Mini introduced the Countryman in 2011 as its solution for folks who wanted more space (and doors) than were available on the Cooper hardtop. Over the past six years, the world of compact crossovers exploded, and the rest of the Mini fleet has grown as well. Hell, even the new Clubman dwarfed the Countryman when it debuted last year. The biggest Mini lost one of its key selling points: its size.
Mini dipped into its parent company’s lineup and borrowed BMW’s X1 platform for the new Mini. This new Countryman takes back the biggest Mini title from the Clubman, but the difference is only 1.5 inches. That means the biggest Mini ever is still 1.8 inches smaller than a current-gen Ford Focus hatchback. Despite its still small size, the new Countryman dwarfs last year’s model. The new Mini is 8.1 inches longer, 1.3 inches wider and 0.3 inch taller.
Reducing that number soup to something meaningful: The Countryman is bigger in every way, which means more space in the cabin for people. In the front, there’s no trouble stuffing my 6-foot frame behind the wheel. There is also enough space in the sliding rear seats for my knees and head.
Mini’s latest infotainment system is now nestled inside the massive illuminated circle in the center of the dash. Borrowed from parent company BMW, the media controller knob spins to select letters for typing an address into the navigation system, alternately you can write on the dial like a tiny chalkboard. It’s a cool feature, but it loses its charm after getting the letters wrong too many times.
The biggest mini to date brings much-needed updates
Mini Cooper Countryman
In base Cooper trim, a 1.5-liter turbocharged I3 sends power to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, which becomes an eight-speed automatic in All4 trim. With only 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque on tap, this all-wheel-drive cruiser isn’t very quick, but it is one of the more fun crossovers to drive. Acceleration is linear from the three pot and quick enough to get into trouble. The six-speed is crisp with good feedback on engagement. The engine does run out of steam in sixth, but dropping a gear to pass on the interstate isn’t a problem.
In Cooper S trim, you’ll gain an extra piston and displace another 0.5 liter. The 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 sends 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque through a similar selection of transmissions – a six-speed manual, an eight-speed automatic or an eight-speed sport automatic. Springing for the sport version of the Aisin-assembled automatic will net you flappy paddles, a different tune and a launch control system. It’ll also net you stronger parts because Aisin built it to withstand the launch control’s shock. That said, the regular eight-speed shifts surprisingly quick and does a better job than expected.
In terrible conditions like snow, the All4 all-wheel-drive system is as effective as any. With all-season tires, I had no trouble getting traction while climbing the snow-clad roads of Mount Hood. Snow tires would still make braking and steering more effective, but you won’t find yourself spinning your tires fruitlessly in the frigid winter months.