The Countryman is the Mini Cooper that matters.
It's the biggest vehicle in the family, and in a market increasingly dominated by crossover sales, it's Mini's chance to prove that the brand can adapt to a changing environment. So does it work?
The first Mini was a smash hit. The style and charm were unavoidable.
The same could be said of the original Countryman, which came out in 2010. I found it a bit awkward, and the 2017 redesign did a lot to clean it up. If you're a fan of the brand, you'll find little to complain about here.
The only point of contention is the grille. It's prominent (and seemingly permanent) frown clearly doesn't inspire the same fuzzy feeling as Minis of yore.
All in, it's quite a handsome thing. The only thing I'd change is the color. If you're going for a Mini, you're saying that you want something different and a bit more fun. Why would you ruin that with a drab shade of gray?
The last Mini I tested didn't feel like a $30,000+ car. It was missing too much stuff. Play it smart with the options, and you can get a Mini feeling suspiciously like a luxury car for around $36,000.
You get a full 8.8 inches of screen real estate sporting a reskinned version of BMW's iDrive infotainment software. It's an absolute delight to use, with clear and logical menu's and the ability to show navigation and phone options at the same time. If that's not enough, the Countryman will show you directions on the heads-up display that comes in the same package.
Material quality is also excellent. The door panels feature chromed window switches, a black plastic base, gray cloth coating, and a ribbon of the car's exterior color running through.
There are a lot of strange elements that work together: LED lights that react to what you're doing, ambient lighting that doesn't always match the central LEDs but sometimes does, cloth, exterior color, leather, plastic and faux metal. I get the feeling that this is what Mini corporate has been going for with every Mini I've been in, but this is the first time I've felt it really works.
Mini's reputation was never about actually being small, it was about how that size allowed them to make a more tossable, fun to drive car.
The Countryman isn't the agile microorganism that the Mini once was, but it still drives better than just about any small SUV. Maybe the Mazda CX-5 handles better, but the Mini's turbocharged four-cylinder makes the car feel significantly quicker, even if it's 189-horsepower rating only bests the Mazda by 2.
More importantly, the Mini comes standard with a manual transmission. If you're at all concerned with having fun while driving, that makes it the obvious choice in the class.
Turn off the backroad and onto the highway and the BMW roots become apparent. The car has a delightful split personality, able to devour tight corners or swallow hundreds of highway miles. The ride is comfortable and composed, and the wind noise is only apparent because the engine is dead quiet, even in fourth gear on the interstate.
With all of that said, it's hard to make a value case for a Mini.
At $35,750 as equipped, you're essentially paying the price of a fully-optioned midsize SUV — think decked out CR-V, leather lined CX-5 or whatever you family crossover suits your fancy — for something that's sized more like a CX-3 or HR-V.
The Mini has a more refined driving experience than the premium brands, and the cabin is extraordinarily well thought out, so your money does go somewhere.
But you're also not even approaching fully loaded. This model doesn't have blind spot monitoring, power seats, power tailgate or even an auto-dimming mirror. You'll get far more features from a $35,000 Honda CR-V Touring. Go that route, though, and you won't get the Mini's manual transmission, or fun to drive nature.
It's a tough car to peg, because there really aren't any direct competitors. It's not as expensive or luxurious as a true premium crossover, but more unique and fun than anything from a mainstream brand.
It's not a terrible value, but you still aren't getting as much for your money as you could be.
The Countryman is quiet and composed when it needs to be, fun and exciting when it should be. Besides the price, there's almost nothing to complain about.
If you're not put off by paying nearly $36,000 for a moderately equipped small crossover, then go right ahead and buy one. While I can't say it's the best value or even necessarily the smartest buy, I can promise that the little guy won't let you down in the slightest.
Driving Experience: 5
Price as configured: $35,750