Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 10, 2017
Back by popular demand is the largest of the MINIs, the Countryman. First introduced back in 2010, it was the premium brand’s first entry into the compact crossover segment. With a jacked up suspension, raised seating position, and available all-wheel drive, it was an instant favourite among couples and young families.
When we drove it a few years ago, we adored the Countryman’s quirky styling, powerful four-cylinder engine, and go-kart steering. However we couldn’t help but notice its jarring ride, cramped rear seats, and lack of actual storage space, especially when you compare it to roomier competitors like the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, BMW X1, and Audi Q3.
MINI is back with its second-generation Countryman for the 2017 model year, and in an effort to build on customer feedback, they have made it larger and more family-friendly than ever before. You may not realize it from the photographs, but the Countryman has grown 170 mm in length, with 74 mm of that going right to the wheelbase. As a “bro” from the gym would say, “those are massive gains, yo.”
That gives the Countryman nearly BMW X1-sized dimensions – not surprising since they both share the same front-wheel drive platform. There is more usable interior space, and most of it went to the rear seats – I stand six-feet tall and I can now sit behind myself comfortably now.
Though my knees do slightly grace the front seatback (which has a dedicated alcove that creates some extra room for the knees), headroom and space to wiggle around are quite phenomenal for the Countryman’s small stature, a first for the brand. The rear seats now have the ability to slide fore and aft, and are foldable too, allowing you to pull the seats flat for extra cargo space, which is up by 30%. A rear center armrest is optional too.
The interior isn’t as cramped as before and still manages to feel airy and premium. The ergonomics are better, the center console is wider, USB sockets are in convenient areas, and there are wider storage pockets. Though there is a fair amount of plastic, MINI hides it tastefully by surrounding it with softer materials.
The influence of BMW technology is more than apparent, however unique MINI switchgear and airplane-inspired toggles provide a different vibe. The ability to light up the cabin with the colour of your choice helps as well, and the screen finally supports touch feedback.
The MINI Yours sport leather steering wheel is unique to the Style Package ($650) and uses a softer and slightly thicker leather wrap than the standard example. There are also more piano black coverings with contrasting aluminum-coloured stitching on the inner circumference. My hand felt snug and conformed holding it in any position – I just wish it came with a heated option. This is a premium car after all.
The only other complaints I had were the uncomfortable headrests that tilt heavily forward towards the driver – you can’t adjust them fore and aft either, only up and down. I like to sit fairly straight when I drive, so I’m forced to hunch my neck – I ended up swapping it with the rear seat’s adjustable one, which was much more comfortable. The seats are also a bit tough despite being leather wrapped. They seem to be accommodated towards slimmer body shapes – larger folks at the waist might feel cramped from the side bolsters.
Interior expansion came without any real disruption to exterior design. The Countryman still looks like, a Countryman, just with cleaner lines, tapered proportions, and a larger rear window. An imaginative eye could even visualize a mix of Fiat 124 Spider in the front and 500X in the back.
Nevertheless, key features of the Countryman are still there, like the roof rails, broad shoulders, and body cladding that make it look somewhat “off-roadable.” The front fascia on S models still wear what some might call a “frowny face” too, making this MINI look like its out for a vengeance, even more so with those rally stripes.
I never admired the Countryman’s pudgy look before, and I still don’t. To me it’s always been the ugly child of the MINI family, but it slowly grew on me the more I sat there and stared at it. It doesn’t have those weird purple LED headlights either like the regular MINI Cooper. Perhaps the Countryman is an acquired taste but if you ask me, the rear quarter angle looks the best, especially with those sleek 18-inch JCW wheels.
Where the front-wheel drive platform felt unwelcome in the BMW X1, it feels right at home in the Countryman. The MINI embraces it and its methods of elongation have made the ride much better than the outgoing Countryman. It no longer bumps and crashes into potholes, and still hugs the road to keep the fun factor alive.
The Countryman rides really well actually – undulating roads are less intrusive to the ride quality and there’s an overall sense of structural refinement, which we found lacking before.
Even though the Countryman is considered more of a small crossover than a hatchback, it corners like the latter. The MINI tips and dives around bends with just a quick turn of the wheel and it oozes with hot-hatch attitude, despite the high seating position.
The Countryman hides its weight well, and the magic of its suspension translates that extra heft into just a bit more body roll. The tight and communicative steering keeps you at one with the road, and sheer amount of grip is impressive, even with these Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires equipped. The FWD-bane of understeer still shows itself when you push the Countryman beyond its limits, and the brakes aren’t very linear, springy in fact under application, but these factors hardly hinder the overall excellent driving experience.
The Countryman S receives the carried over 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, and it burbles like any other turbo-four – think WRX. Turbo lag isn’t too noticeable, and there is plenty of torque in the mid-range when overtaking is required. It becomes lethargic however if you demand it to sprint from zero, as it runs out of breath pretty quickly. 0-100 km/h comes in 7.2 seconds. The 8-speed transmission keeps up with quick upshifts, but doesn’t always select the right gear when downshifting through a hard corner.
Non-S Countryman models will receive the turbocharged three-cylinder (134 hp, 162 lb-ft), and for the first time can be paired with ALL4 (all-wheel drive). Though I haven’t driven the Countryman with that engine, I’m pretty sure that the three-pot will feel underpowered and underwhelming lugging around this mini-ute. The four-pot seems like the way to go, and MINI expects it to be their volume seller as well.
Also of note is a plug-in hybrid variant of the Countryman coming June 2017, which will use the three-cylinder motor in tandem with an electric motor for a total output of 221 hp. An electronic rear axle will also enable all-wheel drive. Stay tuned for that review later in the year.
A 228-hp John Cooper Works edition will also be coming soon if you’ve got your eye on track use, but if you can’t wait you can storm through the options list and equip your Countryman S with a sport suspension, adjustable dampers, and a sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters (though a manual still comes as standard issue).
It’s what makes MINI such a premium brand – customizability. Dive into the “build and price” section on the website and you can personalize everything from the mirror cap designs to what kind of graphic you want on the roof. The choices are endless but can become a little frustrating when certain options are only allowed after selecting certain pricey packages. As a result, the dollars rack up real quickly, but how could you really resist that Union Jack headrest?
For 2017, the Countryman comes with some new and standard features, such as puddle lights displaying the MINI logo, a 6.5-inch infotainment display, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic headlights, rear-end parking sensors, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. If you do opt for the ALL4 (all-wheel drive), the list of standard equipment grows to include a rear view camera. Wireless phone charging and a larger 8.8-inch screen with a redesigned interface remain as extras.
Starting at $28,990, the Countryman is a reasonably priced sporty-ute that has grown in size but doesn’t making any sacrifices to its razor-sharp driving dynamics or quirky charm in doing so. The Countryman accounted for nearly a third of MINI sales last year, meaning its practical expansion of interior space, growing list of standard options, and individualization, should only add to its appeal.
型号 Model: 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4
顏色 Paint Type: Midnight Black Metallic ($590)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $31,990
試車售價 Price as Tested: $44,880
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,670
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,314 / 1,822 / 1,557
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,665
引擎 Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
最大馬力 Horsepower: 189 bhp @ 5,000 - 6,000 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1,350 - 4,600 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 8-speed automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 10.5 / 7.4 / 9.1
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.2
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Bridgestone Blizzak; 225/50R18