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- A bigger Mini—in this case, a good thing
- Far more refined than before
- But still full of character
- Willing engines, terrific handling
- Huge degree of customizability
- Pretty big, by Mini standards
- Gets pricey fast
- No real off-road ability
- Premium fuel required
It may be less mini than before, but the Mini Countryman now does a much better job of feeling like a proper crossover.
It might share its name with the Mini Cooper Countryman that went on sale half a decade ago as the brand's first foray into the crossover world, but the model is all-new for 2017—and there's more than meets the eye.
Beneath its maxi-Mini body, the Countryman shares its engines, its suspension, and its platform with the latest BMW X1. We're more enamored with the Countryman than its pricier brother, however. The Mini brims with personality, is a hoot to drive, and costs a lot less to boot. We've given it a 7.0 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Countryman is closely related to the Mini Cooper Clubman, too—but this model has a seating position nearly half an inch higher and a taller body. It's not quite a lifted Clubman, however, since the two don't share body panels.
Mini Cooper Countryman performance and styling
For now, it's a tale of two Countrymans (Countrymen?): the base Cooper with its 1.5-liter inline-3 that develops 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque and the Cooper S with a turbocharged, 189-hp 2.0-liter inline-4. Depending on options and equipment, both cars are available with front- or all-wheel drive that's not really intended for serious off-road use, plus a choice of 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, and 8-speed automatic transmissions.
Even the base model is firm and planted on a curvy road, with terrific ride control and sharp steering that borders on darty. For $500, the optional adaptive suspension can firm things up at the flick of a switch, and it seems like money well spent for enthusiasts. There's little of the thumping and crashing exhibited by the old model's suspension, a virtue of a far more sophisticated setup (worthy of the BMW badge) underneath the new 2017.
A sport-oriented John Cooper Works variant with standard all-wheel drive also arrives soon, but we haven't driven it. What makes it especially interesting is that it combines the X1's 228-hp, 258 lb-ft version of the 2.0 with either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic; the BMW is only offered here with an automatic. The JCW version also has its own suspension setup and sports seats inside, plus a zippy-looking body kit.
The coming plug-in hybrid Cooper Countryman S E ALL4 sports the base powertrain and standard all-wheel drive, which it delivers in a through-the-road setup. The gas engine powers the front wheels; the electric motor and 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery send their power to the rear wheels as traction needs arise, or as the car's algorithms decide using the rear wheels will improve efficiency. All told the plug-in hybrid system puts out 221 hp and 284 lb-ft net through a 6-speed automatic. Mini figures a 0-60 mph run will take 6.8 seconds, while top speed will reach 137 mph. Mini says it will actually be the quickest car in its lineup in real-world use and it has a 24-mile electric-only range.
It's all new, but the Countryman's looks don't give much away. Yes, it's nearly 9 inches longer from head to toe and its wheelbase is up a few inches, too, but the latest Countryman only looks different once you've parked the old model next to it. There's some detailing differences, but the most obvious thing is that the old car looks like a 2017 that was left in the dryer for too long.
The Countryman remains unabashedly bulbous from every angle, with the off-roady styling bits necessary to butch things up a bit. Unpainted fender flares and a little more ground clearance make it look more at home in front of a ski lodge than the tonier Clubman, for instance. Of course, this is a Mini, so dozens of paint, body kit, and wheel configurations are on offer. You'll want to block out an afternoon or six to place your order if you're one of the roughly third of all Mini buyers who chooses to personalize rather than buy right off the lot.
Mini Countryman comfort, features, and safety
A slimmer all-wheel drive system that digs into the floor less helps open up more cargo and human space in the Countryman; four adults can sit in relative comfort, but a fifth in the rear bench's middle seat should perhaps be a bit smaller. The Countryman is a bit narrow, but not significantly tighter than most smaller compact crossovers.
Where it makes even more ground than before is in its interior finishings. Soft-touch materials abound and there's less of the confused clutter of switches, knobs, armrests, and pads than we've ever seen. Yes, there's plenty of Mini character inside with overstyled gauges, no shortage of whizz-bang light-up effects, and enough color options to make you dizzy. But it also feels just enough grown up in places where its predecessor felt a little amateurish.
Coopers are pretty well outfitted, as they should be for a price that's well above cars like the Hyundai Tucson and Subaru Forester. A panoramic roof is standard (but can be deleted for those who don't want the sign beating on their heads), as are the expected power windows and locks. Automatic climate control, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen controlled by a version of parent company BMW's iDrive knob, and a proximity key are nice additions, too.
The S adds the 2.0-liter engine, of course, as well as LED headlights and foglights and a few styling touches.
All-wheel drive runs $2,000 and also includes heated seats. But that's just the beginning as far as options go. You can work you way into the low-$40,000 range if you don't exhibit some restraint at your local Mini dealer. Several packages make basic ordering fairly easy, but from there a prospective buyer will need to sort through a wide range of styling and convenience items that we'll describe later.
No version of the Countryman has been crash-tested by either the IIHS or the Federal government just yet, but all include a backup camera, eight airbags, stability control, and anti-lock brakes. Adaptive cruise control and forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking are on the options list.