On the Road Review: Mini Cooper Countryman ALL4

This is the all-new Mini Cooper Countryman. Larger in every way, this is the largest Mini yet sold in the United States. But it is a Mini, so its dimensions are still, well, mini. Think of it as the Mini of compact crossovers — taut, nimble and playful, like other Minis.

Mini Cooper is owned by BMW, and this small crossover uses the all-new front-drive-based architecture that underpins the BMW X1 crossover. This second-generation Countryman is 8 inches longer on a 3-inch longer wheelbase, while 1 inch wider. Cargo space is up by over 5 cubic feet, rear passenger space grows — a lot — making this a true four-passenger crossover (adult-sized) with room for gear.

The platform change also brings upgrades in powerplants — all BMW engines. The base engine is a 1.5-liter three-cylinder with turbocharging that produces 134 hp and 162 pound/feet of peak torque. Optional power in “S” trim is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 189 hp, while a John Cooper Works model will boost that engine’s output to 210 hp later this summer. While we will not see the turbo-diesel that will be sold in other markets, we will get a plug-in hybrid edition in late summer.

Transmissions are six-speed manual, naturally, or six-speed automatics in front-drive versions and eight-speed automatics optional in every ALL4 all-wheel drive model or models with the larger displacement engines. The manual gearbox in our tester performed flawlessly, with easy clutch and shifter action, hill-holder abilities, plus a digital gear indicator light on the dash.

Power delivery from our turbo-three engined Countryman was very lineal. There are no large peaks, or bumps, in power output as the powertrain delivers refined, rheostat-like horsepower all over the rev range. The engine is silent, smooth and very willing — it was easy to find yourself cruising in fourth gear at highway speeds, with little need to shift into the overdrive fifth and sixth gears. Realized fuel economy was 29 mpg against an EPA estimated 22/32/26 mpg — easily besting a litany of compact crossovers fuel mileage accomplishments. Premium fuel is suggested for peak performance.

Mini fans will notice that the larger Countryman no longer has round or oval headlamps, a signature styling edict for the brand, more or less. Yet the interior retains every other Mini styling emphasis, with huge round dials, the customary bank of toggle switches — including a red start/stop toggle — plus round door pulls and other associated functions. The intimacy of the controls and the general appearance of a Mini is strongly evident — all polished a bit by the near-luxury stance of BMW.

At a starting price of $26,950, the Countryman ALL4 is more than 10 percent pricier than its predecessor. But several items are now standard that were previously optional: dual panel sunroof, back-up camera, wireless phone charging, keyless entry, plus a slide and recline rear seat enabled by the larger platform. You also get heated front seats with manual thigh extender panels (which were awesome), automatic climate control, park distance controls, selectable interior ambient lighting, plus a larger fuel tank that renders 500-plus miles of range — a significant edge over this whole class.

From the first minutes behind the wheel, the Mini feels familiar. While larger and heavier than its compact car siblings, the Countryman remains agile and tossable. It responds to your inputs with a certain immediacy and delivers the taut responsiveness that other crossovers insulate you from. Not much for electronic driving aids intrudes either — this remains a driving purist’s crossover.

Egress and ingress are easy — the elevated ride height — so everyone slides right in, rather than dropping in and climbing up and out. Visibility is good, yet road noise is elevated at highway speeds, and the single-note horn is plain wimpy. But on a balmy Easter Sunday, with the windows all lowered and the sunroof open, the Countryman was a delight to pilot. There was no wind buffeting, the sound system could keep up, and the Mini made the world feel alright again.

Mini has clubbed the other small-car automakers hoping to fill the various niches in the American marketplace. Easily dominating Fiat, 4Two and even the VW Beetle, this new Countryman should push the brand back to its peak sales records of a few years ago. And since small crossovers are the rage right now, Mini’s timing couldn’t be better.

All in, our Mini Countryman All4 stickered for $34,800 with some features that buyers might find they don’t need. Undercutting the Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA, this Mini could be anything but in the entry-level luxury segment as it packs the tools to make a big splash.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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