Mini gets mighty update
Crossover will seat five and carry cargo, but it still maintains some signature flash
In my dreams, a Mini is the flea-sized, impetuous car you take on a country road curvy enough to have been designed by a cake decorator. The road seems to disappear under your wheels as the Mini arcs athletically from bend to bend.
Then how did I find myself loading up three hotel-lobby-sized palms in a Mini not long after I picked it up for a week’s test drive? A trip to a big-box store and not the open road – it’s a shameful confession. My perfectly acceptable excuse is, I was testdriving the 2017 Mini Countryman.
The Countryman is the biggest Mini ever built and the compact crossover comes at a premium price. Though it starts around $32,000, the Cooper S all-wheel-drive version I tested penciled out at $47,630. It is lavishly equipped and lovely to drive.
The mightiest of the Mini lineup has 30 per cent more cargo space than before, and seats five adults with adequate head and leg room. Built on the infrastructure of the BMW X1, it’s taller, longer and wider. Nuzzle it up against a three-door Mini and the difference is striking. The Countryman looks like a bruiser – though still kind of bite-sized – next to the lithe little Mini. The extra 14 centimetres of height delivers a raised driving position many drivers prefer and gives it better winter driving credentials coupled with the all-wheel-drive.
With 192 horsepower and an eight-speed automatic transmission, the Mini Countryman has no problem blowing the dust off the open road. Though one can choose to drive in Eco or Mid (normal) settings, the Sport mode suits the Countryman’s personality providing more responsive shifting and sharp handling. The ride quality is impressive and one of the Countryman’s best achievements. It wafts over the roughest roads without any harsh bucking or bobbing. Yes, it’s beefier and weighs more than before, but it never feels lethargic.
Only the steering detracted from a stellar driving experience. I found it artificial feeling, but many others praise it.
Visibility is excellent in all directions, and it’s easy to park and spin around in small spaces. However, be warned that moving the side mirrors up and down will make you think they are lubricated with molasses.
From the very comfortable driver’s seat, the Countryman displays the signature
Mini styling, youthful and gregarious, with orbs everywhere – in the centre display cluster, the instruments gauges, dials and vents. Throw in various bits of ambient mood lighting in cartoon colours, and the cabin is a cheery place to be. Throughout the interior, the fit and finish, and the feel of switches have all been upgraded from the pedestrian feel of previous models.
The nearly nine-inch touch screen occupies a lot of real estate in the centre console. It’s the command centre for the navigation system, and all your tunes and entertainment media. Choose from manual or voice control to operate it, and use the logical menu system to find what you need. The $1,000 wired navigation option also included wireless phone charging.
Ergonomics are spot on, with everything at an easy reach of the driver, including sensible knobs for volume and climate controls. These features keep driver distraction at a minimum.
Backseat passengers will appreciate being able to “tune” their seats with fore and aft and backrest adjustments, while the span of the panoramic sunroof will increase the sense of space at the rear.
When I was loading in the tropical palms, I folded the second row seats flat and lifted a section of the trunk floor to nestle the plants in securely. The cargo space is flexible. It is like a cleanly designed box with no odd obstructions. The useable cargo space increases from 450 litres to 1,390 when the seats are folded flat. These are the practical perks you get with the wider, longer and taller Mini Countryman.
When I was parking the Mini the first night, I noticed the zany LED lighting around the headlights and taillights, and the way another secret LED projected the Mini logo on the ground as the door opened. So it’s still cheeky and cheerful, even though it’s bulked up and grown up. The Countryman really is a Mini for the modern family.