When the Mini Countryman SUV first arrived in 2011, the puns about a “big” Mini couldn’t be stopped. But it turns out the joke’s on everyone who made one — including me — because it’s been the brand’s best-seller ever since.
Cut us some slack, though. Back then, there weren’t many subcompact crossovers on the road, so it did seem a little odd. But as the segment filled out over the years, it’s become clear that quirky styling is the norm, and no one does quirky like Mini. It really was a perfect fit.
Now there’s an all new one, and guess what. It’s even bigger! (A little.) It’s also much better.
The original had good looks, but economy class accommodations. The 2017 version is built on the same bones as the BMW X1, and the quality shows.
Prices start at $27,450 for a front-wheel-drive Cooper with a 139 hp three-cylinder turbocharged engine and run up to $38,650 for an all-wheel-drive John Cooper Works powered by the X1’s 228 hp four-cylinder turbo. A plug-in hybrid version is also available, but the right one — as with all Minis — is the Cooper S, which costs $32,550 with all-wheel-drive before you start getting frisky with the extensive options sheet.
That price spread puts the Countryman in a crowd that includes the Buick Encore, Mercedes GLA and Audi Q3. It deserves to be among them.
My tester rang up at $35,400 with a six-speed manual transmission and a technology package that includes a head-up display projected onto a small screen that rises from the dashboard. Radar cruise control with automatic emergency braking and an eight-speed automatic are some of the other features on offer.
The interior of the Countryman is classic Mini, with floating round gauges on the steering column, a circular housing for the infotainment system and toggle switches all over the place. Everything feels as good as it looks.
There’s an abundance of room for both passengers and stuff. The cabin easily passes the four 6-foot passenger test, and the cargo area is a very decent size that can be expanded further by flipping up the floor or sliding the rear seats forward … a feature all small crossovers should offer.
Few offer this much driving enjoyment. The Countryman is at once solid, nimble and limber. I wouldn’t take it too far off-road, but the pseudo-SUV is in its element on a twisty, bumpy, paved one. There’s even a computer game built into it that encourages this behavior by giving you points for driving on rough stuff. Meanwhile, its German roots show through as it drills down the highway with the smoothness and stability of a small freight train.
The Countryman may be quirky, but it’s no joke.
2017 Mini Countryman Cooper S All4
Base price: $32,550
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door utility
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 189 hp, 207 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
MPG: 21 city/31 hwy