BMW was rightly praised when it bought, revived and reinvigorated the Mini subcompact in 2001. Updating the much loved British classic with German technology created a well built car that was fun to drive, good on gas and made for urban environments.
There was just one problem for some consumers. As the name reveals, the first Mini model was very small, like its predecessor. BMW tried expanding its appeal by increasing the size of its second generation slightly and adding the Clubman station wagon to the lineup. But it wasn't until the Countryman was introduced in 2010 that any Mini could really compete in the white hot compact crossover market.
The completely redesigned 2017 Countryman ups the ante by being even larger and compromising on some of its eccentric styling. The speedometer is now in front of the driver and oversized round display in the middle of the dash is now a proper touchscreen. But for those who still want British touches, there are plenty of toggle switches, including one that starts and stops the engine.
Overall, however, the Countryman still looks like the "Big Mini" everyone calls it. The exterior styling is still bulbous and the interior filled with odd nooks and crannies. Like the previous version, the 40/20/40-split second row slides and reclines. The additional space makes it even more practical than before, building on the promise of it being a Mini for that really meets the needs of a small family.
It is also one of the most entertaining compact crossovers to drive, if only because it is one of the few available with a manual transmission — in this case, a six-speed. But my test version was a Cooper S model that came with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that pumped out 189 horsepower and 207 foot pounds of torque, enough for spirited driving, even though it was not as fast as smaller Mini models.
That's understandable, given the larger size and additonal weight of the optional ALL4 all-wheel-drive system — which is why ithe Countryman is a crossover and not just a larger Mini. It also had a Sport mode that quickened throttle response, along with a Green mode for saving fuel at the expensive of performance,
Base models of the Countryman come with a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 134 horsepower and 162 foot pounds of torque. Some reviews have said it feels underpowered, but that's something potential buyers should check out with back-to-back test drives.
On the road, the Countryman's ride was very comfortable, and sharp corners could still be taken faster than with most compact crossovers, thanks to its low center of gravity. The well bolstered leather sport bucket seats were very supportive whenever we decided to throw it around, but everyday driving was also enjoyable, especially with the six-speaker stereo and an ample air conditioning system that easily overcame summer temperatures. And the interior materials were all top notch, giving it a more luxurious feel than most competitors.
On the other hand, some touches, like interior LED lights that change colors like mood rings, seem like gimmicks intended to appeal to children.
But at a time with compact crossovers are beginning to look a little generic, Mini deserves praise for continuing its distinctive styling, even if its making a few nods to convention. The 2017 Countryman is a family-oriented small crossover that still stands out in a crowd.
2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4
Base price: $28,950
Price as tested: $35,400
Type: Compact crossover
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4 (189 hp, 207 lb-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
EPA estimated mileage: 21/23
Overall length: 169.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,538 pounds
Final assembly: Born, Netherlands