If you’re considering buying a MINI, be warned – they’re quirky.
From the bug-eyed, smiley-face looks and squat stance, to the multi-coloured ring that surrounds the centre stack and the whimsical sounds of the buckle-up reminder chime, MINIs are a breed apart when it comes to small cars.
But the brand’s unique character, which got a new lease on life when it was reborn as a part of the BMW Group in the early 2000s, is one of the reasons many find MINI so appealing – you will stand out behind the wheel.
And you’ll enjoy a car that’s a heck of a lot of fun to drive too, as I discovered recently when I spent a week driving a British racing green MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4, a model that was completely redesigned for 2017.
Powering the Cooper S Countryman is a 2.0-litre TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 192 horsepower and 207 lb-ft. of torque. Two gearboxes are available, a standard six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive (ALL4, in MINI parlance) is standard across the model range.
As mentioned, 2017 marks a new generation for the Countryman, and the nameplate has grown considerably. The ’17 model is 204 mm longer, 33 mm wider, 4 mm shorter than its predecessor, and rides on a wheelbase that is 75 mm longer. The increased size has also added a few kilos to the Countryman’s waistline – the ’17 model is 190 kg (418 lb.) heavier than the ’16.
Power output from the 2.0L turbo four has been upped significantly (11 hp / 40 lb-ft.) with the model change to help offset the bigger dimensions and, despite having an extra 400-plus pounds to lug around, performance numbers have been improved. The ’17 model has a 0-100 km/h time (7.2 seconds) that is a full second faster than the ’16, and with a top speed (221 km/h) that is 16 km/h quicker.
While I didn’t perform any testing of my own, I can verify that the new Countryman is indeed a quick car, in all three driving modes (Mid, Sport and Green). You’ll have no trouble darting through traffic in this car – it’s ready to launch out of any parking space or away from any stop light without hesitation. Don’t be fooled by its cutesy looks – this car is all business when it comes to going fast. More on that in a moment.
On the inside, the Countryman is spacious thanks to its boxy, upright profile and hatchback body style. I found head, knee and legroom to be quite voluminous for a small car in both the front and rear seating areas. The 40/20/40 rear folding seat backs make weekend getaways and shopping trips to IKEA a pain-free experience thanks to total cargo volume that has been increased to 1,390 litres (220L more than the previous model).
My only gripe with here is with the fabric straps used for folding the seats down, which feel a bit chintzy. I think plastic release tabs at the top of the seatbacks is a better solution, but I acknowledge the MINI straps work fine.
In terms of content, BMW Canada has loaded my tester to the max. I’m not sure how many check boxes went unticked when this vehicle was ordered, but surely few options were left out. Among the many extras (full list below) on my tester are automatic climate controls, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, leather seating, LED headlights and foglights, navigation, head-up display and 19-inch wheels.
With all that stuff included, this small car quickly generates a big price tag. Checking in at just under $50K before taxes and licensing seems a bit steep to me, despite the car’s undeniable fun factor. Looking at this option list, I’d delete at least half of it were I spending my own money, but there’s no denying the extras make the Countryman a pretty sweet ride.
Speaking of the ride, the Countryman is a delight to drive. Throttle response is snappy in all three modes, and downright twitchy in Sport. The suspension damping is firm, but not back-breaking and it gives the car an ‘on rails', go-kart kind of feel. While my tester is an automatic, it does come with a manual mode for those seeking to wind the 2.0L turbo four out a bit before upshifting.
Perhaps what is most appealing about the Countryman is that it’s not punishing in the way so many other ‘hot hatch’ types are away from the track. It’s always ready for a spirited drive on any two-lane road you point it down, but is equally at home as a daily driver. Add AWD and higher ground clearance to the mix, and the Countryman really is a car for all seasons, which is not something that can be said of many performance cars sold in Canada.
As I said at the outset, MINI is unapologetically quirky. It’s a brand designed to stand out, with its cheekiness on full display. But that's not the full story. While the glow ring and rocker switches in the centre stack in the Countyman are a little weird, and the motorcycle-style instrument cluster might be a little too on the nose, and it surely isn’t cheap – even when modestly optioned – it is also well-engineered, practical and a hell of a lot of fun to drive.
And as the British might say, cheers to that.
SPECIFICATIONS – 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $31,990 / $49,875 (incl. $2,245 destination)
FINAL ASSEMBLY: Oxford, England
ENGINE: 2.0L TwinPower turbocharged 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 192 hp @ 5,000 – 6,000 rpm
TORQUE: 207 lb-ft. @ 1,350 – 4,600 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 1,665 kg
CONFIGURATION: front engine, all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 10.5 / 7.4 / 9.1
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES: Buick Encore Essence, Fiat 500X, Kia Soul SX Turbo Tech, Mazda CX-3 GT,
Loaded Package ($1,800)
Auto dimming interior mirror
Electric seats w/driver memory
Storage compartment package
Automatic climate control
Essentials Package ($1,450)
Heated front seats
Centre armrest in rear
Adjustable rear seats
Front fog lights
Adjustable rear seats
LED Lights Package ($1,400)
Wired Navigation Package ($1,000)
MINI Connected XL
Wireless charging with extended Bluetooth and USB
Style Package ($650)
MINI Yours Sport leather steering wheel
Chrome line interior
Chrome line exterior
Interior trim piano black (replaced with Mini Yours interior style noted below)
Accessories and / or Stand Alone Options
Leather chester interior ($2,250)
Automatic transmission ($1,500)
MINI head-up display ($750)
19-inch edged spoke wheels (19x8) & Bridgestone Potenza (P225/45R19) tires ($750)
British racing green metallic paint ($590)
Alarm system ($500)
Park assistant ($500)
Dynamic damper control ($500)
Sirius XM radio tuner ($450)
MINI ALL4 exterior styling ($500)
Anthracite roof liner ($250)
Total – $14,840
Photography by Lee Bailie