MINI’s Countryman is bigger, not necessarily better …
The new MINI Cooper Countryman goes too far, but maybe that’s what U.S. buyers want.
It’s the biggest MINI yet. I know that sounds contradictory for the small British-born make now made by BMW. But it’s true. This is MINI’s version of a crossover or small sport-ute with a longer and wider body, plus ALL4, its all-wheel-drive system is available.
It also appears to be less MINI in styling as it looks more bulky than cute. Think of that cute guy/girl in high school that packed on a few pounds by the 10-year reunion. In fact, the Countryman is just short of 500 lbs. heavier than the MINI Clubman that I enjoyed last year.
To put it nicely, the Countryman feels more substantial than earlier models and obviously is designed to accommodate larger U.S. passengers. The Countryman gains four inches of rear seat legroom compared to its predecessor and being a 4-door it’s easy to load five people aboard. I did it on a lunch run and one of the riders was a 6-footer.
So while the MINI-ness of the Countryman seems a bit of a stretch (pun intended), the usefulness of it should make it more attractive to folks who intend to actually haul a family in it on a trip. Another family plus? The rear seats fold down flat in a 40/20/40 split to expand the generous 17.6 cubic feet of cargo space, but allow rear seat riders. Likewise the seats will recline slightly and the entire rear seat will slide forward a couple inches if you’re simply carrying cargo, not rear seat passengers.
Unlike the cool, more svelte Clubman with its rear-opening panel doors, the Countryman has a hatch with wiper. A power hatch is optional.
Ah, but driving will remind you this is a MINI. Handling is precise in Normal mode, but even firmer and more responsive in Sport mode. MINI, like many makers, delivers three driving modes. In mid or Normal mode there’s some play in the wheel, not sloppy, but not as crisp as in Sport. Green or Eco mode mainly cuts the power so the car oozes up to normal driving speeds. Not a fan!
Power here comes from MINI’s new 2.0-liter, twin-turbo 4-cylinder that generates 189 horsepower along with a torque rating of 207 lb.-ft. That’s a lot compared with the standard 3-cylinder engine that makes 134 horsepower. I drove the Clubman with the smaller engine and it was perky, but not as strong as this.
The 3-cylinder got way better gas mileage though at 34.9 mpg compared with just 22.2 mpg in the Countryman. I was surprised it wasn’t higher as the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. My mix was about even between city and highway. Still, the optional 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,750) in the Countryman was smooth and put the power available to good use. Entry-ramp blastoffs were quick, MINI claiming a 0-60 mph time of 7 seconds. A 6-speed manual is standard, so a bit more fun could be had with that.
Ride? Well, a friend who has owned several MINIs says the Countryman’s ride is “much” better, like the Clubman, thanks to its stretched wheelbase of 105.1 inches. But be aware the ride still is firm, so be sure to test drive one to see if it meets your derriere’s demands.
Braking is fine from four-wheel discs and the ALL4 system gives Countryman more stability and traction in wet and sloppy conditions. Plenty of wet streets for me to try this on and the car cornered like a racer, well, almost. Still it cornered flat and you can be a bit more aggressive with this than most small crossovers and utes.
The interior of the tested Island Blue metallic ($500 extra) Countryman with black roof, was a mixed bag. Materials and fit and finish are fine and this featured black cloth seats trimmed in leather and a gloss gray-trimmed dash. I would have liked that gray to match the car’s exterior color to bring some color inside, like Fiat does with its cute 500.
There’s also a light strip along each door’s bottom edge. These change colors and add a bit of panache here, along with the glowing LED trim around the main circular gauge/screen mid-dash. It can be programmed to change colors for various functions, but not something so easily accomplished that you’ll be changing it often.
I’ve grown tired of the MINI’s busy dash and overhead controls. There are toggles and knobs everywhere and finding what you need or want is not a quick, easy task, I suspect, until you’ve owned the car a month or two. Different is good sometimes, but this feels gimmicky, still.
What is nice though is the giant twin sunroofs to bring some light into the car’s dark interior. MINI calls this a panoramic sunroof, but there are two separate shades for the separate roofs over the front and rear seats.
Speaking of which, the seats are downright lumpy and manually adjusted, including a manually extendable bottom cushion. The idea is good for long-legged drivers, but for us short to medium folks the seam where that extension begins provides an uncomfortable bump under our legs. And after a week I still had not found a completely comfortable seat setting, even after considerable fiddling.
Hate to sound like a broken record, but the fair-sized radio/navigation touchscreen display also includes the clunky non-user friendly tuning and control knob on the console. It should not be used while driving as it’s too distracting.
And while there’s plenty of room in this MINI for passengers, I found the legroom under the steering wheel a bit tight when getting in and out. MINI needs a flat-bottomed steering wheel here to solve that problem for shorter drivers.
One last irritant, the side sun visors. Kudos for having a second visor, but it’s mounted so high that it is not deep enough to adequately block side sun on morning or evening drives. Better than no visor, but needs to be lowered a bit, or made deeper.
Pricing puts the tested Countryman in the near luxury market for small utes and crossovers, well beyond say a loaded Subaru Outback with even more safety equipment.
The tested S model with ALL4 listed at a moderate $31,100, but add in the $850 delivery and six options and it hit $38,500. The Clubman was more reasonable if you mainly need space, not the AWD. A base Countryman begins at $26,950 with the smaller engine and no AWD, a base with AWD lists at $28,950 while an S model with larger engine goes for $31,450, including delivery but without AWD.
Also note this unit is made in Born, in the Netherlands, not Oxford, England, if you’re still wanting to tout the MINI as a British car.
Yet it’s a hatchback and the roomiest Mini yet, and that counts for something!
FAST STATS: 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman All4
Hits: Precise handling, good power in Sport mode, plus AWD. Dual sunroofs and rear seats fold flat for easy cargo hauling. It’s a hatchback and roomiest MINI yet, and has a 6-speed manual standard!
Misses: Stiff ride, uncomfortable seats, too many toggles and buttons, goofy radio/nav with controls via knob on console, not user friendly while driving. Side visors don’t extend or hang deep enough to effectively block side sun. Needs a flat-bottomed steering wheel to create knee room.
Made in: Born, Netherlands
Engine: 2.0-liter, Twin Turbo 4, 189 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,671 lbs.
Length: 169.8 in.
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Cargo: 17.6 cu.ft.
MPG: 22/31 (EPA)
MPG: 22.2 (tested)
Base Price: $31,100
Invoice: $29,660 (includes delivery)
Island blue metallic, $500
Leather cross-punch carbon black, $1,500
Technology package (parking assistant, Mini Connected S, head-up display and real time traffic info), $2,250
Sport automatic transmission, $1,750
JCW leather steering wheel, $250
Sirius/XM radio 1 year, $300
Test Vehicle: $38,500
Sources: MINI, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage
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