The all-new 2017 MINI Countryman is the biggest MINI ever made. That's not saying a whole lot, though, as the Countryman is still about 10 inches shorter than many competing compact SUVs. So buyers in Portland will appreciate the easy parking and deft narrow-lane capabilities of the Countryman, while still getting a very versatile and capable small SUV.
The basic Countryman comes with a 3-cylinder, 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that is related to the power plant of the exotic BMW i8 sports car. At least the engine block is mostly the same. But the little 3-banger produces a healthy 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. If you spring for the upgraded Cooper S version, there's a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine good for 189 horsepower ad 207 pound-feet. You'll have to wait for the John Cooper Works hot rod, however, but it is rumored to have up to 228 horses and 258 pound-feet at the ready.
Portland buyers may find the forthcoming plug-in hybrid version of the Countryman to be the most interesting. The hybrid is projected to have 221 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque – which could make it the sportiest Countryman you can buy. MINI says the hybrid is expected to arrive later this year.
One nice thing about the MINI Countryman is that it's one of very few SUVs that you can get with a 6-speed manual transmission and all-wheel-drive. If you prefer an automatic, FWD models get a 6-speed while AWD models get an 8-speed unit. Mini's ALL4 is a capable Haldex-based on-demand AWD system.
The new Countryman really is new — the only parts that are the same as the 2016 model are the wheel center caps, according to MINI. The new SUV is 9 inches longer and generally larger than its predecessor in most dimensions. It's comfortable inside, with easy controls and a few trademark MINI touches like a tachometer that is built around the large center-dash display. The tach indicates your engine speed with colored lights that stream around the display in a nifty effect.
I drove the Countryman on one of our wettest late-winter days, and we even found some snow up near Rhododendron. The Countryman was riding on some all-season (but mostly summer) tires that weren't really designed for snow or our deep puddles, so the ALL4 system and the traction and stability controls got a workout. The MINI performed very well, and it's a great choice for hitting the mountain in winter.
The best thing about the 2017 MINI Countryman is that you're getting BMW quality and features at a much more attractive price. If you buy the top Cooper S All4, you're looking at $31,950 including fees. If you're shopping for a luxury compact crossover SUV, the Countryman really merits your consideration.
2017 MINI Countryman
Base price: $26,950
Price as tested: $31,950
Type: Compact SUV
Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder (134 hp, 162 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6 speed manual, 6- or 8-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 22/32
Road noise: Average
Curb weight: 3,629 pounds
Final assembly: Born, Netherlands