The second-generation Mini Countryman has arrived, now built off an all-new platform with all-new engines, transmissions and all-wheel drive, as well (compare the 2016 and 2017 models here). It’s bigger, more refined, more spacious and more powerful than ever, but now that the Countryman has a lot more premium competition, can it still command a premium price?
Despite sharing not a single body panel with the outgoing Countryman, the new one looks every bit a Mini. The front end has new taillights and the traditional Mini-style grille, while a taller greenhouse lets in more light compared with the old model and its higher beltline. The biggest change comes in back, where the previous Countryman’s horizontal taillights have been reoriented and now look like larger versions of those seen on Mini Cooper’s hatchback hardtop cars. The differences are subtle but make for a cleaner, less awkward design.
What’s not subtle is how the Countryman has grown over the outgoing model — more than 8 inches in length and more than an inch in width. That has led to a much bigger rear seat area and class-leading headroom, but a seating position that’s more than 5 inches higher than the comparably sized Mini Clubman four-door. As with the rest of the Mini lineup, customizable options are practically boundless, from color combinations and stripes to special theme packages. Mini hasn’t lost its versatility in making a new model exactly how you want it.
Acceleration: Scant or Punchy
Two versions of the Countryman are available initially: the base model Cooper and the more powerful, sportier Cooper S. A high-performance John Cooper Works model arrives in April, and a plug-in hybrid will arrive in June. The base engine in the Cooper trim is a turbocharged, 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine making a worryingly scant 134 horsepower and 162 pounds-feet of torque. It’s mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. If you opt for the All4 all-wheel-drive option (newly available for the base Cooper, not just the Cooper S), that engine comes only with the eight-speed automatic.
The Cooper’s three-cylinder engine sounds pretty terrific. It’s a growly little mill that isn’t afraid to rev but never sounds thrashy or stressed. In around-town driving, it provides plenty of low-end torque to get you off the line, but put your foot to the floor and the Countryman runs out of steam fairly quickly. To its credit, it never stopped pulling — even on a long uphill grade with two big gentlemen onboard — while passing a semi. But for the enthusiasts out there, the Cooper S is the way to go.
That model features a new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making a more robust 189 hp and 207 pounds-feet of torque. It’s also available with a six-speed manual (but only with all-wheel drive) or eight-speed automatic (front- or all-wheel drive). There’s even a sport automatic eight-speed that adds flappy paddle shifters on the steering wheel, plus more robust, heavier-duty internal components, electronic launch control and more aggressive shifting behavior for faster acceleration. When launch control is engaged, Mini Cooper says the Countryman Cooper S can reach 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. The Countryman’s brakes are soft on initial pedal application, but the more you dig into them, the progressively harder they work and the more confident they feel.
The Cooper S feels much quicker than the Cooper, with acceleration punch both around town and out on the highway that is truly addicting. Pop the mode selector into Sport and everything gets even more fun, with a different shift program, firmer steering, different suspension settings and better accelerator response that turns the compact crossover into a tossable, snarling little beast.
Yet despite all that aggressive attitude, both trim levels feature an astonishingly well-damped ride. Bumps are registered and broken pavement is revealed, but no unrefined, crashy disturbances get through to passengers. Road noise is another matter, but that had more to do with the terrible pebbly pavement surfaces around Portland, Ore., where I tested the cars than a lack of sound deadening in the Countryman.