Sir Alec Issigonis, the man responsible for the original Mini, surely never anticipated a Mini crossover SUV. Even so, he may have begrudgingly approved of BMW’s first crack at the Countryman variant, which, for all of its faults, drove like a plus-size Mini Cooper. The all-new Countryman, though, moves the needle even further away from the original Mini ethos.
Longer and heftier, the newest model trades its predecessor’s lithe agility for an added sense of refinement. If the previous Countryman was an engorged Mini Cooper Hardtop, then the redesigned Countryman is a shrunken BMW X1.
No surprise, then, that the new Countryman sits on the same platform that underpins the X1 (as well as the wagonlike Mini Clubman). Dubbed UKL2, the Countryman’s chassis is stiff, imbuing the $28,950 all-wheel-drive crossover with a solid foundation that similarly priced competitors lack. No doubt, the Countryman is competent. It simply no longer drives like a Mini.
The Cooper Countryman very much looks the part of a Mini. Oversize headlights and taillights, a distinct grille design, and a two-tone paint scheme instantly identify the Countryman as a product of the British brand. From the driver’s seat, though, we missed the light and tossable dynamics that have defined the brand since it reentered the market at the beginning of the century. That first “new” Mini was much bigger than the original, but it nevertheless drove small. This new Countryman moves with the heavy-handed stoicism of a BMW SUV. On the whole, this isn’t a bad thing, as the Cooper Countryman tracks down the road with the security of a bigger vehicle while maintaining a sense of driving engagement.
Take the Cooper Countryman to your favorite back road and its precise, well-weighted steering is happy to tell you when front-end grip has been exceeded. Fortunately, grip is relatively plentiful, as the Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Run Flat tires that came with our test car’s optional ($750) 18-inch wheels stuck to our 300-foot skidpad at a respectable 0.85 g. Still, the Countryman’s demure demeanor differs from other Mini models.
Other options on our test car included a $500 coat of Light White paint, a pair of $300 Sport seats—plus another $750 for leather-and-cloth upholstery that also applies to the back seat and door panels—and $250 worth of black headliner (gray is standard). Other costs include $300 for satellite radio with a one-year subscription, $500 for rear-window privacy glass, and $250 for the Mini Excitement package, which adds ambient interior lighting and puddle lamps mounted on the underside of the exterior mirrors that project the Mini logo onto the ground. All told, our test car wore an as-tested price of $34,800.
Regardless, the 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman trades the brand’s dynamic duende for advancements in refinement and practicality. It’s a deal with the devil that makes the Cooper Countryman a lackluster Mini but a better subcompact crossover, even if it’s a tad sluggish for our taste.