Maximum MINI – the 2018 Cooper Countryman ALL4

How does a brand with the name “mini” slake consumer first for large vehicles while retaining a claim to its diminutive brand? That’s the first question I had when I stepped into the 2018 MINI Countryman ALL4.

The answer I came up with: there’s a hodgepodge of personalities in this vehicle. And, somehow, they all play nice together.

The compact SUV personality is the most obvious of the bunch. From the raised height to the un-MINI length and width, this vehicle’s proportions suggest anything but the pint-sized image of its moniker. 18” wheels look right on this car, unlike the oversized scooter tires with which MINIs of old were shod.

The rear hatch easily accommodates a hockey bag without folding any rear seats. The bag fits in the hatch with some extra room for a couple of backpacks on the side and other bags near the hatch door.

The rear seat that gives giants like me sufficient headroom. Seriously – I did not have to crouch when I did sit back there. The MINI brand doesn’t need the trendy slanting roof look to strike a sporty pose.

image courtesy MINI

The size is offset by looks.

A competing Italian brand explained its compact SUV by creating a story around how an errant little blue pill fell into the gas tank of the original car.

There’s no such “origin story” around the Countryman. MINI designers also had to push the exterior out to create it. And as with the aforementioned crossover, they did not have to give up its charm.

Proportions, curves, a roof and side mirrors in a different colour from the rest of the body, these things all hew to the modern MINI design. Optional white racing stripes run down the hood – sorry, bonnet – of my tester.

Inside, round shapes dominate the dashboard.

image courtesy MINI – flipped horizontally from an image of right-hand drive. Certain details do not precisely match the tester featured in this review.

Basic controls are often levers separated by rounded metal loops. I let my imagination suggest the cockpit of an aircraft of the same vintage as the original MINI.

image courtesy MINI

We’re not going back to those lower-tech days, but higher-tech can contribute to the fun too. Getting into the vehicle at night, the door projects the winged MINI logo on the ground from the side mirror. The underside of the door projects a round Union Jack inside the door. Yeah, baby!

In-cabin technology is out of step with the iconic image, but it’s welcome nevertheless. MINI’s parent, BMW, lends the Countryman and its stablemates the gorgeous large touchscreen driven by BMW’s standard systems and user-friendly control cluster just behind the shift knob. MINI designers adapted the interface to fit the “fun” image MINIs project.

image courtesy MINI

Apple CarPlay and all other audio came through the lovely (optional) Harman Kardon sound system.

Green technology, of course, has to come into the mix. BMW’s overall CAFE strategy has a lot to do with its e-series. Electric drive is making its way into the MINI lineup too, thanks to the Cooper S E Countryman PHEV – but that’s another story.

Back in my MINI, I would flick the mode switch up for Sport or down for “minimalism” (coloured green, of course). The touch screen lets you configure your drive mode, show sport displays and so forth.

My MINI did feature engine start-stop technology. Even in a smaller vehicle like this, there’s nothing wrong with the engine shutting down when the car would otherwise idle. I see this feature in all sorts of vehicles, not just hybrids. I’m starting to wonder why it isn’t a standard feature, like seat belts and ABS brakes.

Want to have fun driving green? You can have the MINI screen feature a fish in a glass. The more fuel efficiently you drive, the happier the fish looks. Designers must be banking on drivers not wanting to drive with sad fish in their cars.

The driving

The wheels at the corners are an important part of the Countryman’s looks. They are also an important part of the handling. Go-kart-like fun happens on twisty roads and u-turns alike. Few vehicles this size have this tight a turning radius.

MINI gooses a 1.5L 3-cylinder engine using twin power turbo technology to produce 136 hp, more than enough to get the Countryman zipping along. (You’ll notice some lag if you drive in Green mode, of course, but at least the onscreen fish will be happy.)

Sport mode delays shifts up through the 8-speed automatic in my tester. Understated yet lovely engine noise floods the cabin when you get moving, though the Countryman can also deliver a quiet ride if you’re gentle on the accelerator.

Fuel economy

MINI publishes city/highway/combined fuel economy numbers of 10.3/7.9/9.2 for automatic transmission variants. Numbers for manual transmission models are almost identical.

The Countryman prefers 91 octane (though it will accept 89) in its 61L tank.

Extra oomph

It’s hard to believe a vehicle this size gets the John Cooper Works treatment – but it does. I’ll get into one later this year. Stay tuned for my thoughts and escapades.

Pricing

The 2018 Cooper Countryman ALL4 retails for $29,290 My tester, with optional equipment, sells for $40,180.

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