Sir Alec Issigonis, the man responsible for the original Mini, surely never anticipated a Mini crossover SUV. Even so, he may have begrudgingly approved of BMW’s first crack at the Countryman variant, which, for all of its faults, drove like a plus-size Mini Cooper. The all-new Countryman, though, moves the needle even further away from the original Mini ethos.
Longer and heftier, the newest model trades its predecessor’s lithe agility for an added sense of refinement. If the previous Countryman was an engorged Mini Cooper Hardtop, then the redesigned Countryman is a shrunken BMW X1.
No surprise, then, that the new Countryman sits on the same platform that underpins the X1 (as well as the wagonlike Mini Clubman). Dubbed UKL2, the Countryman’s chassis is stiff, imbuing the $28,950 all-wheel-drive crossover with a solid foundation that similarly priced competitors lack. No doubt, the Countryman is competent. It simply no longer drives like a Mini.
The Cooper Countryman very much looks the part of a Mini. Oversize headlights and taillights, a distinct grille design, and a two-tone paint scheme instantly identify the Countryman as a product of the British brand. From the driver’s seat, though, we missed the light and tossable dynamics that have defined the brand since it reentered the market at the beginning of the century. That first “new” Mini was much bigger than the original, but it nevertheless drove small. This new Countryman moves with the heavy-handed stoicism of a BMW SUV. On the whole, this isn’t a bad thing, as the Cooper Countryman tracks down the road with the security of a bigger vehicle while maintaining a sense of driving engagement.
Take the Cooper Countryman to your favorite back road and its precise, well-weighted steering is happy to tell you when front-end grip has been exceeded. Fortunately, grip is relatively plentiful, as the Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Run Flat tires that came with our test car’s optional ($750) 18-inch wheels stuck to our 300-foot skidpad at a respectable 0.85 g. Still, the Countryman’s demure demeanor differs from other Mini models.
Arguably, some of our distaste for this Countryman’s dynamic behavior stems from our test car’s powertrain. Although Mini offers the Countryman in more powerful Cooper S, Cooper S E plug-in hybrid, and John Cooper Works (JCW) trim levels, our bottom-of-the-barrel Cooper relies on the brand’s 134-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-three for momentum. Fitted with all-wheel drive—ALL4 in Mini parlance, a $3000 upcharge ($2000 for 2018 models) and, perhaps more to the point, 210 pounds heavier by Mini’s accounting—and the standard six-speed manual transmission (an automatic is available for $1500), the tested Cooper Countryman tipped our scales at a weighty 3538 pounds, or 433 pounds heavier than a front-wheel-drive Cooper Clubman with a manual transmission.
The three-pot’s 162 lb-ft of torque comes on at a diesel-like 1250 rpm, allowing the subcompact crossover to pull away from stoplights with reasonable pep. But the triple’s narrow powerband peaks by the time the tach crosses 5000 rpm (1600 rpm before redline), making frequent shifts necessary. Thankfully, the six-speed gearbox is a pleasure to row, with crisp action and well-defined gates.
Still, the ALL4 model’s mass overwhelms the base engine. Zero to 60 mph required 9.1 seconds, 1.1 seconds longer than the front-drive stick-shift Clubman. Top-gear passing acceleration was similarly laggard, with the crossover ringing in 30-to-50-mph and 50-to-70-mph times of 14.6 and 13.6 seconds, 4.4 and 3.5 seconds longer than was needed by the Clubman. Mass also affects braking, as the crossover required a lengthy 189 feet of tarmac to come to a halt from 70 mph—27 feet longer than the Cooper Clubman and 26 more than an all-wheel-drive Fiat 500X.
Even so, and despite our heavy left feet, the Countryman managed to match its EPA combined rating of 26 mpg during its stay with us. And it beat its EPA figure on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, recording 34 mpg to the government’s highway rating of 32.
Compared with its tightly packaged predecessor, though, the Countryman’s rear seating area presents a wide and airy space with HVAC vents and a comfortable 40/20/40 split-folding rear bench seat that both slides and reclines. An ample 37.6 inches of rear legroom marks a 3.8-inch gain over the old Countryman. Cargo room is a middling 18 cubic feet, besting the 12 cubic feet afforded by the 500X but falling short of the Jeep Compass’s impressive 27.
The Countryman’s interior design follows the example of the exterior in being characteristically Mini, featuring items such as a column-mounted gauge cluster, a circular housing for the infotainment system, and toggle switches for operating items such as the overhead lights, the ignition, and the automatic stop-start system. Standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, proximity-key entry, a rearview camera with parking sensors, automatic headlights, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
Our all-wheel-drive test car also came standard with heated seats and an assortment of added extras, the most expensive of which was the $2250 Technology package that includes an inductive device-charging pad, a self-parking system that can steer the Countryman into parking spaces (the driver manages the pedals), a head-up display, and an 8.8-inch infotainment system with built-in navigation. Running Mini Connected 5, the brand’s latest infotainment software, the upgraded system is Apple CarPlay–compatible and can be controlled using the touchscreen display, a dial mounted aft of the shift lever, or by voice command. Very BMW-ish, all that.
Other options on our test car included a $500 coat of Light White paint, a pair of $300 Sport seats—plus another $750 for leather-and-cloth upholstery that also applies to the back seat and door panels—and $250 worth of black headliner (gray is standard). Other costs include $300 for satellite radio with a one-year subscription, $500 for rear-window privacy glass, and $250 for the Mini Excitement package, which adds ambient interior lighting and puddle lamps mounted on the underside of the exterior mirrors that project the Mini logo onto the ground. All told, our test car wore an as-tested price of $34,800. If it were up to us, we’d ditch $600 worth of this optional kit and instead purchase a livelier 189-hp, $34,200 Cooper S Countryman ALL4 with the Technology package.
Regardless, the 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman trades the brand’s dynamic duende for advancements in refinement and practicality. It’s a deal with the devil that makes the Cooper Countryman a lackluster Mini but a better subcompact crossover, even if it’s a tad sluggish for our taste.