the brand will be significant.
MINI Countryman MILESTONES
MINI Cooper S ALL4 Countryman.
Price: 22,030 (plus options £6,390 on the test car).
Engine/transmission: 1.6-litre, four cylinder, direct injection petrol with twin-scroll turbocharger, 184hp, 240Nm of torque from 1,600rpm, 6-speed manual, all wheel drive.
Performance: 130mph, 0-62mph 7.9 seconds, 46.3mpg (28.1mpg actual), CO2 157g/km, VED £155, BIK company car tax 20%.
Insurance group: tbc.
For: : Will bring an important and wide range of new customers to the brand, desirable image, all wheel drive option, new and responsive engines, very well equipped, comfortable ride.
Against: : Looses MINI's renowned agility but gains all wheel drive, costly to buy but offset by highest residual values, a MINI but not as we have known it.