The all-new 2017 Mini Countryman is a convincing compact SUV, one with class and charisma. And in top-spec diesel all-wheel-drive form, it's quick and charming, too.
It’s ironic, really. Who would have thought that perhaps the best Mini model yet would be the most anti-Mini model there is? That’s the case for the 2017 Mini Countryman SD All4, though.
Yes, that’s what I said: a diesel-powered all-wheel-drive family-friendly SUV might just be the most convincing Mini on the market. Weird. But entirely justifiable, based on our week with the flagship Countryman SD All4.
When I say flagship, you need to know this model has a price tag that certainly isn’t mini. It starts at $51,500 plus on-road costs, putting it not that far away from the BMW X1 with which it shares plenty. Read the full 2017 Mini Countryman pricing and specs story.
The platform and drivetrains (to a degree) are common to the BMW and Mini, and indeed you may find yourself thinking that, if you’re going to spend so much, why not get the BMW badge instead? Well, you wouldn’t be getting a Mini, for one… Um. Yeah.
But you’re getting the most feature-rich Mini for that sort of cash, where you’d otherwise be getting a base model front-drive X1. Anyway, the Countryman SD All4 gets you plenty of stuff for your spend, mirroring what you get in the petrol-powered Cooper S.
The standard kit list includes a rear-view camera (which wasn’t available on any spec of Countryman before), front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry with smart key and trigger start, an electric tailgate with foot-operated opening and closing for when you hands are full, and Mini projector puddle lights.
Further to that the SD All4 model has LED headlights with auto high-beam lighting, 18-inch wheels, twin exhaust pipes, and safety/convenience items like adaptive cruise control and low-speed autonomous emergency braking.
It’s pretty comprehensively decked out, then, and it feels more primo than ever before inside, too.
Usually you get cloth/leather trim on the seats, but ours were covered in optional ($1900) Chester Leather in British Oak – because Mini – and it also had that brown trim on the dash and doors, as well as the seemingly mandatory and somewhat naff ambient lighting that you can change to suit your tastes. There’s no brown lighting option, but we loved the feel it gave the cabin at night.
The media system is a pleasure to use, but that partly came down to the fact our car was fitted with the Multimedia Pro pack ($2400) with its more premium 8.8-inch screen rather than the standard 6.5-inch unit as well as the addition of a head-up display (HUD) and a Harman Kardon stereo system with 12 speakers. There’s a speed limit recognition thing that pops up on the HUD, which is a bit dumb at times – it’ll pick up all the signs, whether they’re for truck speed limits (60km/h limit down a steep hill, for example) or on the backs of buses (40km/h sign for school zones).
While it lacks the latest in-car tech of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it has DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, voice control, satellite navigation, and a very handy iDrive-derived rotary dial controller. There’s only one USB port and an auxiliary jack.
One thing that annoyed me during my time with the car was the lack of an auto-dimming rear-view mirror – it’s still one of those toggle units, and it’s a long reach from the driver’s seat even for long-limbed specimens like yours truly. Another qualm to consider is the manual seat adjusters (yep, not electric, even at this price): the handles on the fronts of the seats sit a long way proud of the seat, meaning you might brush your calf muscle on it. But you could always pull out the adjustable under-thigh extension to keep your knees further forward. You can option electric seat adjustment and seat heating if you need to.
Space is great, which is sooooooo weird to say, when you consider the brand name. This new-gen Countryman is 200 millimetres longer than its predecessor at 4300mm, and most of that space betterment comes in the back seat and cargo area.
There are standard-fit 40/20/40 folding rear seats that both slide (up to 130mm) and recline – which was a big plus for my passengers, who found the seats to be quite firm. At least laying back a bit helped on the comfort front. And it goes without saying that this hot version of the Countryman is a five-seater – trivia point of the day: the original Countryman Cooper S had four seats before they realised how silly that was.
For parents – this car is totally a viable option for them – there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and top-tether restraints, too, and along with all the electronic safety stuff there are six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain) fitted.
I don’t have kids, but I have short parents, and I spent a few days ferrying them around. Aside from seat firmness there were no other issues: the rear-seat vents were handy, and the space, they said, was excellent (I decided to get back there and see if a six-foot frame fit fine, and it did – there’s amazing rear seat legroom, and terrific head-room, too).
The cargo space is a very handy 450 litres, and the added practicality of the way the seats fold down means it is a pragmatic family car option. The boot features shopping bag hooks, an elastic side strap to keep the milk from falling over, and a mesh net. Cabin storage is clever, too, with big door pockets, a decent sized glovebox, cup holders where you’d expect them to be and enough loose-item stowage.
This high-spec diesel version of the Countryman is just a single kilowatt less powerful than the petrol Cooper S, with 140kW at its disposal, but a whopping 400Nm of torque (120Nm more than the petrol range-topper). This 2.0-litre diesel model is only available with all-wheel-drive (as the All4 denotes), and it’s an on-demand system that works by way of an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Drive is primarily sent to the front wheels, but the rears can be called to action if the conditions require it – slippery roads or harder driving, for example.
Mini claims a 0-100km/h time of 7.4 seconds, which isn’t as hot as you might expect for a monster Mini, but in real life it’s brisk enough to make short work of keeping up with (and passing) traffic. The other important measure – fuel use – is claimed at 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres, and my week of driving saw a return of 7.2L/100km, with four adults on board a lot of the time.
The drivetrain is a peach. Not literally, obviously, but it is super quiet on the freeway, and offers great refinement under acceleration. With eight gears at its disposal and so much torque, it isn’t as busy as you may expect, holding gears and allowing the low- to mid-range pulling power haul it from A to B. The shifts are smooth around town or at speed, too, and only once or twice during a week of driving did I think that it could have done something different.
There are three drive modes – Sport, Mid and Eco – that adjust the gearbox shift points, throttle mapping and steering resistance, and we spent the vast majority of time in the Mid setting. The steering is quite numb in Sport mode, just too heavy really, and Eco is a bit of a Euro gimmick.
Sport mode allows freer revving of the engine, and the reward in terms of response is clear and present. It revs a little more gruffly at idle, too.
In our car the modes also changed the optional Dynamic Damper Control suspension, a $700 option, which seems to be worth every cent, particularly if you’re optioning 19-inch wheels with the Pirelli Cinturato P7 225/40 run-flat rubber like ours had (another $1000 – the point: this car was heavily optioned). The standard rims are 18s.
It is properly grippy in the corners as a result. It should be, being a Mini, and that trademark ‘go-kart’ feel is there, although perhaps not to the extent it is in the regular Mini Cooper hatch. The steering can be a little twitchy on centre, but the wheel twirls with accuracy and directness, offering feel to the driver’s hands and brilliant control at pace in the bends.
On regular roads, including pockmarked country tracks, the ride is on the firm side but still very well controlled, while road joins and sharp edges tend to upset it at lower speeds, due in part to the stiff sidewalls of the run-flat tyres. It’s not the quietest SUV out there, particularly on coarse-chip roads, so keep that in mind if you’re considering optioning up the bigger rims.
Mini covers its models with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and buyers can opt for a pre-paid service pack for their car that spans five years/80,000km, whichever occurs first. That plan costs $1240 and is based on the brand’s condition-based service – the car will tell you when it thinks it needs maintenance.
We said at the outset, this big Mini could be the best model in the range right now. It comes at a cost, but it commands it with a nice blend of performance and luxury, without losing its innate Mini-ness.
Click the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Mini Countryman below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.