2017 Mini Cooper S ALL4 Countryman review

The biggest Mini ever still doesn't lose its go-kart charm

It may be the biggest Mini ever, but the new Countryman is far from bloated.
It may be the biggest Mini ever, but the new Countryman is far from bloated.
It may be the biggest Mini ever, but the new Countryman is far from bloated.

Highs

  • Peppy turbo engine on Cooper S model
  • Nimble, planted handling
  • Cabin is roomy and comfortable
  • Responsive infotainment system

Lows

  • Curb weight makes base model feel lethargic
  • Options are expensive

Behold the Mega Mini. The largest, roomiest, and seemingly most contradictory vehicle in Mini’s lineup, the Countryman was originally introduced in 2010. It was the brand’s first vehicle with four doors and all-wheel drive, boasting improved practicality without forgetting the lovable agility that made Mini famous. That said, the original felt sloppy and uncultured at times, its reflexes and ride hampered by its heft. To improve the second-generation version, Mini started with a clean state. Did this fresh start make a difference? We find out in our Mini Countryman S ALL4 review.

What’s new

The 2017 Countryman is an all-new model, and when Mini says all-new, it means it. Compared to the first Countryman, the only carryover is the stylized wheel cap, meaning the platform, engine, transmission, and interior materials are all fresh. The car has grown in size because of this. The 2017 edition measures 8.5 inches longer than the original, and the wheelbase has been extended by 2.9 in. But despite it wearing the title of “The Most Gigantic Mini Ever,” the Countryman isn’t exactly a big car. In fact, it’s 10.8 in shorter than a Honda CR-V and 4.1 in shorter than a Mercedes GLA. Think of it like the tallest kid in first grade.

Trim levels & features

The Countryman comes in four main flavors: Cooper ($26,100), Cooper ALL4 ($28,100), Cooper S ($29,100), and Cooper S ALL4 ($31,100). Cooper and Cooper S refer to the engine choices — a 1.5-liter turbo three-pot making 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque and a 2.0-liter four making 189 hp and 207 lb-ft — while ALL4 refers to the presence of all-wheel drive. That means the full name of the range-topping model is the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4. Small car, big name. There is a 208-hp John Cooper Works version and a plug-in hybrid model on sale now, but for the purposes of this review, we’ll be focusing on the standard Countryman variants.

No matter which model you choose, many of the puffed-up styling elements from the original Countryman are present, including beefy body cladding, modest ground clearance, and a decidedly expressive front fascia. The new model is definitely grumpier though, with a frowning front grill that makes it look like it’s perpetually being asked to stay late on a Monday.

There’s nothing to scowl about when it comes to features though, because the Countryman boasts more standard equipment than any Mini before it. Every model comes equipped with a lovely panoramic sunroof, leatherette upholstery, a 6.5-in infotainment display, parking sensors, Bluetooth, and 17-in alloys (the Cooper S wears 18-in versions). If you spend the extra $2,000 for the ALL4, heated seats are standard, and if you opt for the quicker Cooper S, sport seats and LED headlights come along for the ride.

Technology overview

Mini isn’t lauded as a tech-forward brand in the same way Audi or Tesla are, but the brand’s latest products are changing that.

On the right road, you’ll forget all about curb weight and cargo room because the Countryman is a blast.

The infotainment system in the new Countryman is fantastic (a welcome trickle down from BMW Group), and when viewed through the upgraded 8.8-inch screen, it looks quite fancy as well. In fact, it actually feels pretty similar to the systems in newer BMW products, which is quite the compliment given the price differential.

Remember the center-mounted speedometer in older Minis? That little throwback (or eyesore, depending on your point of view) is gone now, with a circular touchscreen taking its place. From there, the driver is able to check traffic data, use satellite navigation, search for local points of interest, play media from their phone, and adjust vehicle settings, and there’s a redundant wheel control on the center console if that’s more your thing. The navigation is a high point here, as local buildings and landmarks are rendered in 3D. It’s a very easy and responsive system to use, but if you’d rather plug and play, Apple CarPlay is available as an option through the vehicle’s USB port. There is no Android Auto support at this time.

Interior fit & finish

There’s a simple reason why Mini made the outside of the new Countryman bigger, and that’s to make the inside bigger too. Even then, though, the cabin is much more spacious than the exterior dimensions would lead you believe, and the car can seat five adults relatively comfortably. Those around six feet tall will likely find their knees squished a little in the backseat, but with 37.6 in of rear leg room, it boasts more wiggle space than the Audi Q3 or Mercedes GLA 250. Cargo room with the rear seats up is a respectable 17.6 cu ft.

Design-wise, the Mini is still very circle-centric, and although it may look corny to some, it’s not distractingly kitschy. Any reservations about shapes will likely be dissuaded by the quality though, because whether it’s cloth, leatherette, leather, dinamica, or some other soft touch material, the Countryman’s cockpit is a very nice place to be. There are a couple cheap plastics here and there, but overall, you can clearly see the BMW lineage in the way it comes together.

Driving performance & MPG

It’s a big question: Is the Countryman fun to drive? Has it outgrown its dynamic character to appease crossover buyers? No it has not, and yes it is quite lively behind the wheel. Mini found a great balance between practicality and excitement with the Countryman, because it still feels tossable even with a 3,671-lb curb weight. You can credit the vehicle’s rigid architecture and quick steering for that, and thankfully, ride quality hasn’t suffered. The first Countryman was pretty loud, and while there’s still noticeable road noise in the new one, the day to day experience is significantly more cultured.

Mini isn’t always lauded as a tech-forward brand, but the Countryman could change that.

On the right road, you’ll forget all about curb weight and cargo capacity because the Countryman is simply a blast. With 207 lb-ft available at just 1,250 rpm, the Cooper S packs plenty of grunt for passing and low-speed cornering, and the six-speed manual feels tight, linear, and easy to master. Specifically, we appreciated the automatic rev-matching on downshifts, which were accompanied by a nice little burble from the exhaust. Yes, there is an eight-speed automatic with Sport and Manual modes, but where’s the fun in that?

The handling remains sharp and reflexive as a whole, but in the base Cooper, the 1.5-liter engine struggles. The best word for it is probably lethargic, and that’s to be expected with a 55-hp deficit from the Cooper S. We definitely recommend the S if this is a vehicle you’re interested in, otherwise one of the car’s biggest attributes is noticeably dulled.

The ALL4 system, however, is very capable regardless of engine. There’s a 60/40 power split between the front and rear wheels, and the car remains stable and grippy even over ice. We put the car through its paces in inclement weather around Oregon’s gorgeous Mt. Hood, and BMW’s all-wheel drive tech handled itself beautifully. No matter the climate though, you’ll be happy to know that Mini’s signature “go-kart handling” is still here in essence, even with a load of luggage in the back.

Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has awarded the 2017 Mini Cooper impressive safety ratings, with marks of “Good” in all crash tests. Mini says the vehicle’s frame is made from second-generation multiphase steel fortified with austenite and something called nanoparticles; even if you don’t know what any of that means, you can rest easy that you and your passengers are safe.

2017 Mini Cooper S ALL4 Countryman

In addition, the Countryman bundles active and passive safety features such as adaptive cruise control, stability control, and a head-up display that puts important vehicle info directly in your line of sight. Active safety features are only available on fully-loaded models though, and overall, the price of options does add up quickly, so keep that in mind when pricing it out.

How DT would outfit this car

The majority of the shiny stuff on the Countryman comes standard, thanksfully. The Cooper S ALL4 offers the sunroof, LED headlights, and the top-end interior for nothing extra, so you’ll have the traction to keep your butt on the road and the heated seats to keep it warm. The only features we’d recommend adding are the larger 8.8-inch infotainment screen and navigation, both of which come in the the $2,250 Technology Package. A slick head-up display and Apple CarPlay are included too!

As for paint, how are you not going to choose British Racing Green? It’s one of the most iconic colors ever made, and it suits the car perfectly. Mini doesn’t offer a Union Jack roof graphic on its online configurator anymore, but before you shed tears onto your Italian Job Blu-ray, know that the brand offers one as an accessory. You can also get decals for the side mirrors, door handles, door sills, and even the valve stem caps if you feel like throwing subtlety out the window.

Our Take

The Mini Countryman may be a bit of a contradiction, but only in name. That’s because despite its size, it’s still loads of fun to zip around in, and most importantly it still feels like a Mini.

Hopefully the brand cuts off the growth spurt at some point — a Mini tipping the scales at 4,000 lbs would just be silly — but this type of development is inevitable and widespread across the industry. Bigger cars with more utility are always going to be chunkier around the waistline, but as technology improves, carmakers will be better equipped to make larger vehicles drive like smaller ones. Case in point here.

Is there a better alternative?

Competition in the subcompact SUV space is stiff. There are several rides in the segment that can go tit for tat with the big Mini, but let’s start with the most obvious competitor first — the BMW X1. Both cars ride on the same front-wheel drive platform, and thus they share many similarities. That said, the Mini’s point of entry is much lower (the X1 starts at $33,750), and even though the Bimmer comes standard with 228 hp, the Mini’s reflexes are sharper and the car overall is more responsive. BMW gets the win in luxury and ride quality, so while both cars sprout from the same seed, they exhibit very different personalities.

Other options include the Mercedes-Benz GLA ($32,850), Audi Q3 ($31,800), and Infiniti QX30 ($29,950), although you can option less expensive cars like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V to compete with the Mini as well. In the end, though, the Countryman’s high-quality interior and loads of standard features make it more of an entry luxury player, and it is roomier and more practical than its rivals. It’s also more driver-focused than most, making it our go-to for those who want to ride in style but still smash an apex here and there.

How long will it last?

There simply hasn’t been time to compile exhaustive reliability ratings on the 2017 Countryman because it’s so new. However, the vehicle has received a 3/5 predicted reliability rating from U.S. News and World Report, which gleans its info from J.D. Power. The source describes that score as “About Average,” so take that for what it’s worth. In terms of manufacturer coverage, Mini offers a four-year, 50,000-mile limited warranty, which covers the car from bumper to bumper excluding the tires. Complimentary scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles comes standard with every new Mini, and for more peace of mind, the brand offers an Extended Motorer Protection program that picks off where the factory warranty leaves off.

Should you get one?

Driving a Mini is supposed to be exciting above all else, and whether we were scooting along in the snow, carving through backroads, or simply putting along in the city, we couldn’t stop smiling driving the Countryman. There are options in the segment with more power and more luxurious cabins, but it’s the Mini’s personality that pushes it to the top of the list for us. It may be porkier than the original and packed full of gadgets, but it still has that iconic Mini character, and that’s what matters. The extra practicality is just a bonus.

Imagine a go-kart that grew up, moved away from home, and now works at a fancy job with a fancy suit. Maybe it has a few go-kart kids or a cute go-kart dog. It’s evolved a bit to be sure, but make no mistake, when it comes back to visit the hometown go-kart track, it can more than hold its own.

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