Small spaces and narrow streets lend themselves well to all of MINI’s cars, which are all perfect companions for exploring a city. But the new Countryman is bigger than anything MINI has built before and because of that, it seems better suited for adventures away from the city.
Not only is it the biggest vehicle in the MINI lineup, but it’s also the most practical and rugged. Additionally, the many high-tech features and luxury options that are found on modern MINIs are available here as well, making the Countryman an awesome do-anything, go-anywhere vehicle with a premium edge.
This bullet point about the Countryman being the biggest MINI ever may scare some folks into thinking the car is losing the personality that also makes the MINI brand such a quirky, appealing choice. However, things aren’t as bad as they seem, and much of the credit goes to a new vehicle architecture and a choice of turbocharged engines.
The underpinnings of the Countryman are closely related to the BMW X1, with the two sharing the same wheelbase, though the MINI is shorter overall, leaving little room for cannibalization between these sister brands. In comparison to the old model, though, the 2017 Countryman is about 7.4 inches (88 millimeters) longer, 1.3 inches (33 mm) wider, and rolls on a wheelbase that’s 2.9 inches (74 mm) longer.
It shows on the outside as all the usual MINI features are further exaggerated, including the big, goofy headlights and tail lights and the bubbled hood, but the size difference is most appreciated inside the car, where there’s 30 percent more cargo room. Passengers will love the plentiful headroom, and those in the rear seat won’t be complaining either as there’s more wiggle room this time around, making the Countryman seem far more agreeable as a family car.
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Much like the rest of the MINI lineup in recent years, the interior of the new Countryman has grown up, too. Materials are top notch and there are great options to choose from. The toggle switches on the center stack are still here, but they’re complimented by excellent, rugged and tactile knobs, a colorful central dial, and high quality finishes throughout the cabin.
There’s also a ton of standard equipment, with North American models getting things like a sunroof, leatherette upholstery, push-button start, a 6.5-inch infotainment system, rear view camera, parking sensors, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers. Those are standard features that are typically found on premium cars from the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz, not MINI, and it’s awesome to see them here. There’s also sliding rear seats that can recline and fold with a 40:20:40 split. Additionally, Cooper models get 17-inch light alloy wheels while Cooper S models sport 18-inch shoes.
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Other options that come into play include an 8.8-inch upgraded infotainment system, heated seats, bucket thrones, wireless charging for your phone and even special tags that you can put on your favorite things that will alert you if you drive off without them in the car. For the more adventurous type, there’s even an optional picnic bench that puts a cushioned seat over the rear hatch opening that can be used as an area to sit and relax, or swap shoes into something more outdoorsy.
And the great outdoors seems to be the Countryman’s true calling, as we got to play with all-wheel drive models in the mud, trying to upset and confuse the updated vehicles. These cars will easily handle the worst your day-to-day commute will throw at them, laughing off muddy roads, snowy routes and icy patches.
Under the Hood
There’s some concern about what’s motivating base model Countryman Coopers: A turbocharged three-cylinder making 134 horsepower that’s paired with the choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. While we didn’t get a chance to drive these entry-level models, the torque output is an awesome 162 lb-ft at a low 1,250 rpm, which is an encouraging sign for a car that tips the scale at just 3,300 lb. That turbo-three is paired to an electric motor in the upcoming plug-in hybrid version of the Countryman. With a total output of 221 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque, it should have enough grunt to satisfy the increased weight of the electrical components, while delivering an all-electric range of at least 20 miles (32 kilometers).
We sampled four-wheel-drive Countryman Cooper S models that featured a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, which enable the 3,671-lb car to hit highway speeds in about 7 seconds. While Cooper S models, like the one tested, use an eight-speed automatic, MINI also offers its small crossover with a six-speed manual gearbox as well, which should make it the ideal choice in this segment for enthusiasts. It feels a bit quicker than suggested, but that’s always the charm of a turbocharged MINI.
Driving the Big MINI
Furthering the appeal of the Countryman Cooper S model that we tested is the way it drives. It feels agile and responsive, with heavy steering that provides a feeling of precision on the road. The steering is also responsive with a nice amount of feedback, a trait that’s hard to find these days, especially in small crossovers. And while the old model was stiff and uncomfortable, often crashing over bumps and cracked pavement, the new model is much softer and capable of handling rougher roads in addition to the imperfections of a light trail or two.
While this means the car isn’t as buttoned down and spritely feeling as the outgoing model, it’s still fun to drive, with a playful personality that has matured slightly in this generation. The automatic gearbox is snappy and changes gears without any second guesses, and our model featured big paddle shifters if the driver wanted to shift on their own.
The car also comes with selectable drive modes, with a Sport mode that gives the steering a bit more heft and improves throttle response. A Green mode is also available, which dulls the throttle response a bit. One small thing that is missing is the usual charming messages that used to be displayed on the dash when selecting a drive mode. No more “Let’s Motor!” or “Let’s MINImalize” when choosing a mode.
Starting at $26,950 ($26,990 CAD), the base, three-cylinder, front-wheel drive Countryman sits in pricing between non-premium compact crossovers like the Honda HR-V (which starts at around $20,000) and luxury compact models like the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class (which starts at around $32,000), although the MINI skews more towards luxury vehicles in terms of equipment. More people will opt for the Cooper S, all-wheel drive equipped model of the Countryman that starts at $31,950 ($31,990 CAD).
The Verdict: 2017 MINI Countryman Review
Mature is the most appropriate way to describe the new Countryman. The old model was a bit flawed in some ways and was criticized as being an awkward vehicle within the MINI lineup. Still, people embraced it and it sold more than half a million units worldwide since its debut in 2010, despite a “too-stiff-for-an-SUV” suspension and an interior that was best described as adequate.
This new model is far more feature-filled, it has a much better interior, and it drives more comfortably on the road, too. Of course, with its added size and all-wheel drive capability, it’s more practical than anything else in the MINI lineup. And thankfully, it’s still a blast to drive.