It’s no fun being judged by your name. Even if it’s a good one.
Take Mini, for example. Around since the 60’s, it stood for diminutive cars that surprised and delighted, in part to their snug external dimensions, and their larger-than-life performance.
When the Mini Cooper was reintroduced in the US in 2003, it was much larger than the original, but still a lot smaller than just about everything else for sale.
And in the past 14 years, we’ve seen the Mini product expand into larger vehicles like the Clubman and small crossovers like the Mini Countryman.
And now with the all-new Countryman, notably a bit larger than before, we have people crying “foul” that it’s no longer a Mini.
We were ready to agree, and then we saw our Countryman next to the all-new Honda Accord.
The Honda is beautiful. And it’s also huge.
So if we’re going to talk relative terms, Mini is still Mini.
Is this the small crossover you’re looking for?
That’s a better question, because while the Countryman may be Mini’s small CUV, it really is very different than anything else on the market.
First impression is this a larger vehicle than before – 7.8 inches to be exact, with a wheelbase that’s nearly 3 inches longer. That extra size is put to good use, with a true 5 passenger seating and 5.4 cubic feet more luggage capacity.
And while it shares the running gear with the new BMW X1 model, the Countryman still looks very much a Mini, with cheeky, cheerful looks, large headlights and taillights and optional two-tone paint scheme. Our tester, in a color Mini calls “Chestnut” looked like a chewy toffee candy. Veddy British.
Mini on the inside?
Yes and No. Definitely the funky Mini style and function remain, but it’s actually pretty darn spacious. Our tester was fitted in the light Leather Lounge Satellite Gray, which looks very stylish and features dark piping, but if it was our Mini, we’d go for a darker color that could handle the dirt and marks that the real world can bring in – especially in a crossover.
And if you’re going to haul gear, along with the larger cargo capacity, there’s a larger rear opening, available power tailgate, and a rear seat that’s split into three parts to give you more choices in loading up.
Up front, if you’ve been in a recent Mini, you’ll be right at home in the new Countryman. There are iconic touches like a giant display in the middle of the dash (it used to be a speedometer) but now it houses an available 8.8-inch touchscreen display for the first time. There’s also wireless charging – a nice touch.
There’s plenty that’s familiar – the engine stop/start toggle switch at the bottom of the center stack, flanked by other chrome toggles (very vintage Jaguar-ish!), a round infotainment control that looks like it was swiped from BMW (it was), and a Sport Mode ring at the base of the shift lever that you nudge left or right to activate.
It adds up to a unique experience that separates the Countryman from other small SUV’s. It’s fun and unique, but it takes a little getting used to if you’re coming from another brand of vehicle.
You also get some fun connectivity that feels uniquely Mini. That large center display features a custom-configurable LED that illuminates in different colors based on how you’re driving, or what mode you call up on the driving controller.
And there’s more! Mini Connected integrates with your iPhone and Apple Watch. Your Mini can inform you of optimum departure time based on calendar entries and traffic data. It can also save favorite destinations and detects frequently covered routes – like your daily commute – and can inform you of delays.
There’s also Mini Find Mate, which is not a dating site, (although not a bad idea…) but consists of two tags with a Bluetooth wireless tracking function – perfect for bags, cases, key rings, etc…and is able to detect the presence or absence of the connected object – tracking it through your Countryman and also your smartphone. If the tag is outside of the Bluetooth range, the driver can even be guided to the place at which a connection was last detected. Very cool!
Ok, so let’s motor…
Well, along with all the goodies, you expect something special with the driving experience in a Mini.
Our Countryman was a base model, so power comes from a 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder (yes 3!) turbo that puts 134 hp, and 162 lb.-ft of torque. Combined with ALL4 all-wheel drive and Mini’s largest heaviest vehicle, sounds like a recipe for a slow ride.
Credit the turbo’s low-end power, Sport Mode, and the optional 8-speed automatic for saving the day. Around town, the Countryman feels lively and punchy. But getting up to speed on the freeway the laws of physics take over, and you have to push the little engine hard to make reasonable progress. To its credit, with all the flogging, we still managed 27 mpg.
Our recommendation would be to stick with front wheel drive – maybe even the available 6-speed manual, a rarity in small SUV’s – with the 3-cylinder, or opt for the Cooper S with its 189 hp, 4-cylinder turbo if you need ALL4 all-wheel drive.
Throw it into a turn, and the chassis shared with BMW’s X1 shines through. The steering has excellent feel, the ride has that well-controlled European firmness, and the ALL4 grip is excellent. It’s taller and heavier than the 3-door Mini, but it’s still great fun to chuck about, a delight to tackle a twisty road or a gnarly commute.
The bigger the Mini, the bigger the price?
Your entry-level Mini Countryman starts at $26,100. Our tester was the all-wheel drive ALL4 model that starts at $28,100. Being part of the BMW family, that price is just the beginning – it gives you lots of choices of options, and you can personalize your Mini to make it one of a kind. But you also have to be mindful of how much your spending.
On our tester, the option list included Chestnut paint ($500), Leather Lounge Satellite Gray interior ($1,750), Technology Package – includes Parking Assistant, Heads-up Display, Mini Connected and Real Time Traffic Information. We also had the 18” Pair Spoke Wheels ($750), Steptronic automatic transmission ($1,500), Interior Surface Piano Black ($200), Mini Excitement Package ($250), Sport Seats ($300), SiriusXM Radio with 1-year subscription ($300), and Destination Charge ($850). Grand total: $36,750.
While that may sound like a lot, it is a premium product, and competitors like the sibling BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and Lexus RX200t all start around $36,000 and build from there. So, in this segment, the price is a little bit Mini as well.
Cheerful, cheeky, fun to drive the Countryman be me a large Mini, but you walk away with a huge smile after every drive.
The new Countryman remains true to its name.
A unique – and special – offering in a world of me-too small premium crossover/SUV’s.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.