2017 Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4 Review
Paul Horrell’s international launch based 2017 Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4 Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL: Mini’s crossover isn’t small any more. It’s 20cm longer than it was. Inside the emphasis is on quality, flamboyant decor and some high-tech
equipment. To drive, it’s mature, stable progress rather than fun and agility.
2017 Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4
Pricing $Not announced Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Engine 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder Power 141kW at 5000-6000rpm Torque 280Nm at 1350-4600rpm Transmission 8-speed automatic (tested) six-speed manual (standard) Drive four-wheel drive Dimensions 4299mm (L); 1822mm (W without mirrors); 1557mm (H) Turning Circle 11.40m Seats 5 Kerb weight 1510kg Fuel Tank 51 litres Thirst 6.0L/100km (combined cycle) Fuel petrol Spare space saver
UPDATING THE COUNTRYMAN onto Mini’s new platform (also common with the BMW X1) is a big shift. Literally: the wheelbase has grown 7.5cm and the car is 20cm longer. The turbo engine goes up from 1.6 to 2.0. The new package also brings optional technologies such as a touch-screen infotainment system, head-up display, and driver assistance. Plus the four-wheel drive system is more sophisticated in its electronic control to send torque where it’s most useful.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
Minis have a strong visual family identity inside as well as outside. If you like that, you’ll love this.
Of course, there are legitimate reasons to dislike it: why put the oblong nav screen in a round binnacle? (It’s a cheesy nod to the 1959 Mini’s speedo position.) Why are there so many nooks and crannies to collect dust? Well if you want a more reserved and clean appearance, go for an Audi Q2 or Mercedes GLA.
As usual, there’s a set of dials on the steering column, which rises and falls as you adjust the column. Only annoyance there is how small and hard to read is the rev-counter. Then in the middle is the navigation screen, and below that a set of proper climate control knobs (we’re not fans of putting those onto the screen menus). Below that are a row of satisfyingly metallic toggle switches.
Finally, in the centre column lives the control for the multi-media system. It’s based on BMW’s iDrive and is now very logical and intuitive. With a bit of practice you can do pretty well every task without taking your eyes off the road. If you want a different approach, it’s now, optionally, a touch-screen.
The interior is well-finished and despite all the apparent fussiness, the ergonomics and control placements are mostly excellent, apart from that rev counter. The pedals and steering wheel aren’t offset towards the left, so it’s a great driving position for long trips.
The back seats have good head, knee and foot room. No problem for two adults. And even for the third one in the middle, the transmission tunnel isn’t too obtrusive. There’s a set of vent outlets and reading lights back there too.
Behind them is a double-floor boot, though that’s with no spare wheel. It’s possible for Australia that Mini will drop in a space-saver spare, which will absorb the lower compartment. The boot also has elastic straps for small gear (an oil bottle for instance) plus tie-down rings.
A new accessory is a fold-out bumper cushion. It rolls out from under the boot floor, and gives you a comfy place to sit. Good for having a sandwich or changing mucky boots, we’d guess. Hardly life-changing, but could be handy.
WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE ROAD?
The Countryman drives like a crossover first, and like a Mini second.
The first press test cars Mini fielded were Cooper S ALL4 automatic, which is towards the top of the cost tree. Not right at the top though, as in Europe there’s also a Cooper S D, a Cooper S John Cooper Works, and a plug-in hybrid S E, and they’re yet dearer.
Anyway, if you’re expecting the petrol S to go like a little hot hatch, think again. No Countryman is a light car, and the extra mass and rotating inertia of the ALL4 drivetrain hampers its acceleration more. Plus, the autobox has been programmed, for economy reasons, to shift early up through its eight gears, which leaves the engine droning away at low rpms and generally saps its enthusiasm.
To get real action, yank back on the downshift paddle and mash the accelerator. And then it’s quite responsive and sounds it.
The steering is surprisingly weighty. But what matters more is the change of weight, and the response. These are well considered. The wheel pulls smartly back towards the dead-ahead, so a straight cruise isn’t tiring. But put some lock on to attack a corner and the car swivels progressively. If you run over a crest as you’re rounding a bend, the steering goes slightly light to tell you grip is running out. Not many cars have that sort of feel these days.
Despite its ALL4 drive, the Cooper S is inclined to plough ahead in tight wet corners, but before this understeer takes hold, if you apply power, the electronically controlled clutch sends a portion of the drive to the rear and the car balances out. The stability control operates smoothly too.
So it’s a car you can drive with confidence, but compared with a Mini hatch, or even the Clubman, its reactions are slower and the communication less engaging. It’s less fun.
Ride comfort doesn’t quite compensate. It can cope with big bumps, because there’s lots of suspension travel. But over smaller stuff you notice the ride is a bit stiff-legged, and there’s an aftertaste of side-to-side rocking. Still, at least tyre noise is low, as is wind noise, so this is a peaceful highway cruiser.
For light off-roading, there’s 165mm of ground clearance, and the AWD system works effectively if you allow a little wheel slip by switching the stability control to ‘sport’.
The Countryman will tow a 1800kg braked trailer, and the ALL4’s ability to yank it out of a slippery field, or get a boat off a beach, could come in handy.
WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY FEATURES?
We don’t have crash-test results for this car, but the BMW Group has other cars on this platform: the Mini Clubman, and the BMW X1 and 2-series Active Tourer. They’ve all done well in EuroNCAP tests. So there’s little reason to fear the Countryman’s test will show up anything amiss. But it just might, and that’s why we have tests.
Mini has a suite of protective features, including intelligent warning and then braking, for imminent front-end collisions into vehicles, and pedestrians. This pack also includes lane-keeping assist, and radar cruise control. But it’s likely to be optional in Australia. Shame – they could be standard.
Vision is critical for safety. That’s why we’d spec the reversing camera, and the excellent LED headlamps.