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2018 MINI Cooper Countryman Review

2018 MINI Cooper Countryman Review
The 2018 Mini Countryman has a new plug-in hybrid system but the mission is the same: Big Mini crossover with a bigger audience.

The 2018 Mini Countryman is a compact crossover that adapts the automaker's shape into a bigger body. It's newly available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, which is the automaker's first.

We give the Mini Countryman a 6.6 on our overall scale thanks to plentiful features and good style. The plug-in hybrid would do better thanks to its fuel-efficiency, but we think gasoline models will be more common.

Following a redesign last year, the 2018 Mini Countryman carries forward this year with the new plug-in hybrid version and some package reshuffling. A rearview camera is standard on all models, and when your Countryman was made makes a difference: John Cooper Works editions and plug-in hybrid models produced before June 2017 won’t support Apple CarPlay, but all other models equipped with an optional tech package can.

Some shoppers might be surprised to hear that all Countryman models share skeletons with BMW’s similarly priced crossover, too. The BMW X1 is loosely related to the Countryman—as will other upcoming BMW models—but ironically, Mini makes the “ultimate driving machine” of the two. That’s because the Mini Countryman comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission—BMW doesn’t offer one on the X1—and the high-po John Cooper Works edition is a scream. Base Countryman models are powered by a turbocharged inline-3, while Cooper S Countryman and John Cooper Works models feature a turbo-4.

The Countryman can be uniquely appointed with the full menu of Mini’s customization features that means no two have to look alike.

Unmistakably a Mini, the Countryman’s looks strike out on a decidedly butch tangent.

Unmistakably a Mini, the 2018 Countryman makes its claim with bigger proportions, a taller stance and blockier lights.

The Countryman also gets creases that the Cooper doesn’t, and a different grille and lower front and rear bumpers.

It’s a more butch approach to the Mini plan, but doesn’t stray far from the successful formula. We give it two points over average for a good interior and exterior. It’s one point down on the Mini Cooper only because we still say that the Mini flavor is better served in small packages. 

The Mini Countryman expands on the classic Mini shape with more pronounced shoulders and haunches, a taller ride height, and proportionately more plastic cladding than the Mini Cooper. Up front, the grille is slightly different—it doesn’t reach as far down the lower fascia as the Cooper’s—and the Countryman’s fog lights are moved inward from the sides of the bumper. Plug-in hybrid models are virtually identical to their gasoline counterparts aside from a neon-colored charge port on the front fender.

In back, the Countryman is fairly tidy with a long nameplate that spans most of the liftgate.

Inside, the Coutryman presents a larger version of the Mini Cooper’s interior, which is to say quirky, but no longer “techno alien”-looking either.

The Countryman places all the right dials and switches in appropriate places. A large round infotainment display dominates attention in the center of the car, with a 6.5-inch standard infotainment screen (upgradeable to 8.8 inches) dead center.

Mini isn’t likely to change its fascination with ovals and ovoid shapes anytime soon, but the Countryman manages to look modern without being overly kitschy.

All Minis still feel like a Mini—even the Countryman—and that’s a good thing. The new plug-in hybrid version is upfront about its capabilities, but its price may deter some shoppers.

The 2018 Mini Countryman shares its powertrains with the Mini Cooper, albeit with one significant exception.

Starting with an average score, we give the Countryman a point above average for its nimble handling, but take it away for an over-burdened base engine.

That base engine is a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-3 that makes 134 horsepower. It’s tasked with carrying more than 3,500 pounds with all-wheel drive, and it predictably runs out of ideas quickly. A 6-speed manual is standard equipment, although a 6-speed or 8-speed automatic can be fitted for more money on front- or all-wheel-drive versions respectively.

The next step up is a 2.0-liter turbo-4 in Cooper S Countryman models that makes 189 hp and can dash up to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. Like the base engine, a 6-speed manual is standard on front-drive models while an 8-speed automatic is optional on front-drivers and standard on all-wheel-drive versions, which Mini calls ALL4.

John Cooper Works versions are on the top of the pile for the Countryman and feature a 228-hp version of the turbo-4, which is standard on the BMW X1 (and earned our extra point there). Unlike the BMW, the JCW Countryman is fitted as standard with a 6-speed manual or if you must, an 8-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is the only option on JCW versions and it’s better for it; it helps keep the power manageable.

The Countryman uses Mini’s tuning magic and MacPhersons up front to deliver a sharp drive that’s as close to the Cooper as the extra 1,000 pounds will allow. It helps the Countryman feel smaller than its big body would indicate.

Mini’s ALL4 all-wheel-drive system can shuttle power between the front and rear axle in less than a second, operating nominally as a front-driver until slip is detected. It’s a slick system that reduces parasitic loss with a hang-on clutch, although we’d hesitate to take the Countryman any further than a muddy field.

Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
Unlike the Cooper, the Countryman boasts a plug-in hybrid version that is a first for Mini. It takes the turbo-3 and mates it to a 65 kw (87 hp) electric motor and 7.6-kwh battery for a combined output of 221 hp. Interestingly, Mini’s hybrid power system doesn’t supplement the engine; the electric motors power the rear wheels exclusively and help out up front, which makes it a through-the-road hybrid system.

The plug-in hybrid version is clearly the heaviest version, given its battery pack and rear electric motor, and while it's still decent to toss around, it's hardly in the same league as the basic Mini Cooper hardtop, especially with the 3-cylinder engine.

The Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4, to give it its full title, works well as a hybrid Countryman but Mini is quite upfront about marketing it as a high-mileage crossover you don't ever have to plug in if you don't want to. That will infuriate electric-car fans, but the 12-mile EPA-rated range is at least realistic, unlike the ratings on BMW models with less powerful electric motors.

On the road, with charge in the battery it will accelerate away from a stop electrically, if not as fast as on engine and battery combined, and hold all-electric power all the way up to highway speeds if you pay attention. We suspect many buyers won't bother. The engine is small enough and so well noise-suppressed that we had to listen for the sound of it switching on, and the added noise was more of a whir from somewhere beyond the firewall than the predictable hybrid howl of a small and overstressed engine.

Comfort & Quality
The Mini Countryman is a real family car, with plenty of room up for four adults and their gear.

The 2018 Mini Countryman improves on the Cooper’s shortcomings—literally. The Countryman is more spacious with more cargo-carrying capacity.

The rear seats are good, and the Countryman can carry plenty of cargo. 

An interesting note: We deducted a point from the related X1 for its less-than-friendly front seats. The Mini Countryman escapes that demerit because its seats have more thigh bolstering and the bottoms aren’t as flat.

The rear seats are better, and the Countryman has more available leg room than the Cooper (not the Clubman model, though) thanks to a longer 105.1-inch wheelbase.

Thankfully the dual-panel sunroof doesn’t eat into head room too much, and our tallest editors found plenty of room inside the Countryman’s confines.

With the rear seats up, the Countryman can hold 17.6 cubic feet of cargo, and 47.6 cubes with the seats folded flat.

Mini doesn’t specify how much the plug-in hybrid’s batteries eat into usable cargo space, but the difference is relatively small. Most of the batteries are perched underneath the rear seat and eat into the overall size of the gas tank, not much of the cargo area. We’ll update this space when we hear official word from Mini.

There isn’t much official safety data on the Mini Countryman yet.

Independent and federal safety officials haven’t comprehensively tested the Mini Countryman since it was new last year. Only the IIHS has rated its crashworthiness in testing with “Good” scores for all its crash tests.

That’s not enough for us to rate the Countryman, so we’ll withhold our score pending more data. 

In the absence of official results, Mini packs eight standard airbags into the Countryman including two front, two side, two side-curtain, and two knee airbags if things go pear-shaped.
This year, Mini added a standard rearview camera (ahead of a federal mandate) and parking assistants to all models. Optional safety features include adaptive cruise control and a head-up display. We recommend the former but would pass on the latter; the head-up display doubles as an eye-test.

Highly customizable, the Mini Countryman offers plenty of opportunities for luxury—and a higher price.

The 2018 Mini Countryman is one of the most configurable cars on the road today. Myriad options are available to personalize the outside and inside of the crossover SUV. That may be appealing, but those costs can add up. Thankfully, every Countryman is handsomely equipped with compelling features that help keep the price close to its $27,450 entry.

Every Countryman comes equipped with 17-inch wheels (18-inchers are standard on Cooper S models), dual-zone climate control, a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, synthetic leather upholstery, roof racks, a dual-panel sunroof, rain-sensing wipers and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen.

That’s good base gear, made better by the infotainment system. The same rule from the Cooper applies to the Countryman: There are countless ways to personalize the Countryman, but few of them are cheap. It gains another point for that, but we take it back on confusing optional packages. 

Mini bundles most of its optional extras into packages:

-A $2,250 tech package adds a bigger infotainment display (8.8 inches), Apple CarPlay, and a head-up display. We like the bigger display and connected infotainment, but CarPlay through the controller and the small head-up display aren’t ideal presentations.

-A $2,000 premium package adds power adjustable front seats, a premium Harman Kardon stereo, and power tailgate.

-Most cars won’t leave lots without a $750 convenience package that adds cargo straps, rear cupholders, a cargo management system, and more 12-volt outlets for $750. Frankly, it’s all equipment that we think should be standard.

Among some of the options we’d recommend for shoppers would be the standalone adaptive dampers, which can smooth the ride, and a $250 sport steering wheel that acts as a gateway option to a few, more popular interior add-ons.

JCW and plug-in hybrid models mostly mirror Cooper S versions in packaging and add-ons.

Fuel Economy
A new plug-in hybrid model will tempt green-minded shoppers who have money, but most Countryman models will manage around 25 mpg combined.

For 2018, Mini has added its first plug-in hybrid model to the Countryman range, a through-the-road hybrid setup that will appeal to a small section of buyers.

The 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 (their name, not ours) is rated by the EPA at 65 MPGe on gas and full electric power, 27 mpg combined as a hybrid.

We don’t imagine those will be a common sight on many roadways, so our rating is based on the Cooper S Countryman ALL4 that manages a 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined rating. 

Countryman models with the turbo-3 don’t do any better. With all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, base Countryman models are rated at 23/30/25 mpg. Put simply, the busy turbo-3 has to work harder to move the mass.

Most models will manage 25 mpg combined, or slightly better, although swapping in a manual transmission dings mileage slightly from automatic-equipped counterparts. All-wheel drive alters mileage slightly, most front-drive models usually earn 1 mpg better across the board.

The JCW Countryman is the thirstiest of all, and is rated at 21/31/24 mpg.

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