The Mini is an iconic car with an instantly recognizable shape, and is tons of fun to drive. But when it comes to carrying gear or getting through heavy snow, the Hardtop 2-door coupe is not a practical choice. That's where the Mini Countryman comes in: 4-door, 5-passenger seating, 6.5 inches of ground clearance, available all-wheel drive, and almost 50 cu.ft. of space behind the front seats. The 2017 Countryman is all-new, with more space, better fuel economy and more refinement than the first generation. While it's more practical than the Hardtop, it still retains that car's driving spirit and style. 

Growing up and out

The second-generation Countryman is 8.1 inches longer and 5.4 inches wider than the model it replaces. It still looks an awful lot like the previous Countryman, but once you get in and start to poke around, you can appreciate the difference. The second row is much roomier, with nearly four inches more legroom, as well as more shoulder room and headroom all around. And while the cargo area is essentially the same size with the rear seats up, fold them down and there's 5.4 cu.ft. more cargo volume than in the previous Countryman. Need to fill the Mini with people, or a mix of people and gear? Its manually sliding second row can tilt, fold and recline in a 40/20/40 split. Now, you can actually sit in the second row for extended periods of time.

The interior is much more refined, with new color schemes and impressive materials quality. The cabin offers amenities like quilted leather seats, an all-new navigation system and Qi wireless charging. Even better, there is a bevy of standard equipment, including the panorama sunroof, Bluetooth, rear-view camera and parking sensors, and Countrymen with all-wheel drive come standard with seat heaters. Some Mini fans may be upset that a few key elements have been relocated. For example, the speedometer that once was the main element of the center stack is now in the more conventional spot in the gauge cluster, making room for the navigation screen. Below that, the spot where the power door lock switch used to be now holds an impressive large red toggle—the car's start/stop switch.

Still a Mini

When it comes to driving, those who want a fully practical crossover shouldn't have the same expectations as those want a Mini. Even though the new Countryman is larger and heavier, it still has the sure-footed agility for which Mini is known. We spent most of our drive in the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 equipped with the Countryman's new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and all-wheel drive. We tested the 8-speed automatic and the 6-speed manual. Both were very well-equipped, ringing in at $35,750 and $38,450 respectively,  but at those prices, neither came with the $2,000 Premium Package, which would've added power front seats and a power tailgate, among other things.

The 189-horsepower engine offers a little more horsepower than the 1.6-liter it replaces, but the most notable improvement is with low-end torque. There's now 30 more lb-ft available, and peak torque is comes at a lower rpm, the result being quicker response from a stop. Both transmissions are well-sorted with this engine, and whether you want two pedals or three, you will have plenty of fun running through the gears. (An options package will give you paddle shifters with the automatic, but there's still a manual shifting mode without them.) It gets to speed with ease, but it isn't the fastest crossover out there. Steering is nicely responsive, and while this is the heaviest Mini, it still feels plenty agile and sporty. Ride quality is smoother than in the first-gen, and the Countryman was nicely composed over potholes and road ruts. It felt planted and confident in turns. Driving in Oregon rain and snow, the new, more compact all-wheel-drive system added to the behind-the-wheel confidence: whether we drove over snow-covered roads or icy patches on the highway, the Countryman felt secure and sure-footed.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

We also spent some time in the Mini Cooper Countryman ALL4, a new model for 2017. This is the first time the Countryman with the base engine has been made available with all-wheel drive. In addition, this is the first time this model has been offered with a 3-cylinder engine. Our initial concerns about a 134-horsepower engine pushing a 3,400-pound crossover were put to rest. The turbo 1.5-liter isn't exactly fast, but it's certainly acceptable for city commuting, and getting to freeway speeds wasn't too bad. It comes with either a 6-speed manual or 6- or 8-speed automatic. When it comes to how this engine would fare with a Countryman full of passengers and gear, we are highly skeptical, as we drove it with one person aboard, and not so much as a duffel bag in the cargo area. But it has more horsepower and torque than what was offered in last year's base Countryman, and its 162 lb-ft of torque is near what last year's S model had. That the new model weighs more, with an engine with more power, and shows an improvement of four highway mpg (25 city/33 highway for the 2017 with the 1.5-liter, 25 city/29 highway mpg in 2016 with the 1.6-liter, with the automatic and front drive) is nothing to sneeze at.

Bells and Whistles

Mini buyers often march to the beat of a different drummer. A large percentage of them tend to customize their Minis, and as a brand Mini has a higher manual-transmission take rate than others. That's still the case for the Countryman, which is why you can get a manual in every model except the front-drive Cooper S, and why there are millions of possible ways to build a Mini. The new Countryman is available as the base Cooper, starting at $26,950, as well as the Cooper ALL4, Cooper S and Cooper S ALL4. When the John Cooper Works ALL4 arrives, it's expected to start at near $39,000. A plug-in hybrid version will also join the lineup this summer, but pricing hasn’t been announced. The similarly sized Audi Q3 starts at $32,750, the Mercedes-Benz GLA starts at $33,775 and Infiniti's QX30 starts at $30,945. While the Countryman is smaller than those models, its interior packaging makes it more spacious than its competitors. The Mini Countryman now offers the room and practicality to be more directly competitive with these models, but it's still in a category all its own.


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