The 2017 Mini Countryman all-new and significantly larger than the crossover SUV the BMW subsidiary offered for 2010-2016.
Built on a wheelbase that’s increased by 2.9 inches, this second-generation Countryman is nearly eight inches longer overall. Detail work has changed, but the new model doesn’t look much different than its predecessor.
Beneath its enlarged Mini body, the Countryman is built on a platform borrowed from the BMW X1. Engines and suspension components are shared with the BMW. The Countryman is also related to the Mini Cooper Clubman, but the Countryman body is taller and seats are slightly higher, and the two models share no body panels.
More refined in its new form, the Countryman has turned into a more serious vehicle. Like other Mini models, thankfully, it’s still chock full of personality and character, as well as sensational handling capabilities.
Countryman offers a choice of two turbocharged engines. In the base Cooper, a 1.5-liter three-cylinder develops 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder goes into the Cooper S version, cranking out 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet.
Front-wheel drive is standard with either engine, but ALL4 all-wheel drive is available. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, but an 8-speed automatic transmission may be substituted. (For the front-drive three-cylinder, a 6-speed automatic is the option.) Helpful for harsh-weather traction, ALL4 all-wheel drive isn’t meant for authentic off-road treks.
No Countryman has been crash-tested by either the federal government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All versions include eight airbags and a rearview camera. Two valuable safety features are available in an option package: adaptive cruise control, along with forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
Two additional Countryman versions joined the lineup for 2017, led by a high-performance, sport-oriented John Cooper Works offshoot. Developing 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is borrowed from BMW’s X1. All-wheel drive is standard, an upgraded sport suspension is installed, and a body kit produces a distinctive visual image.
Available as a 2018 model is a plug-in hybrid: the Cooper S E ALL4, fitted with the base three-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. The gas engine powers front wheels. Rear wheels are propelled by the hybrid system, which uses an electric motor and lithium-ion battery. Total system output is 221 horsepower, sent to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The plug-in hybrid can travel up to 24 miles powered solely by electricity.
The 2017 Mini Countryman Cooper ($26,600) has the 1.5-liter engine, front-wheel drive, three-cylinder engine, seating for five, leatherette upholstery, panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and 17-inch wheels. Cooper ALL4 ($28,600) adds all-wheel drive and heated seats. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $850 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, holding a 228-horsepower engine.
2018 Cooper S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid ($36,800) has a gasoline/electric powertrain, and can be plugged into an electrical outlet for recharging.
By Mini standards, the Countryman is large. It’s also substantially more bulbous than a regular Mini and a bit ungainly, though the surplus girth is adeptly concealed. Up front is a prominent, chin-like lower element below headlights that appear to bulge more than usual on a Mini.
Each Countryman sports some rugged-look styling touches, including unpainted fender flares. Ground clearance is greater than a Clubman or other Mini. A curiously drawn roofline helps give some visual distinction, but Mini purists might be less than ecstatic.
Not only is the Countryman cabin well laid-out and comfortable, it carries on the quirky, joyful nature of the Mini brand. Four adults can ride in comparative comfort, and it’s roomier than before, though any third occupant of the back seat better be slim because the Countryman is still relatively narrow.
Tall windows and slim pillars offer the driver good visibility.
At the dashboard center, a large circular panel functions as a hub for most operations, though several are 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.
As in prior Minis, overblown instruments and near-garish lighting convey a sense of youthful excess. As a counterbalance, the clutter evident in past Minis has been toned down. Soft-touch plastic surfaces are bountiful and materials excel in quality, in a cabin that’s carefully furnished and finished.
Despite growth in dimensions, a Countryman can feel somewhat confining with a full load of people and luggage. However, rear-seat legroom has grown substantially.
Each model is reasonably quiet, but the 18-inch tires standard on Cooper S emit considerable rumble.
In addition to a vibrant automotive personality, Minis are best known for their handling potential, and the Countryman is no exception. For a crossover vehicle, it’s a delight to drive, more so than its BMW X1 counterpart.
Precise electric power steering combines with a relatively stiff chassis and an expertly-tuned suspension to create a stimulating, yet relaxed, experience. Sharp steering can make the Countryman feel slightly jumpy, perhaps on the verge of darting abruptly, so more attention must be paid than in, say, a Honda CR-V.
Built upon a new platform, the latest Countryman feels considerably stiffer. When rolling through repeated curves, all models feel firmly planted, benefitting from great ride control and suffering little body lean when cornering.
A new, more sophisticated suspension for 2017 curtails most of the thumping or crashing reactions to potholes and ruts, which marred previous Countryman models. Enthusiasts might want to opt for the adaptive suspension, to select a tauter ride by flipping a switch.
Though it sends some vibrations to the steering wheel, the three-cylinder base engine is peppy enough to suit most drivers. With 8-speed automatic (available for all-wheel-drive models), the base Cooper holds back slightly when starting off, but soon gathers momentum.
Not only is the four-cylinder Cooper S engine stronger all-around, it runs smoother. Two varieties of the 8-speed automatic transmission are available. Tuned differently, the sport version includes paddle shifters. Manual gearboxes are available and are a joy to shift, with either engine.
Fuel economy is good but not great, varying only a little between models. Premium gasoline is required. With manual shift and front-wheel drive, the base Countryman is EPA-rated at 24/33 City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. Automatic alters the estimate to 25/33/28 mpg. All-wheel drive with manual shift is EPA-rated at 22/32 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined. Automatic with ALL4 is rated at 23/30/25 mpg.
The Cooper S is a little less thrifty, EPA-rated at 21/31 mpg City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined with manual shift and ALL4 (front-drive not available with manual). The automatic-transmission Cooper S does a bit better, estimated at 23/32/27 mpg with front-drive and 22/31/26 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Like all Minis, the Countryman is fun to drive and still exudes an aura of personality, though it’s not quite as imaginative in current form. Option packages make purchasing easy, but a dizzying variety of additional items might be added. Customization is a popular exercise for Mini buyers, but an amply optioned Countryman gets expensive in a hurry.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.