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.
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 platform sharing, this vehicle isn’t all that bad to drive.
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.
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. It’s not a sports car, but it’s fun. 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, as fun as it is to drive, by comparison, 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.
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