We’re behind the wheel of the biggest Mini

This week I’m spending time behind the wheel of Mini’s biggest offering – the 2017 Countryman. Despite making a name for itself making subcompact cars, Mini now has to compete with automakers the world over. As such, the second-generation Countryman is now longer and wider than its predecessor, affording 3.8 inches more legroom in the rear seats and 7.7 more cubic feet of cargo room. It might be an oxymoron to have a big Mini, but this Countryman is far more practical for families than anything ever offered from this iconic British brand.

Back in the day, Mini was known for its tiny, ultra-compact runabout, the Morris Mini. Seven generations lasted from 1959 till 2000 and quickly earned the status of a cultural icon for British pop culture that extended across the globe. In 2001 and under new ownership of BMW, the Mini Cooper was launched and with it came a new age of Mini’s quirky, playful image that carries on today. Some say that quirkiness is lost on the new Countryman, mostly as a result of its new BMW underpinnings. See, the biggest Mini rides on the smallest BMW platform, BMW’s UKL modular architecture. The UKL is found under vehicles like the BMW X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer. It’s be riding under the second-generation Mini Clubman since its debut for 2016. So, how does the new and improved Mini Countryman handle behind the wheel? Keep reading to find out.

Continue reading for more on the 2017 Mini Countryman.

Behind the Wheel

See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Interior
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I’ve got to be transparent about something: this is my first time behind the wheel of a Mini product. Even after four years scribing here at TopSpeed, the Mini brand has somehow eluded my driveway. As such, I can’t make a fair comparison between the new Countryman and its stablemates of years gone by. Nevertheless, I’ve driven more than my share of compact crossovers – not to mention supercars, pickups, body-on-frame SUVs, and luxury sedans.

The 2017 Countryman is a fine crossover for the average small family or empty nester.

In a vacuum from its fellow Mini brethren, the 2017 Countryman is a fine crossover for the average small family or empty nester. Its well sorted on the road and rides surprisingly nice despite is shortish wheelbase. Bumps are soaked up well and road noise is kept to a hush. There’s no wind noise to speak of. The steering is properly weighted, having a bit of heft but not being too burdensome in tight maneuvers. And thanks to the Mini’s All4 all-wheel-drive system, there is no torque steer.

See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Interior
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See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Interior
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Power is on the short side. Behind those iconic bug-eye headlights is BMW’s 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder. In this application, it makes 134 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 162 pound-feet of torque at 1,250 rpm. Despite those numbers, the little turbo-three feels very torquey down low, obviously thanks to peak torque coming just off idle. This makes for reasonably quick get-aways from a stop light and good response from throttle jabs.

The little turbo-three feels very torquey down low, obviously thanks to peak torque coming just off idle

However, the steam runs out as the revs climb. 134 horsepower just isn’t much in a 3,543-pound vehicle with AWD. Naturally, Mini has tailored the Countryman to sip fuel rather than blast around a racetrack. (That’s that the Cooper S and JCW versions are for.) The eight-speed automatic transmission tries its best to keep revs low. Shifts some slowly and smoothly. Even in Sport mode, the transmission is lazy. The throttle response is definitely the biggest change.

See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Exterior
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Body roll is reasonably controlled, too, and the Countryman feels stable once the suspension plants itself in a corner. Push it hard and the all-season 255/50R18 Pirelli Cinturato P7 tires give way to understeer. The Countryman’s All4 AWD system delivers 100 percent of engine power to the front wheels in normal conditions. Start turning, and the system automatically delivers torque to the rear axle to prevent a loss of control. Should the roads get slippery and the front tires lose all grip, the rear axle can receive 100 percent of the engine’s power – all without the driver having to do anything. Make no mistake though – the Countryman All4 is no Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and trails should be chosen wisely.

Everyday Life

See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Interior
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Thanks to the Countryman’s larger size, its pretty easy to live with. The front seats provide plenty of room, especially in the headroom department. The hip-point is great for those who might have trouble getting in and out of low- or high-riding vehicles. The outward visibility is spectacular thanks to the sweeping windshield and large side glass. Even the side mirrors offer a good view backwards – a thankful feature since my tester lacked blind spot monitoring.

There is 15.8 cubic feet behind the second row and 49 cubic feet with the 40/20/40-split rear seats folded flat

Loading kiddos in the back is easy, too, thanks to light doors a five-year-old has no issue opening and seatbelt buckles that easily accommodate a booster seat. There’s no center armrest, but Mini does give rear passengers two air vents. Rear cargo room is relatively spacious. There is 15.8 cubic feet behind the second row and 49 cubic feet with the 40/20/40-split rear seats folded flat. There’s even a nice spot for smaller items under the false floor in the cargo area.

The Cost

See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Exterior
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See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Exterior
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The Countryman starts at $26,600 and my tester cost $36,550. Check every option box (and there are a LOT – 10 million, Mini claims) and a 2017 Countryman JCW can cost upwards of $45,000.

Conclusion

See How The 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Drives High Resolution Exterior
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The 2017 Countryman All4 might be a Mini, but it’s no as Mini as it used to be. There’s more than one way to take that statement – both in regards to its larger size and in relation to its new underpinnings shared with the BMW X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer. Nevertheless, the second-generation Countryman is by far the most practical Mini for the average American family, unless they’re navigating narrow alleyways of some crowded city. Then, perhaps, this Mini might have outgrown itself. In all other cases, the Countryman seems like a good fir for a family wanting a quirky, interesting ride with some British pop culture and German engineering baked in.

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