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Ever since its release back in 2010, the Mini Countryman has proved surprisingly popular with buyers, despite the fact that it is one of the most controversial models to ever wear the Mini badge.
By mixing lumpy hatchback dimensions with an SUV-aping ride height, the Countryman has well and truly rejected the original Mini’s 'smaller is better' philosophy. As Sir Alec Issigonis (designer of the original BMC Mini) once said: "A camel is a horse designed by a committee." That's a sentiment that could be equally levelled at the Countryman
And yet there is one area where Mini’s small SUV holds onto some semblance of the original car's design: its engine. Opt for this entry-level Cooper and you’re treated to a lightweight and compact turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol unit (the other petrol is a 2.0-litre unit that can be found in the Cooper S and JCW), which seems fitting for a company that essentially invented the concept of downsizing.
2017 Mini Countryman Cooper on the road
Unfortunately, with only 134bhp and 243lb ft of torque, the 1.5-litre engine feels rather underpowered in this application. It may be gutsy enough to give the three and five-door Mini hatchbacks potent performance, but it makes the heavier Countryman feel rather languorous. Filled to the brim with kids and luggage, we really wouldn’t want to be tackling any steep mountain passes.
It helps that the engine comes with a six-speed manual gearbox – a six-speed automatic 'box is available on request – with well-spaced ratios to make best use of the available torque but, even so, that doesn't quite make up for the lack of outright grunt.
Being a three-cylinder, the engine's refinement isn't outstanding either, failing to match the Cooper S’s smoother four-cylinder motor when it comes to vibration and noise. And due to that lack of grunt, you have to keep this engine above 2500rpm to make meaningful progress, compounding its aural intrusion.
Where the base Cooper does get one up on the sportier S is in the ride department. With slightly softer suspension and smaller 16in alloy wheels, the Cooper handles potholes and sharp bumps with relative aplomb. The odd expansion joint can still result in the odd shudder through the cabin, but the Countryman is never exactly uncomfortable.
As expected, the handling has been compromised somewhat by the softer suspension, but it’s still ‘sporty’ by class standards.
2017 Mini Countryman Cooper interior
Mini may call the Countryman its SUV but, from behind the wheel, it feels like a regular hatchback. Despite this, both the front and rear seats offer plenty of head and leg room, although tall adults might find their knees lightly brushing the front seats if they’re sitting behind particularly long-legged people.
The purchase price, even for this entry-level Countryman, might be rather eye-watering, but the blow is softened somewhat by the inclusion of plenty of standard kit, including a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB audio connection and sat-nav. A fairly small 6.5in colour screen is standard, but we would recommend opting for the 8.8in widescreen touchscreen with a sharper display.
For an in-depth look at the Countryman's space and practicality, click here for our main review.
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