Quality of materials on all MINIs is top notch, and this is where influence from BMW pays off significantly.
PORTLAND, OREGON – The MINI Cooper is perhaps one of the most well known products of automotive history. From a racing history to a stellar reputation on the street, the little two-door hatchback elicits smiles from most. Much like the Volkswagen Beetle, it seems as though almost everyone has a story with a MINI. In the past decade, the brand, under the ownership of automotive giant BMW, has expanded to have a full lineup of quirky cars. From the short-lived Coupé and Roadster right through to the Clubman (reviewed here), there’s something for everybody. The BMW Group flew us to Portland to test drive the 2017 MINI Countryman lineup.
First off; it’s not just called the Countryman – the official name for this vehicle is MINI Cooper Countryman (or Cooper S Countryman, depending on the chosen powertrain). This is the largest vehicle in the MINI line, a subcompact crossover that offers a premium alternative to the likes of the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 (reviewed here). Competing with the big guns such as the Land Rover Discovery Sport (reviewed here), the Audi Q3, and BMW’s own X1, the Countryman offers slightly smaller exterior dimensions and more generous interior space than most. The Cooper S E Countryman, which goes on sale a few months later, is the first-ever plug-in hybrid ever offered under the MINI name.
The design of the new Countryman is rather evolutionary, branded as a “Sports Activity Vehicle”, and still maintains the same quirky and charismatic styling that reflects MINI. This model is completely redesigned, though only the keen will be able to note that this is the new one. The proportions are a bit better sorted than the last car, and it looks grown up. The signature round headlights are more of an oval shape, and the roof rails add a rugged off-road look. As always, there is a plethora of customization available including fun colours, add-on graphics, mirror caps and more, from your MINI retailer.
Powertrains are new for the Countryman, though these are the same engine options we have seen in other MINI products. The base Cooper Countryman offers a 1.5L turbocharged inline three-cylinder, putting out 136 horsepower between 4,400 and 6,000RPM, and 162 lb-ft. of torque between 1,250 and 4,300RPM. The Cooper S Countryman uses a 2.0L turbocharged inline four, and pushes 192 horsepower between 5,000 and 6,000RPM, and 207 lb-ft. between 1,350 and 4,600RPM.
Thankfully, to preserve the fun and retro theme behind the Countryman, all models, regardless of engine, are available with a choice of a six-speed manual transmission. Two-pedal non-S variants get a six-speed automatic with front-wheel-drive, and an eight-speed with all-wheel-drive. Note; the eight-speed automatic is an Aisin F22 transmission rather than the ZF 8HP seen in other BMW family products.
Out on the road, the way the Countryman drives is actually quite pleasant. It has received criticism over the years for being too “fat” and large, but such is the way the automotive industry is trending. A modern 3-series (reviewed here) is the same size the 5-series used to be a couple of decades ago. Safety standards have changed, technology is being added, and cars are growing. The Countryman is still relatively small, with an overall length of 169.8 inches, though this is an 8.1” increase over the last model. This means it’s fairly nimble and the electric power steering renders it a joy to zip around the city with.
Models with the three-cylinder can feel a little bit sluggish, as 134 horsepower isn’t all that much. The turbocharger helps, but there is slight turbo lag evident, and until it spools up, the Countryman doesn’t do much more than get out of its own way. When the turbo does kick in though, this model is quite adequate. Opting for the manual transmission helps, as there is a good amount of punch and as we know, MINI makes a fantastic clutch and shifter.
The reality is though, most Canadians will opt for the automatic transmission, and this Aisin unit is spectacular. The Cooper S Countryman ALL4 with the automatic comes in at 3,670 pounds, not exactly a lightweight, but the turbo-four is punchy and will get you to where you’re going with great confidence. This is an excellent motor, and the paddle shifters are fun, allowing the driver to have more control over gear changes when desired. The new ALL4 all-wheel-drive system is a full time slip-and-grip setup, which can send power where it’s needed in 0.25 seconds.
Regardless of its larger size, the Countryman has a turning radius of 11.4 meters, which means it’s incredibly easy to park or make quick U-turns with. Visibility out of the cabin is also quite good, though the pillars are a little thicker than we’d like – typical for a European vehicle. On the inside, overall space has increased 30% over the outgoing model. The cargo area holds 450L of your stuff, and this increases to 1,390L with the rear seats folded down.
For the driver, there is ample space thanks to the new car being larger. Six-footers will expectedly be a bit tight in the rear seat, though headroom is generous. As with other subcompact crossovers, the Countryman is to be considered a four-passenger vehicle – anyone in the rear center seat will be relatively unhappy for any longer than short jaunts. The driving position is okay, though it’s a bit sportier than that of most of its rivals. Seats are powered on higher-trim models, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes. There is a power liftgate with foot-activation as an option, a first for MINI.
Quality of materials on all MINIs is top notch, and this is where influence from BMW pays off significantly. They have managed to keep the majority of the original MINI’s charm with quirks throughout the cabin, while providing all of the modern gizmos required. One thing we miss from the past generations of BMW-made MINIs is the toggle switches on the center console for power window/door lock controls. These are now in the “correct” place on the doors – some of the peculiarities have been eliminated in favour of the small car growing up.
MINI has priced the 2017 Countryman at $26,990 for the base front-drive model. Adding ALL4 to the base car commands a $2,000 premium, at $28,990. Stepping up to the Cooper S Countryman ALL4 starts at $31,990. It’s worth noting that all Countryman models come standard with automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, Bluetooth connectivity, alloy wheels, configurable drive modes, MINI Connected 6.5” display, and the MINI logo projection outside the car. ALL4 models add a standard reverse camera with Park Distance Control.
The upcoming MINI Cooper S E Countryman boasts the three-cylinder engine of the base model (with TwinPower technology), coupled to an electric synchronous motor. Combined output is 221 horsepower, and thanks to the electric boost, instant torque is available off the line. This model also comes with ALL4, and what MINI calls an e-rear axle. This model can be differentiated from the regular Countryman by some unique yellow accents, a MINI E logo, and of course, a charging port on the side. The MINI Connected infotainment system is expanded to include features for the hybrid model, and the engine start/stop button is yellow instead of red.
Since the brand’s revival in 2002, MINI products have been known to exhibit squeaks and rattles on the interior over time. In fact, some owners have even reported seeing this on brand new examples. Obviously the cars we sampled are brand new production models, though MINI insists that quality control has been vastly improved and we should see a serious improvement in this regard as the vehicles age.
The 2017 MINI Countryman is being marketed as the “biggest and most adventurous MINI to date”, and not a word of this is exaggerated. Though the overall size may be a bit of a turn-off for some, the new car is more capable to venture off the paved road than ever before. With a generous ground clearance of 165mm and decent entry/departure angles, cottage trips down roads where a sedan wouldn’t succeed are essentially effortless. For those who have an outdoorsy lifestyle and want a little bit of verve and individuality in their ride, the Countryman just might be the pick of the litter.
First Drive: 2017 MINI Countryman Gallery