They say that good things come in small packages, but what happens when a small package is somewhat inappropriate? Until the introduction of the Mini Countryman that is precisely the conundrum fans of the brand had when their families outgrew their beloved hatchback. It is now time for the all-new 2017 Mini Countryman to take up the mantle. We attended the cars global launch on our home turf, in England, to find out if bigger really is better.
Let’s address the most controversial topic from the beginning. This is not a small car. In fact it is 20cm longer than the outgoing model of which hardcore fans claimed was already too big. The simple fact of the matter is that Mini is no longer about one car. It is an ethos, a design language, a philosophy. If Mini still built one tiny little car from the 60’s it would be out of business by the middle of next week. In my eyes the Countryman allows those who need more practicality to continue enjoying the things they love about Mini.
Now a fully fledged C-Segment SUV, the 2017 Mini Clubman in Cooper S trim certainly looks more grown up than its “cute” predecessor. A more rugged visage has been applied using plastic cladding, a raised ride hight, and a more squared off design. Familiar Mini traits such as those rounded headlights and even the step in the roof from the old model are retained. Our test car looked sharp in its contrasting black and white scheme, and the addition of bonnet stripes and sporty bumpers further builds its character. Unmistakably a Mini, the new Country takes this model to a new more premium level. Those roof rails also come standard across the range.
The interior continues this highly polished theme with a wealth of soft touch materials lining the dashboard and doors. New vertical vents gives the Countryman its own identity along with a bespoke interior lighting arrangement. A wide touchscreen infotainment display houses the Mini equivalent of iDrive of which is the most ergonomic in almost any car. A slicker interface makes it pleasing to the eye and the touch input is supplemented by a scroll wheel. The heated leather seats in our Cooper S provided ample support thanks to their bolstering. This cars increased length is notable for rear passengers as legroom for the outmost occupants is plentiful. Headroom is much the same. The middle passenger does have to contend with a transmission tunnel, but the rear bench redeems itself by being able to slide and adjust. Open the tailgate to reveal a wide opening and 450 litres of boot space. Fold those seat flat, something that can be done individually for all three, and that expands to 1,390 litres. A nice little feature is Mini’s “picnic bench” which is a little cushion type arrangement that folds out and onto the rear bumper. This is perfect to perch on and take shelter under the boot door whilst taking off muddy boots.
Under the bonnet of our 2017 Mini Countryman Cooper S is a turbocharged four cylinder engine producing 192hp and 280 Nm of torque. That performance potential is channeled to Mini’s ALL4 all wheel drive system via an 8 speed automatic transmission. 0-62 MPH comes and goes in a respectable 7.4 seconds. The inevitable bouts of rain in the UK that confronted us allowed the extra security of all wheel drive to shine through. High levels of grip enables you to exploit the Countryman’s performance even in treacherous conditions. The aforementioned gearbox is quick to respond when commanded by wheel-mounted paddles, but also competent and smooth when left to its own devices. There is a strong pull as the turbo comes into play and the exhaust emits the occasional crack and pop. Whilst the steering is not brimming with feel, the car doe retain the agility you would expect from a Mini. Body control is good for a tall car, however, the trade for this is a ride that is firmer than the competition. Around town control weights are well judged meaning that this big Mini is never a task to manoeuvre. Visibility is also pretty good, but the reversing camera may come in handy for those upsizing from a smaller Mini. When it comes to the motorway the Cooper S has enough grunt to banish dawdlers to the rear view mirror. A Cooper D is also available, and due to its plentiful torque, that is the model we would recommend for regular trips up the M4.
The 2017 Mini Countryman is a real step-up from the car it replaces. Costing from £22,465 the Mini is still a premium choice, but it is unique and certainly makes a statement in the carpark. It might not be the most engaging car in the range to drive, but that Mini DNA has an undeniable charm. For those who have always desired a Mini but could never justify it due to needing more space, the Countryman is your answer.