The most ironic car of the decade has to be the Mini Countryman. The compact SUV is now large enough to be based almost entirely off the BMW X1, making a complete mockery of everything Mini once was. But, in the name of progress, and safety, and being all things to all people, the Countryman exists – and it’s surprisingly half decent. There’s also an incredibly versatile range to choose from, with 2- and 4-wheel drive models, and 4 drivetrain choices including a hybrid for the eco-conscious, and a hot John Cooper Works model for those who care more about going fast than going green.
The new Countryman is bigger than ever, and based off the BMW X1, it’s bound to be spacious. Mini claim more front and rear headroom than rivals like the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, and with its boxy shape that’s entirely believable. The trunk offers sufficient space, also more than its rivals, at 18 cubic feet, and rear passenger space is acceptable, though nothing spectacular. Quality of materials is high though, and the BMW influence is paying dividends for the Mini brand.
Getting comfortable as a driver takes some work, but once you’re set, the seats feel great and visibility is best in class – no doubt due to the large slab-like panes of glass all round. The steering wheel adjustment also adjusts the instrument cluster – mounted on the steering column – so whichever way you adjust the steering, you always have a clear view of your instrumentation.
Minis may be famed for their go-kart-like handling, but the Countryman trades that all in for comfort and composure. It’s now the least Mini-like of all Minis there have ever been. That’s not to say the Countryman can’t hustle down a country lane, or allow you to live out your rally dreams on dirt – it’s more than capable there too – but the ride for the most part is plush, and body roll is found in perhaps greater quantities than expected.
The suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps though, and there’s decent front end grip despite the softness. The electronically assisted steering setup is decent, though decidedly numb, but it has good weighting and inspires some confidence in the front end. The brakes are decent, but they could be a little sharper given the Countryman’s newfound size and mass.
Cooper models get a 1.5-liter turbo 3-cylinder, with 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. The Cooper S’ 2.0-liter turbo-four copes better with its 189hp and 207 lb-ft. The Cooper S E plug-in hybrid gets a combined output of 221hp and 284 lb-ft to go with its claimed 65 MPGe rating. But the John Cooper Works, with its 228hp and 258 lb-ft turbo 2.0-liter gets the hustle going with a 6.2 second 0-60mph sprint. 6-speed manuals and front wheel drive are standard on most models, though the hybrid gets a 6-speed auto. That same auto is available on the Cooper, with all others having an optional 8-speed. All-wheel drive is available.
The Countryman deserves its premium price tag, with plenty standard equipment across all 4 trim levels. But there is also a long list of options which can drive the price way up. All models boast a standard panoramic sunroof, rear-view camera, keyless entry, split folding rear seats, and rear park distance control. The NHTSA hasn’t crash tested the Countryman, though the IIHS ranks it as a Top Safety Pick + due to the optional front crash prevention technologies, such as high and low-speed auto-braking. Forward collision warning and crash mitigation is only available with the optional Active Driving Assistant package.
Better than a Mercedes GLA to drive? No doubt, though perhaps not as stylish and now lacking that Mini feel. The Cooper’s engine struggles with the Countryman’s new-found size, so the Cooper S should be the minimum choice. Be careful with the options though, it gets pricey.