2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 Review: Care for Some Badge Engineering, Sir Alec?

2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4

2.0-liter inline-four, turbocharged, DOHC (189 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm; 207 lb-ft @ 1,350 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

22 city / 31 highway / 26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.5 city / 7.4 highway / 9.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

24.0 mpg [9.8 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $32,550 (U.S) / $34,125 (Canada)

As Tested: $43,000 (U.S.) / $44,880 (Canada)

Prices include $850 destination charge in the United States and $2,135 for freight and PDI in Canada.

If you’ve come here to read a Mini Cooper S review, I suggest you look elsewhere. What we have here is a vehicle that has very little to do with the small, lightweight and simplistic design of Sir Alec Issigonis’ original Morris Mini concept.

This is nothing more than a disguised BMW X1.

But if you’re currently in the market for a subcompact luxury crossover that blends style with practicality, all while remaining somewhat fun to drive, then the 2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman should serve you well.

Notwithstanding the model’s status as a travesty of badge engineering, this vehicle isn’t all that bad to drive.

Bloat

Weighing in at 3,670 pounds, or roughly the same as an all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V, there’s no hiding the fact that this is a Mini only in the metaphorical sense of the word. At least the Countryman manages to retain the classic Mini design cues, with its oversize head and tail lights, instantly distinguishable front grille, and the classic Mini two-box design that simply never gets old.

Admit it, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the British hot fun hatch that starred in The Italian Job, this Countryman, with its plastic wheel arch cladding and “lifted” ride height, looks kind of cool.

Riding on BMW’s all-new UKL2 platform, the same one used for the X1, the 2017 Countryman inherits a substantial increase in passenger and cargo space over the previous model, which is precisely what its target clientele is looking for. Again, very ironic for a Mini.

Nonetheless, rear legroom increases 3.8 inches in the new model, and while default cargo space remains midpack at 18 cubic feet, with seats folded flat this Micro Machine of a crossover engulfs 47.6 cubes of gear. That’s a smidge less than a Volkswagen Golf (52.7 cubic feet), but still substantially superior than the similarly priced Infiniti QX30 (34 cubic feet).

And what a funky little cabin to spend some time in — especially in higher trim levels, where an attractive, two-tone interior and chocolate-colored leather sports seats complete the luxury package. Classic Mini touches, such as the metallic toggle switches located on the center stack and the tiny tachometer that protrudes atop the steering column help retain the retro look. Rear seat head and leg clearance is in fact impressive; I had no problem spending some time back there, even with my massive frame.

As per Mini tradition, the center of the dashboard is adorned with a gigantic circular orifice in which now resides the Mini Connected 5 touchscreen interface, the brand’s latest software iteration. This tester had the larger 8.8-inch touchscreen, but the system can also be controlled via a console-mounted dial. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity come standard with the upgraded system and, to be fair, this remains one of the quickest, easiest to comprehend infotainment interfaces I’ve tested in a while.

Fat Go-Kart

On the road, the 2017 Countryman S’ instantaneously recognizable go-kart feeling is present and felt through a firm, nimble chassis, and a small-diameter steering wheel which reacts quickly to the slightest of steering inputs, leaving intact the fun-to-drive character that is so symbolic of the Mini brand.

My shooter Myle and I had this Countryman during our recent Aston Martin DB11-centered, poutine-focused road trip for Jalopnik. While the little Mini was no match for that twin-turbo V12 grand tourer’s almighty forward thrust, it didn’t cause us any shame, carrying speed effortlessly through the sinuous roads without too much drama. That’s actually where the Countryman surprised me the most: after getting out of a $300,000 sports car and into this BMW-engineered crossover, it never felt like a penalty box.

Mind you, the Countryman isn’t as scalpel-precise as a Cooper S. Its weight is felt, all the time. Dare to push the little crossover’s limits a bit too far and you’ll quickly discover its driving dynamics are nowhere near as sharp as its hot hatch sister. That nimble feel mentioned earlier is only the first layer, the one most buyers will remain in. But a talented enthusiast will quickly find themselves disappointed by how easily the Countryman plows forward in a corner with excessive understeer.

See the Countryman as an overweight Cooper that has too much road clearance. Sure, this Mini can run, but it’ll get sweaty and ask for a break real fast.

The Countryman is also rather loud at highway speeds, with a fair bit of road and wind noise that transcends through the cabin in the form of an unpleasant roar. In this price range, that’s pretty unacceptable. I’ve experienced quieter interiors in some cheaper Honda products.

Power in the Cooper Countryman comes from two powertrain options, with a hybrid expected to be arriving soon. My tester, the S, had the oh-so-needed upgrade engine. It’s a 2.0-liter turbocharged four, the same one found in the standard Cooper S. Mini claims it’s good for 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque (base models come with a three-cylinder turbo). All-wheel-drive is optional, with two available transmission choices — either a six-speed manual, a rare feature in this segment, or an eight-speed automatic. My tester had the latter, coupled with all-wheel drive.

I wrote “needed” before, because the Countryman’s added heft does require more mojo to get up and go. Even with the 2.0-liter’s ample mid-range punch, the Countryman doesn’t feel particularly swift off the line. The eight-speed automatic’s quick reaction times and ability to downshift accordingly does help overtaking, but if you desire a subcompact crossover that delivers more thrills, I’d suggest upgrading to the 228-horsepower John Cooper Works model. With a 0-60 mph acceleration time in the high sevens, this Mini isn’t particularly quick — at least, not compared to its most direct competitor: the Infiniti QX30.

Intelligently Packaged

The 2017 Mini Countryman’s ace up its sleeve versus other luxury subcompact crossovers, like the aforementioned Infiniti QX30, the Audi Q3, or Mercedes-Benz GLA, is the flexibility of its package configurations and available powertrains. Remember, this is one of the only subcompact all-wheel-drive utility vehicles that can be had with a manual transmission.

It’s also attractively priced. My tester, a well-equipped S version with all-wheel-drive and a few packages grafted onto it that include convenient creature comforts such as a panoramic sunroof, an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system, that larger 8.8-inch media screen, adjustable rear seats, those Chester leather seats, wireless smartphone charging, and navigation (just to name a few), stickers at $44,880 CAN.

Base Countryman S ALL4 models start a Canadian pre-delivery MSRP of $31,990 ($31,700 in the U.S.), which undercuts the mechanically similar BMW X1 by several thousand dollars. That Infiniti Qx30 starts at roughly 35k (CAN).

So, here’s my final verdict about this Mini with a water retention problem: at first glance, the 2017 Mini Countryman S may seem like another one of those polarizing half-hot hatch, half-utility vehicle contraptions designed for people who first and foremost consider a vehicle as a fashion statement rather than a purposeful means of transportation.

Granted, it is an odd vehicle.

But at least the Countryman doesn’t put the Mini nameplate to shame. As far as subcompact luxury crossovers go, the 2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman is fun enough to drive, definitely looks different, is attractively priced, and offers enough practicality to be considered a smart purchase among the segment.

[Images: Myle Rockens/Appearance]

William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com

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