Review: 2018 MINI Cooper Countryman All4

My favorite small crossover is the Mazda CX-5. Or at least it was until I drove this new MINI Cooper Countryman, which honestly is more the size of the CX-3, but the point stands. This thing is simply just zoom-zoomier and more fun. And it’s not even the S version – this is the basic 3-cylinder 6-speed manual version.
That’s right, redone for 2017, the Countryman has a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine that send its power to all four wheels via a manual transmission. I do believe that’s one of the very few sticks on the market. And it’s got a lot more than that going for it.

Judging by the numbers, 134hp and 162 ft-lbs of torque, it ain’t all that. But over the years MINI, and its parent company BMW, have learned quite a lot about turbocharged drivetrains. Like other new corporate engines, this three-banger spools up very quickly and lag is pretty much nonexistent. The torque curve seems very flat and the power peaks slightly before redline.
Make no mistake about it, this is not a fast vehicle. MINI itself conservatively states that it will take nine and a half seconds to get to 60mph. But you really wouldn’t know that unless you were racing an Accord or some other fast car. But on its own, it will make you smile as you row those gears – that something about driving a slow car fast, it’s just fun.
The throws of that manual transmission are rather long and the gates seem rather loose, but not vague. It is easy to shift quickly and you will always know which gear you’re in. I’m sure that an aftermarket short-shift kit will make it ten times better. The clutch pedal is soft with a clear catch point, making it easy for beginners. There is likely some kind of a device preventing destructive shifting behavior. The Countryman in this stick and AWD combination is rated for 22MPG in the city and 32 on the highway – I personally expected better.

The chassis is nicely matched to that engine. No magic suspension tricks are needed with this little power and the shocks and springs are tuned for spirited driving. But the ride isn’t at all stiff and New England potholes are absorbed quite well. Like other BMWs, there is no spare tire.
The interior is mix and match of MINI’s style over function and BMW’s technical overload. The center-console mounted toggle switches take getting used to and the MINI-fied iDrive system has a smaller screen and an overload of settings. Overall the interior is intentionally different than other cars and typically MINI quirky, even if that quirkiness feels forced. It’s not difficult to get used to and it has its charm and flaws.
Space wise, the driver and front passenger have enough room to be comfortable. Typical of MINI vehicles new and old, the headroom is very generous. Things get dicey for rear passengers with long legs. Trunk is rather small, but so is the whole car. Rear seats split fold three ways for extra space. I should note that the overall visibility is pretty good for a modern car of this type and size.

The 2018 MINI Cooper Countryman ALL4 starts at $28,600. As it is typical for European brands, everything is optional. Check off enough boxes and the price will bubble up quickly. Equip your Countryman with just the essentials, like this model, and you’re around MSRP of $34,800. There are some good lease rates currently available and three years of scheduled maintenance included, which really isn’t much.
Despite being a small cross-over utility vehicle with a three-cylinder engine I was quite smitten by the Countryman. It’s simply a lot of fun to drive, with original design, while being functional and efficient. But most importantly, the overall package is very well executed. This is the car Nissan Juke and Toyota CH-R are supposed to be but aren’t. Most importantly: turbo + stick + AWD FTW!

[DisclaimerPictured vehicle is a 2017 model but it was unchanged for 2018. MINI provided the vehicle  for the purpose of this review.]
All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018.

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18 responses to “Review: 2018 MINI Cooper Countryman All4”

  1. nanoop Avatar

    I liked the MX-5 rental I got last month, it drove like a mid-range Golf Mk IV, which is an achievement for this kind of car. I can’t figure out where to put the M I N I size-wise, is it a clumsy looking Golf or a clever looking EcoSport?
    Also, I love “large” volume I3 for their math-is-stronger-than-opinion existence, but I am not sure this car is not just a faint echo of what Mr Cooper had on his agenda.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      I think it sits in a bit of a sweet spot, of a handy sized, taller body than standard hatch that actually has some ground clearance. I may have forgotten there was a new-gen Countryman out, but the new one so amazingly similar to the old one that I didn’t really notice. At least they didn’t make it uglier like the normal Mini hatch, but it seems like a missed opportunity.
      Too bad it is priced in Australia at least at a premium, no surprise for a BMW – AUD$41,300, or $4k more than the direct currency conversion. I’m curious about what “essentials” needed to be added Kamil? Looking at the options on the Mini Australia configurator there isn’t really anything that I would add myself (although that includes satnav and seat heaters).

      1. nanoop Avatar

        I’m curious about the take rate for mirror housings and/or roofs (both popular dealer options until Brexit outside Cool Britannia) in Union Jack colors in Australia.

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          I can only remember seeing a handful.

        2. Vairship Avatar

          It isn’t available with an EU flag on the roof yet? 😉

      2. Kamil K Avatar

        I need, NEED, heated seats and Apple CarPlay. I could use a sunroof, too. And roof rails because I always strap stuff to the roof.

    2. Vairship Avatar

      An MX-5 that drives like a Golf IV? I hope you meant CX-5, a little roadster should drive better than a built-for-the-average-Joe hatchback.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        You’re totally right, although making an MX5 to go like a Golf 4 would an achievement, too.

        1. wunno sev Avatar
          wunno sev

          pull the fuse for the fuel pump and wire 12v straight into the check engine light. boom!

  2. Sjalabais Avatar

    This is a car and concept that I want to like. But you nailed it with this brilliant sentence:
    The interior is mix and match of MINI’s style over function and BMW’s technical overload.
    Every rational fibre in my body just screams: NO!

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      The layout of the dash is so compromised by having the round centre styling element it is pretty ridiculous. Lots of dead space above the screen (why not fill it with more screen?) and the vents pushed out so that one will blow on your hand on the steering wheel, and buttons pushed very low down on the centre stack.

    2. neight428 Avatar

      Exactly. I tend to imagine a Honda Fit Type-R that takes care of the shortcomings of something like this.

    3. Kamil K Avatar

      You CAN get used to it quickly…

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        No doubt, but I am the type that could still be endlessly annoyed by the unused flat space left and right of the speedometer. Again, you said it yourself: The quirkiness feels forced. There’s no formative hint in the otherwise flat and rectangular dashboard that this space should stay blank, grey plastic.
        Also, the general image of the MINI of “I just overpaid to let this disintegrate faster than cheaper, more well-made cars” is the next hurdle that is hard to overcome.

        1. Kamil K Avatar

          Counterpoint: “I just bought a cheaper BMW…”
          Yea, ergonomics are skewed way toward form, not function.

          1. Sjalabais Avatar

            Yeah, but what’s the BMW equivalent? The 2 series minivan is just 5% less expensive, at least around here.

  3. salguod Avatar

    Just the essentials in a subcompact 5 door and it’s $35K? I’m admittedly out of touch with new car prices (the total price of the last 4 car purchases I’ve made is $21K), but that seems like a lot. Isn’t that decently equipped Accord money? Much roomier and also available with a stick.
    Also, while I’m warming up to some of them, I’ll be glad when the black wheel trend is over. Many times like here, the wheels disappear into 2 black holes that make it look like you lost your wheel covers or had your wheels stolen and the car is up on blocks.

  4. Zentropy Avatar

    Here’s the problem with this car: WEIGHT. 3600+ lbs is just ridiculous.