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Eric's Autos: Reviewing the 2018 Mini Countryman

Eric Peters on

Some reviewers snicker that the Mini Countryman isn't very mini. They're right and wrong at the same time.

Compared with the original Mini Cooper hatchback, the Countryman is enormous -- almost 2 feet longer and nearly half a foot taller. But it's still pretty mini compared with most compact-sized cars. As the largest of all Minis, it is about half a foot shorter end to end than something like a Mazda3 hatchback. And it's still uniquely cute, despite the growth spurt.

What It Is

The Countryman is the least mini Mini.

It's a five-door wagon that looks like a Mini scaled up by about 40 percent. It's longer, wider and taller. It has almost 8 inches more back-seat legroom and about twice as much cargo capacity behind its back seats.

Prices start at $26,600 for the base front-wheel-drive trim with a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. A more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in S trims, which start at $31,200.

An even more powerful version of the 2.0-liter engine -- along with suspension and brake enhancements, and different trim inside and out -- is available in the high-performance John Cooper Works, or JCW, version. It costs $37,800.

There is also a new hybrid version, which starts at $36,800.

What's New

In addition to the new hybrid, all versions of the 2018 Countryman get a few interior tweaks, including an updated gauge cluster and toggle controls.

What's Good

It's less mini relative to other Minis but still mini relative to most other cars.

There are multiple drivetrain choices.

In addition to the room inside, the Countryman also has 6.5 inches of ground clearance. This combined with the available ALL4 all-wheel-drive system makes it a great snow-day car.

What's Not So Good

The central touch-screen infotainment system looks snarky and can be frustrating to use.

Under the Hood

The Countryman's drivetrain portfolio expands to four this year.

There's the standard 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, which has 134 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque.

You can pair this engine with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or the eight-speed automatic with driver-selectable modes and manual shift control. You can also choose front-wheel drive or the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system.

Either way, with this engine, it takes the Countryman just over nine seconds to go from zero to 60 mph.

The EPA says the FWD version with manual transmission gets 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. With the ALL4 drivetrain and automatic transmission, it gets 22 mpg city and 32 highway.

Next up is the S, which upgrades you to a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 189 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque.

The JCW Countryman uses the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder but has more turbo boost and other tweaks that up the output to 228 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque at 1,350 rpm. It can get to 60 mph in a quick 5.9 seconds.

The hybrid Countryman features the base model's 1.5-liter engine paired with a 7.6-kilowatt battery pack and electric motor. It can travel about 12 miles on battery power alone, and it features plug-in-capability.

On the Road

The Countryman's larger size and greater weight are advantages on the open road.

Its much longer wheelbase (105.1 inches versus 98.2 for the mini Mini) is also a help.

While it may not be able to pirouette a U-turn on one tire -- as the regular Mini feels like it can and almost does -- it feels more relaxed on the interstate.

Its additional ground clearance means it can go places and deal with conditions the lower Mini can't.

At the Curb

The Countryman has four full-sized doors and nearly 8 inches more back-seat legroom than the regular Mini hatchback (37.6 inches versus 30.8 inches). It also has more than twice the cargo capacity behind its back seats (17.6 cubic feet versus 8.7 cubic feet).

The cozy, retro-themed cabin features classic '60s Mini styling flourishes, such as the chrome toggle switches for various functions, and a speedometer and tachometer that look like aftermarket gauges bolted to the steering column with radiator hose clamps. But they're not cheesy-looking.

The large central touch screen mimics the design of '60s Mini's, too, though they did not have LCD touch screens back then, of course.

The Rest

All trims except the hybrid get a full-length panorama sunroof, run-flat tires and a heated windshield wiper system that will make you say, "Oh, behave!" come winter.

If you buy the optional ALL4 system, you also get three-stage heated seats.

The Bottom Line

Getting bigger without getting gawky isn't easy -- ask a Hollywood child star. But this Mini manages it!

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Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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