The still booming SUV sector has a new entrant, the all-new Mini Countryman, which is now bigger, more practical and better equipped than ever before.

Although it’s currently the five-door hatch that does the heavy lifting in fleet for Mini, the new Countryman is expected to be a huge success for the firm, with one in three sales predicted to come from business users, which is much higher than the previous generation’s 20%.

Now 20cm longer and 5cm wider, the new Countryman also offers 5cm more legroom, greater shoulder space and a 100-litre bigger boot at 450 litres – that’s larger than its main rival the Audi Q2. Headroom is plentiful too and there are more storage options around the cabin to place your personal items while on the move.


Is bigger always better?

Despite its significant growth spurt, the Countryman still looks distinctly Mini, just more beefed up. Greater defined bonnet lines give the car a more muscular look and roof rails are now standard. The new LED headlamps are a particular head-turning addition and the rear lights are bigger too.

Diesel is likely to be the dominant fuel option, until the plug-in hybrid arrives at least, and CO2 emissions for the Cooper D start at 113g/km, while fuel economy for this model is at 65.7mp. Both are very competitive figures for this sector.

All-wheel drive is also available on all engine variants. Although it offers extra peace of mind when travelling in wet or icy conditions, there’s a significant cost and CO2 premium attached, which should be taken into account.


Characterful drive

Here we’re testing the Countryman in two-wheel guise with a 2.0-litre diesel under the bonnet that is more powerful and economical than the unit it replaces.

Out on the road, the Countryman certainly feels more grown-up than its siblings. It’s not quite as nippy or fun in the corners as the hatchback, but still offers plenty of character with precise, weighted steering and lots of grip. On the flipside, the car also cruises very well on the motorway – there’s a little diesel clatter at lower speeds, but rather than offend it adds to the car’s overall charm.

You’ve got a choice of Sport and Eco driving modes via a switch on the gearstick (part of the optional Chilli Pack) and the steering response and suspension is altered to suit, while the engine sound is enhanced if Sport mode is selected.

Ride quality is on the firm side, though, with the suspension struggling to soak up even the shallowest of potholes.


More equipment

Getting the specification right for fleets was a key initiative for Mini and previous criticisms of stingy standard equipment have now been answered in this latest version. Sat-nav is now standard alongside parking sensors, Bluetooth, and safety kit such as an autonomous braking and an emergency call system.

Interior quality is excellent throughout and there’s plenty of familiar retro features including LED interior lighting, toggle switches and funky vertical air vents. The infotainment system now has touchscreen capabilities if you upgrade to the new 8.8-inch system, but although it helps to make it easier to control overall, it is still not as simple to operate as rivals.

Mini is pitching the new Countryman against the Audi Q2, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Range Rover Evoque, and when it comes to whole-life costs, the Mini is cheaper than the GLA per mile, but cannot quite compete with the Q2. Residual values, meanwhile, which would be impressive in most other sectors at 40.1%, actually lag behind the competition a little.

Overall, the new Countryman is a more practical car that stays true to its Mini virtues of driving fun and quirky design while managing to stay competitive on paper. It certainly seems like Mini’s confidence in its success in fleet is justified.

Mini Cooper D Countryman

P11D Price: £24,370
On sale: February 2016
Residual value: 40.1%
Depreciation: £14,595
Fuel: £4,966
Service, maintenance & repair: £2,007
Cost-per-mile: 50.5p
Fuel consumption: 65.7mpg
CO2 (BIK Band): 113g/km (22%)
BIK 20/40% per month: £89/£179
Boot space: 450 litres
Engine size/power: 1,995cc/150hp


Audi Q2 1.6TDI 116 SE
P11D Price: £22,895
Cost per mile: 47.2p
Fuel consumption: 64.2mpg
CO2 (BIK Band): 114g/km (22%)
BIK 20/40% per month: £84/£168


Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 2.1d 136 SE
P11D Price: £26,680
Cost per mile: 51.8p
Fuel consumption: 67.3mpg
CO2 (BIK Band): 110g/km (22%)
BIK 20/40% per month: £98/£196


Land Rover Range Rover Evoque 2.0TD4 180 SE
P11D Price: £33,145
Cost per mile: 61.9p
Fuel consumption: 58.9mpg
CO2 (BIK Band): 125g/km (25%)
BIK 20/40% per month: £138/£276