Offering practicality not found in other Mini products, the Countryman is agile, yet roomy for its size. Power comes from a 121-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder, which mates to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual. All-wheel drive and a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic are both options. The S and John Cooper Works versions offer more power and all-wheel-drive options. The Countryman retains the quintessential Mini driving characteristics and quirkiness, despite its larger dimensions.
Although we rarely celebrate the work of the Grim Reaper, we will happily make an exception for the Mini Paceman. While the first generation of the Countryman crossover sold in sufficient volume to warrant development of the successor we’re driving here, its ungainly, ugly, two-door pseudo-coupe sister found more ridicule than buyers. Mini confirms that it won’t be making another Paceman, and for that we are genuinely grateful. We’d suggest burying it in a garlic-filled coffin with a stake through its heart.
The Paceman’s demise makes this new Countryman the priciest Mini, performance specials aside, with its range-cherrying purpose backed by a serious expansion in size. The first Countryman was big when compared with the bijou Mini Hardtop of the day, but it was overly compact even by compact-crossover standards. Owners and potential buyers told Mini’s customer clinicians they wanted it to be bigger and more practical. Which seems like a strange thing to hear from people in the market for a car named Mini, but it also explains why the new 2017 Countryman has grown by a significant 8.5 inches in length and 2.9 inches in wheelbase.
Yet the expansion isn’t immediately obvious when you look at it, the proportions being almost identical to the old car’s. With the exception of the added length of the rearmost side window, this second-generation Countryman looks as if it were styled with a photocopier’s scale conversion. The new Countryman retains the plastic wheel-arch cladding that automotive designers use as visual shorthand for mall-grade SUVs; its modest ground clearance precludes anything but the most gentle off-road use.
Under the surface, though, much changes. This Countryman follows the rest of the Mini clan by switching to BMW’s new front-wheel-drive architecture, specifically the UKL2 platform that also underpins the BMW X1, which is this Mini’s more strait-laced cousin.
The engine lineup won’t burden U.S. buyers since only two, both shared with other Minis, will be available initially. The entry-level Cooper employs a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder producing 134 horsepower while the Cooper S brings a 189-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four, which is basically the smaller engine with another cylinder. Europe gets diesel options including a three-cylinder, but there are no plans to bring these to America.
Familiar Outside, Different Within
The cabin is more spacious and less gloomy than its predecessor’s, with better fit and finish and genuine evidence of ergonomic planning, which is new for Mini. As in the current Hardtop, there are still some hard-to-see low-mounted toggle switches, apparently riffing on the original 1959 BMC Mini, and a fair bit of “different for the sake of being different” design. The rounded navigation screen, trimmed to fit in the circular central binnacle, is a styling cue that we suspect a middle-aged designer thought would appeal to millennials. Practical considerations get their due, though, with generous space both front and rear. The driving position is raised, as you’d expect for a crossover—it’s not quite SUV-commanding but is certainly assertive. There’s also adult-viable room in the back with wear-a-hat headspace and a respectable 18 cubic feet of luggage volume beneath the hatch with the seats in place and 48 cubes with them stowed.