When you first get into the MINI, you may feel as if you’re in a dorm room on wheels. The design is fun and funky and things are laid out a bit differently than in many vehicles.
The five-passenger MINI Cooper Countryman gets a makeover for the 2017 model year, with better handling and a nicer cabin. The infotainment system also gets updated. And Countryman is nine inches longer so there’s a bit more space for passengers and cargo.
The MINI Cooper Countryman is available with front- and all-wheel-drive and in several trims: Cooper, Cooper ALL4, Cooper S, Cooper S ALL4, and John Cooper Works ALL4. Starting prices range from $26,100 to $31,100. The MINI is made by BMW so you’ll pay more for this subcompact SUV than most other competitors. However, it’s still less than the cheapest offering from BMW, the X1, which starts at $33,100.
The standard engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that makes 134 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmission are available. My tester has the 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine that makes 189 hp and 207 lb.-ft. of torque, paired with the manual transmission.
The Cooper S has quick acceleration from a stop and good get-up-and-go at higher speeds. There are three driving modes: Sport, Green and Mid, which is a good blend of the other two modes. You may forget that you’re driving a larger MINI as it handles much like its smaller siblings. The ride is fairly firm and you will notice bumps and rough roads.
Fuel efficiency is below average for the class. EPA ratings for my AWD tester are 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway with a combined rating of 24. I got 26 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving. The Countryman takes premium fuel. It will soon be available as a plug-in hybrid for those who are looking for better mileage.
The interior is upgraded with lots of high quality, soft-touch materials. Passengers in both rows of seating enjoy good leg- and headroom. The round center gauge used to be a speedometer; now it’s the infotainment screen surrounded by LED lighting.
Standard features include proximity key, rearview camera, Bluetooth, panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and an infotainment system with a 6.5-inch screen. The touchscreen infotainment system is fairy intuitive, but there are a number of menus to wade through. Voice commands didn’t work particularly well; the system often misunderstood phone contact names.
The MINI has a bit less cargo space than many competitors. There are 17.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 47.6 with the back seats folded. The 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats and the MINI’s boxy shape give you flexibility in hauling passengers and cargo.
Updated interior with high quality materials
Better handling than outgoing model
Base engine could use more power
Fuel economy not great for the class
Relatively high starting price for the class
My tester starts at $31,100. Thunder Grey metallic paint is $500. Technology Package is $2,250 and adds parking assistant, MINI head-up display, MINI Connected, and real-time traffic info. SiriusXM Radio with a one-year subscription is $300. Destination charge is $850 bringing the grand total to $35,400.
The MINI Countryman is still a niche vehicle. But it handles better and offers more space than the outgoing model without compromising the quirky traits that potential MINI buyers want.