The Mini line of small cars began life as Britain’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle — a small, fuel-efficient, inexpensive, functional sedan. It didn’t take long for enthusiasts to discover the Mini’s racing potential and it soon became iconic. Never a big seller in the United States under a number of corporate owners, it nevertheless acquired a following here. Finally, in 2001, BMW brought it back to America, this time in a form that was neither inexpensive nor functional.
We test-drove a number of Minis over the years. They corner like go-karts, accelerate briskly and ride fairly comfortably. But their tiny back seats, and trunk space best measured in millimeters rather than cubic feet, detracted from their legacy as well as their usefulness in transporting cargo, people or anything else.
Then, along came the Countryman, a diminutive station wagon with the look and personality of a Mini, but with a utilitarian streak that brings to mind the Honda Fit. The check-marks on this model fall thick and fast: easy access and egress; a back seat that accommodates 6-foot-tall adults; a relatively spacious cargo area with a roomy, hidden compartment underneath the main deck; a comfortable ride; a fun, quirky character.
The Countryman is best described as a subcompact crossover. It has four doors and a tailgate that swings up, but it’s also a Mini, so it’s enjoyable to drive — all the more so for the way it accommodates drivers and passengers of every shape and size. We haven’t forgotten how hard it was to squeeze our big American bodies into and out of the 2-door Minis, or how little space they provided for luggage, groceries or retail purchases. After a week with the Countryman, we can say with confidence that all is forgiven.
Our well-equipped 2017 Countryman S All4 was priced about $40,000, so this model isn’t for everybody. You can get more passenger room and cargo space for less money. But Mini offers some relative bargains, too. Its Clubman and Countryman wagons start at $24,800 and $26,600, respectively. But to slip down into those modest price levels, you have to sacrifice horsepower (134, compared with 187), all-wheel drive, and the extensive list of telematic and luxury features of higher-end models.
We gave thumbs-up to most aspects of the Countryman driving experience. While the 18-inch tires made themselves heard, the car gave off a sense of refinement and security. We liked the sport seats, too; they locked us into comfortable driving positions without making us feel confined. Visibility was good. Our Countryman didn’t have blind-spot monitors, but we didn’t find ourselves wishing it did.
Past Countryman models, having undergone full crash-testing, have been rated Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Mini, transitioning a number of new models into its lineup, has seen sales drop 10.3% through November, with 42,494 units sold.
2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4
Price: $39,600 (est.)
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 189 horsepower, 207 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed sport automatic with paddle shifters
Curb weight: 3,671 lb.
Suspension: four-wheel independent
Wheels: 18-inch alloy (optional)
Tires: 225/50R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 17.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 47.6 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 16.1 gallons
Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.