2017 Mini Countryman First Drive

Think of the 2017 Mini Countryman as the brand’s “ah, to hell with it” moment. At a whopping 8.1 inches longer and 5.4 inches wider than the vehicle it replaces, it is quite obviously the least-mini Mini ever. Yet, that size increase makes it more useful, comfortable riding, and better proportioned. If a compact crossover SUV is what’s to be, then this is the size it should be.

2017 Mazda CX-5

However, it’s still quite mini for a compact SUV, coming in at 3 inches shorter than the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class and 4 inches shorter than an Audi Q3. Neither of those are what anyone would describe as “large.” And yet, the Countryman boasts a considerably more spacious and usable interior than either of them. Sit in the new Countryman’s back seat and you’ll be amazed at the space, with plenty of leg- and headroom for even tall people despite a standard panoramic sunroof. Crossovers of similar exterior dimensions, luxury or otherwise, just don’t come close to providing as much passenger space. The cargo area isn’t quite as impressive on paper, but its boxy shape and the sliding second-row seat make it far more versatile in practice.So, despite being the least-mini Mini ever, the new Countryman is still in keeping with the brand’s ethos from the very beginning when Alec Issigonis created a car that was microscopic on the outside but disproportionately spacious inside.

There’s far more to this redesign than just dimensional changes – the 2017 Countryman grows up figuratively as well. The original model always felt like a Mini Cooper hardtop that ballooned in size and door count. Compared to SUVs of similar price, and more damningly of lesser price, it was crashy, loud, a bit cheap inside, and relatively uncouth. The base model was also embarrassingly slow.

The new version feels more like a proper compact luxury SUV flavored with a robust Salt Bae of Mini spice. Actually, that’s pretty much what it is. The Countryman now shares its front-wheel-drive platform with the new BMW X1, which itself benefits from various trickle-down elements from elsewhere in the BMW Group. For instance, processes developed for the 7 Series are in part responsible for the new, stiffer structure that contributes greatly to the 2017 Countryman’s other great advancement: the exponentially better ride.That’s not the only new feature, either. Every Countryman now comes standard with a panoramic sunroof, a rearview camera, Comfort Access keyless entry/start, automatic wipers and lights (LEDs on the Cooper S), a sliding and reclining back seat, and, when all-wheel drive is selected, heated front seats. A power driver seat is finally now available as an option. That feature content helps align it better with those aforementioned compact luxury SUVs, but with the exception of the similarly priced Audi Q3, the Countryman is the better deal. A comparably equipped GLA or X1 would be about $4,000 more, give or take a few hundred dollars. The more powerful and spacious X1 may be worth that premium, but the GLA most definitely is not.

Of course, one has to question the value proposition of this entire compact luxury SUV segment. The new 2017 Mazda CX-5 is about $8,000 less expensive than a comparable Countryman S despite being considerably bigger, just as quick, and, possibly, more fun to drive.

Yet, any Mini fan will tell you there’s more to their beloved brand than just figures on a spreadsheet. And for them, the 2017 Countryman should most definitely make the grade. It’s still unmistakably a Mini, but it’s also better proportioned and no longer has the face of an angry tiki god. The driving experience remains Mini sharp, but it’s more comfortable, quiet, and refined.

So it might not be that mini, but this Mini is nevertheless a substantially better vehicle than the one it replaces and actually one of the strongest contenders in a segment that’s only going to get more popular.

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