2017 Mini Countryman first drive review: a better BMW crossover?

In the burgeoning crossover world, there’s always room for one more. Enter the Mini Countryman, which is all-new for a late 2017 model year introduction. It’s a smart, focused reboot of what has become the brand’s second best-selling model. 

But success in the Mini world isn’t the same as a hit for its rivals, which nearly all sell as many compact crossovers in a month as the Countryman does in a year. Instead, the Countryman is something of a gateway to luxury, a model that straddles the line between Subaru Crosstrek and Mercedes-Benz GLA. The initial Countryman that arrived back in 2011 was something of a harbinger of things to come; it was the first Mini with four doors and the first to offer all-wheel drive.

The 2017 model carries those virtues over, but in a far more compelling and right-sized package that stretches about 8 inches longer than the outgoing model. It’s still quirky in its own way, with an over-styled interior and an options catalog that’ll take you days to sort through. Yet the Countryman feels far more grown up, with good room for four adults and a couple of suitcases and no dilution of the brand’s characteristically zippy handling and nimble feel.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Mini Clubman first drive review

It looks like a marginally more bloated version of its predecessor, but the latest Countryman hides its extra sheetmetal well. Inside, it remains kitschy, but soft touch materials are found everywhere and the eight upholstery choices range from leatherette to a thickly woven cloth all the way up to hides that wouldn’t be out of place in, well, a BMW. 

Underneath, the Countryman rides on front-wheel drive architecture shared with the Mini Clubman and BMW X1. It’s safe to say that the Countryman is something like a tall-riding Clubman, yes, but what’s surprising is that it’s more of an ultimate driving machine than the Bimmer. All three share the same choice of 3- and 4-cylinder turbocharged engines (although the American X1 is 4-banger-only), rated at 134 and 189 horsepower here in base and Countryman S configurations, and there’s a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. 

The Countryman is also available with a staggeringly wide range of transmissions: a 6-speed manual is standard and, depending on the engine and drive wheels, there’s a 6-speed automatic and a pair of 8-speed automatics on offer. Later, a zippier Countryman John Cooper Works will be on offer, as will a plug-in hybrid variant that promises performance topping that of the S plus the line’s lowest fuel consumption.

DON’T MISS: 2016 BMW X1 first drive review

Pricing starts at $ 26,950 for a base front-wheel-drive model with a stick shift, but the sky’s the limit with options—and you’re already on the hook for a $ 500 special paint charge unless you want a silver Countryman. All-wheel drive adds $ 2,000 to either the base or the S, while automatic gearboxes range from $ 1,500 to $ 1,750 depending on the model. All told, the average buyer is expected to spend somewhere in the mid-$ 30,000 range for their Countryman—but it’s possible to drop upward of $ 40,000 on one. 

Base models are pretty well equipped to start with—a panoramic roof, a proximity key, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen are standard, while an 8.8-inch touchscreen navigation system with satellite imagery is optional. S models add LED head and fog lamps, 18-inch alloy wheels, and sport seats. Unlike rivals with a mere handful of option packages, the Countryman’s customization potential is darn near endless. 

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