In a move that’s sure to make the purists say “I told you so,” the all-new 2017 Mini Countryman is getting bigger. But for the British automaker, going big means a crossover that’s slightly larger than the Jeep Renegade and Nissan Juke. So as far as “big cars” go, it’s likely to be the smallest one on the market, even if its oversize personality outshines its compact proportions.
Set for its official introduction at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, the Countryman is getting its first major redesign since its introduction in 2010. For several years, that model ranked as the brand’s best-seller, but as it aged, its popularity began to drop off. That shouldn’t be a problem anymore; sharing its platform with the BMW X1, the Countryman is prove to be a sporty and upscale (albeit pricier) alternative to the crop of subcompact crossovers out there.
And Mini’s trademark personalization will be on full display in its new crossover. On top of myriad color, interior, and option choices, the Countryman (in Cooper and Cooper S trims) will have two engine choices and be available in both front-wheel and All4 all-wheel drive variants. Plus, for the first time ever, a plug-in hybrid will be available: the Cooper S E All4.
The redesigned crossover is 7.7 inches longer than the outgoing model, and now that it’s 1.5 inches longer and 4.6 inches taller than the Clubman wagon, it’s officially the biggest Mini, or the king of automotive oxymorons. At 3,300 pounds, it’s a little heavier than the outgoing car, but manages to be a little quicker. The BMW-designed 1.5 liter turbo-three and 2.0 liter turbo-four engines from the rest of the Mini lineup are the engines here, both backed up by either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.
The 1.5 liter three puts out 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, and will take the Countryman from zero to 60 in 9.5 seconds. The 2.0 four makes a healthy 189 horses and 207 pound-feet, taking the crossover from zero to 60 in 7.3 seconds, though with the All4 system, that number drops closer to the seven second mark.
But the performer of the group is the Cooper S E All4. The plug-in mates the 1.5 liter three to an electric motor, and is good for 221 horses and 280 pound-feet, which will take the car from zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds. Fully-charged, the hybrid can go an impressive 24 miles in all-electric mode. Recharging at an EV charging station takes just two hours, but there are compromises; using a standard 110 volt outlet will take significantly longer, and the battery pack means a raised rear seat and a smaller gas tank (9.5 gallons versus 16.1). Still, with several specialized driving modes and an increase in power, the Cooper S E should prove to be the liveliest of the bunch — just make sure you live near a charging station.
Inside, the Countryman offers a 30% increase in cargo room, as well as standard leatherette seats, a panoramic sunroof, a rear-view camera, and parking sensors. Mini’s infotainment system now features an available 8.8 inch touchscreen in the center console, a first for the brand. And like the Cooper convertible’s “Open Timer,” the crossover has a “Country Timer,” logging time spent on wet, rough, and unpaved surfaces. If you drive your Countryman through the great outdoors long enough, your car is promoted from a Street Cruiser to a Cliff Champ. We’re not sure what that means, but suddenly we’d love to be Cliff Champs. We also like the Range Rover-esque Picnic Bench option, which turns the open tailgate into a place to sit while you picnic in the idyllic countryside.
With each new model, Mini fans (and there are a lot of them) fear that the brand will lose sight of its cheap and cheerful roots. Luckily, the new Countryman is quirky enough, unique enough, and competitive enough to fit in with the rest of the Mini lineup while appealing to new buyers. The Countryman may be a little pricier than the competition (current models start at $22K and can top out near $40,000), but its upscale look, premium feel, and long list of options mean that the British crossover could soon find itself as the best-selling model in the Mini stable again. Expect more information and pricing shortly before they begin arriving at dealerships in March 2017, with the S E following in June.