The automobile has been a form of expression since its inception, but there have been few brands to live and breathe that philosophy as holistically as has Mini. Both in its original incarnation and since its rebirth more than 15 years ago under BMW stewardship, the British marque has built its reputation on creating quirky cars with distinctive styling and lively handling.
Ironically, Mini’s best-selling model is its biggest: the Countryman. Freshly redesigned and bigger than ever, Mini’s crossover SUV now shares a platform with the BMW X1. The sportier Countryman S version reviewed here is tuned for improved performance and imbued with a more energetic personality.
Sporty Is as Sporty Does
The new, larger Countryman feels more refined and composed than its predecessor. Its handling is less athletic than that of the pint-size Mini Cooper Hardtop, but our Cooper S Countryman test car exhibited impressive agility for its class, zipping easily through traffic. Its standard 18-inch wheels wore Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Run Flat tires, yet the ride wasn’t punishing on rough pavement; the car also clung to our skidpad with 0.86 g of lateral grip. That skidpad number was virtually identical to the one turned in by a non-S stick-shift Countryman we tested, but the S stopped 13 feet shorter from 70 mph (176 feet) compared with its lower-spec sibling.
The BMW-sourced mechanicals also include the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, which makes 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque in the Countryman S. Our 2017-model test car paired Mini’s All4 all-wheel-drive system ($2000) with the standard six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional ($2000) paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic. The manual’s clutch pedal is light and forgiving for beginners. And although the shifter has long throws, it glides through the gates with ease and precision.
Thus equipped, this Mini went from zero to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds flat. That’s not blistering, but it’s 2.1 seconds quicker than the non-S version. Still, we wish the turbocharged engine had a bit more flexibility; the boosted four-cylinder feels pokey below 2500 rpm and runs out of breath before reaching redline. When the engine is kept within its abbreviated powerband, however, there’s lively response accompanied by a sporty exhaust burble.
Love It or Hate It
Mini’s styling isn’t for everyone. The Countryman is unmistakably part of the clan, but its larger proportions can appear muscular . . . or perhaps like an adult dressed as a toddler. The redesigned lineup looks much like the last generation, with a square-jawed front end, bug-eyed headlights, and a “floating” roof. But it’s 8.5 inches longer overall and 1.3 inches wider than before. The Cooper S we tested wore Thunder Grey metallic paint that cost $500 (Moonwalk Grey is the only no-cost hue), and the S variant includes 18-inch wheels and LED front lighting as standard. Every Countryman has a dual-pane sunroof, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and proximity entry with push-button start.
Inside, the Countryman can get as funky or as subdued as you like. Our example was upholstered with an attractive, $750 combination of black leatherette complemented by cloth that looked like something you’d find on a midcentury sofa. The material quality is quite good for this class, although there’s nothing you can spec to alter the toggle-switch-heavy array of controls and the upright driving position, both of which can take some getting used to. At least the Cooper S’s standard front sport seats are comfortable and relatively supportive. Its back seat is adult friendly, too, thanks to a wheelbase stretched by 2.9 inches that helps enable an increase of about four inches of rear legroom versus the prior model.
As in every other modern Mini, the distinctive dashboard is dominated by a centrally located circle, in this case housing a screen and surrounded by an illuminated ring that shifts its colors depending on which controls and functions you’re adjusting. The ambient lighting also is used on the lower door panels and in the footwells, creating a cool aura. Our test car had the optional Technology package ($2250), which trades the standard 6.5-inch infotainment screen for an 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation and an assortment of apps. The package also includes automated parking assist, a head-up display, and wireless phone charging; Apple CarPlay will be added as standard to 2018 models. Our options list also included a one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio for $300.
Mini Name, Big Price
All told, our Cooper S Countryman All4 totaled $35,750. The base model starts at $31,950, but piling on the options can quickly place this quirky crossover beyond $40,000. That’s a big price to pay for any Mini, especially since the same money buys the quicker and 10Best Trucks and SUVs–winning BMW X1. But the Bimmer seems rather staid in comparison with the fun and funky Countryman S.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED: $35,750 (base price: $31,950)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1998 cc
Power: 189 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1250 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 105.1 in
Length: 169.8 in
Width: 71.7 in Height: 61.3 in
Passenger volume: 97 cu ft
Cargo volume: 18 cu ft
Curb weight: 3615 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 7.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 20.2 sec
Zero to 120 mph: 34.5 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.9 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 12.4 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 10.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.5 sec @ 90 mph
Top speed (drag limited, C/D est): 135 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.86 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 23 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 24/21/31 mpg