A British brand, owned by a German company, with a signature vehicle manufactured in Holland – the decidedly cosmopolitan 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman is certainly a vehicle for all seasons (and condition and segments, and markets) in more ways than one. It’s a vehicle that has come a long way, both literally and figuratively since its beginning in the Midlands of England back in the ’50s.
Twenty years ago, the idea of a Mini SUV would have generated raucous laughter whenever and wherever you were brave enough to mention it. Now, especially with the rampant success of the small SUV segment around the world, the concept isn’t just embraced, its expected.
With that in mind, CarAdvice was invited to sample the all-new, 2017 Mini Countryman, bigger – and supposedly – better than ever. Six years after the launch of the original Countryman, Mini has sold more than 550,000 around the world. So much for the scepticism then.
Miserable, rainy England in winter is pretty much the perfect surrounds in which to sample the new Countryman, and we’ve even got a sloppy, muddy off-road course at the launch program to see whether the Mini can actually deliver when the going gets a little tougher.
It’s one thing to call a Mini an SUV, but is it really? We’ll soon find out. Furthermore, England’s multitude of winding country lanes will be the perfect place to see whether this Mini nails another crucial design brief.
According to the engineers, it must drive like a Mini, handle like a Mini and feel like a Mini from behind the wheel. That’s one promise to deliver on with a three-door hatch, but quite something else from a five-door SUV.
While we don’t know local pricing and specification as yet, BMW Australia is keen to price the Countryman somewhere around the $40k mark for the start of the range, and will justify the price hike (current Mini Cooper Countryman starts from $34,150 for the 1.6 2WD before on-road costs) by adding more standard kit than the model it replaces – much more kit, according to representatives.
The biggest (no pun intended) change, is the platform that underpins the new Countryman. Previously, it sat on a stretched Mini platform not shared with anything else in that exact configuration. It meant the Countryman was in some kind of neverland between a hatch and an SUV.
Now though, the Countryman takes a confident stride into the luxury SUV segment thanks to parent company BMW. Underneath that familiar Mini exterior sits a BMW X1 platform – but this vehicle needed to be distinctly Mini. The company couldn’t risk existing owners – or conquest buyers for that matter – thinking it was anything other than a Mini.
There’s no doubt the styling is very much Mini. Our drive loop takes us out through sodden Oxfordshire, where there are plenty of current models running around and the new Countryman fits right in. The headlights, tail-lights, window lines, glass house and detail finishes all scream Mini, just as they should really when your history is based on such an iconic car. It’s a lot harder than you might think to capture the retro design brief, but in this instance, we think Mini has done a particularly good job.
Park the new Countryman next to the old and the growth is both definitive and visible. There’s no doubt from any angle, this is a bigger, longer Countryman. It’s taller too, which adds to the headroom in the cabin, and gives the Countryman more presence on the road into the bargain. The electric tailgate is an important addition in the premium segment, as is the clever bench seat that folds out from under the boot floor over the lip and gives you something to sit on when you’re out having a picnic.