A new plug-in hybrid model joins the 2018 Mini Countryman lineup. The five-seat Countryman was a new design for 2017, so it hasn’t changed for the 2018 model year otherwise.
Though the bodywork looks the same, Countryman is a bit more refined and a lot bigger than the traditional Mini Cooper hardtop. The crossover is 8 inches longer on a wheelbase that’s 3 inches longer than that of the hardtop, but it’s also blown up all around. It’s taller, because it’s a wagon, and has more ground clearance. It’s larger than the Mini Clubman.
Countryman is built on the platform of the BMW X1, and shares engines and suspension components as well. Front-wheel drive is standard, and it’s available with BMW’s ALL4 all-wheel drive.
Though not as vibrant as the hardtop, the Countryman has a ton of personality and character and, relative to other subcompact SUVs, it has fabulous handling.
The base engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder making 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. The Cooper S gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder cranking out 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet.
There’s also John Cooper Works model, with that engine turbo-boosted to make 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, along with a sport suspension and body kit that gives the Mini some muscle. John Cooper founded the Cooper Car Company with his father after WWII, and his open-wheel rear-engined cars ruled for years, including the F1 world championship in 1959, the year the Mini was born, and 1960. Minis remain available with the classic Cooper stripe.
The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual gearbox, with an optional 8-speed automatic for the 2.0-liter engine, and a 6-speed automatic for the front-wheel-drive 1.5-liter. ALL4 all-wheel drive isn’t meant for rugged off-roading, but rather for security on slippery roads. It’s good for snow and ice, or maybe sand and mud if that happens.
The new plug-in hybrid is called the Cooper S E ALL4. It uses the 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine to power the front wheels, and an electric motor driven by a lithium-ion battery to power the rear wheels. The total horsepower is a neat 221; transmission is a 6-speed automatic. It can run 24 miles on all-electric power, far enough to be a gasless daily commuter in a small town.
All versions include eight airbags and a rearview camera. Two advanced safety features are available in an option package: adaptive cruise control, along with forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
With either the 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, and front-wheel drive, the 1.5-liter Countryman gets 28 Combined miles per gallon. ALL4 gets two miles per gallon less with manual, three less with automatic. Premium gasoline is required for all models.
The Cooper S with its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder 24 Combined mpg in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, with the manual. But go for the 8-speed automatic and it brings it up two or three miles per gallon.
The Mini Countryman Cooper ($26,600) comes standard with the 1.5-liter engine, front-wheel drive, leatherette upholstery, panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and 17-inch wheels. The ALL4 ($28,600) adds heated seats, as all-wheel-drive buyers probably live where it’s cold. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Cooper S ($31,200) gets the more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, LED headlights and foglamps, sport seats, and 18-inch wheels. Cooper S ALL4 ($31,700) adds all-wheel drive and heated seats to Cooper S.
John Cooper Works ALL4 ($37,800) is the sport-performance edition, with its 228-horsepower engine, firmer suspension with 18-inch wheels, and body kit.
The Cooper S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid ($36,800) with its gasoline/electric powertrain, can go 24 miles on electric power alone, according to BMW, and can be plugged into an electrical outlet for recharging.
An optional tech package supports Apple CarPlay. There are so many options it’s dizzying, as customization is what it’s all about. It can get expensive in a hurry.
We already said what best describes the Countryman: it’s large. For something called a Mini. It’s also bulbous and ungainly, although it does its best to hide its girth. And the Countryman really does labor against the disadvantage of being compared to the Mini Cooper. If the smaller car weren’t an icon, or if it didn’t exist at all, no one would be calling the Countryman fat. Size-wise, it would be just another compact SUV.
But back to the body-shaming. It has a protruding chin under its bulging headlamps. There’s an attempt to look rugged, with unpainted fender flares. The roofline is curious. Mini purists might not be crazy about it. Or the whole adventurous car.
The cabin is well laid-out and comfortable, carefully furnished and finished, while still being characteristically quirky and joyful. Soft-touch plastic surfaces are plentiful, while materials are high quality. Tall windows and slim pillars provide good forward visibility for the driver.
Four adults can ride in comparative comfort, with decent legroom in rear; but the fifth one needs to be slim, if he or she is in the middle rear seat. It’s fairly quiet, although the wide 18-inch tires on the Cooper S can be noisy.
At the dashboard center, a large circular panel functions as a hub for most operations, with some controlled by toggle switches. A 6.5-inch screen is standard. The 8.8-inch touchscreen displays elegant maps, but navigation is a costly option.
Characteristically, over-the-top gauges and wild lighting convey a feeling of youthful excess. It seems to be popular.
After all the to-do about enlargement, the Countryman still feels confining with a full load of people and luggage. But what compact wouldn’t.
In addition to vibrancy, Minis are known for handling, and the Countryman doesn’t let down the reputation. It’s delight to drive, more so than the BMW X1.
The electric power steering is precise, the chassis stiff, and the suspension tuned by experts in the art. The driving experience is stimulating yet relaxed. Except when it feels slightly jumpy, almost darty. The steering can be over-precise, if the driver is. But if the Countryman wanted to be easy like a Honda CR-V, well, never happen.
Rolling through the curves, it stays firmly planted, not much body lean. The plug-in hybrid is heavier, carrying its battery pack and motor, so it doesn’t toss around so easily.
The ride control is great. There is an available adaptive suspension that tightens the ride at the flip of a switch.
In ruts and potholes, most of the thumping and crashing is curtailed.
The three-cylinder turbocharged 1.5-liter engine is peppy enough, although you can feel it vibrating in the steering wheel, when you’re working to keep up. The four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is smoother, as well as faster.
The 8-speed automatic that’s available for all-wheel-drive models holds back a bit when starting off. But there’s another 8-speed automatic available, with paddle shifters, and programmed for sportier driving. We’ll take that one. Or be happy with the 6-speed manual transmission that’s a joy to shift, with either engine.
We got good seat time in the new plug-in hybrid, the Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4. The three-cylinder engine is matched with a 65 kw (87 hp) electric motor and 7.6-kwh battery for a combined output of 221 hp. The electric motor powers the rear wheels, and sends some power to the front as well, which makes it a through-the-road hybrid system.
To accelerate up to highway speed using all-electric power, you have to pay attention. It’s not as fast as gas power. But it’s well-silenced, when both the motor and gas engine are being used.
The EPA rates the all-electric range of 12 miles, while BMW claims 24. We wonder why. Must be different test criteria. Maybe the Mini test track is downhill. We take back what we said about it being a gasless daily commuter. We were going on PR.
BMW marketing of the Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4 is fairly casual on the plug-in thing. Some buyers of the plug-in hybrid won’t even bother to plug it in; what for, to save a half-gallon of gas, while adding the chore of plugging it in at night? It’s not always convenient, we’ve been there a few times.
But they can still say they drive a hybrid.
The Mini Countryman might be fat, but it has a fun personality. It’s less imaginative than the Mini Cooper, but it’s meant for an older and less free crowd, who might have a child or two. The cabin is quiet and refined, the handling is superb, the 1.5-liter engine works. But for the Countryman to work for us, we’d have to really need it, and only the Cooper S with ALL4.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.