A big fat mega Mini doesn’t have that shock value anymore. The brunt of all the revolt and resentment from hardcore enthusiasts of the iconic British brand has already been borne by the first generation Countryman and its now discontinued two-door sibling, the Paceman. When that model was introduced, the purist lot was up in arms against the sullying of the Mini ethos.
If an oversized Mini wasn’t outrageous enough, the fact that this growth in outward dimensions did not translate into comparable gains in interior room or cargo space drew even more disapproval. After all, Alec Issigonis’ original city car has always been known for its surprisingly airy cabin that was disproportionate with its compact exterior.
Mini has sought to address at least part of the grievance with the second-generation Countryman. At 4,299mm, the 2017 model is 200mm longer than before, and with a 30mm increase in width and 75mm boost in wheelbase, it boasts significantly more legroom and cargo capacity that’s been enhanced by a good 220 litres over its predecessor. It’s not just space that’s seen an upturn. The quality of materials used, fit and finish have all been upgraded and represent a huge improvement over the not-so-great environment inside the previous model.
And thankfully, there aren’t too many in-your-face, trying-too-hard-to-be-cool design cues in there either. The signature circular centre console now houses the infotainment system dominated by a crisp, clear touchscreen interface. The menus can be controlled via the i-Drive style rotary controller on the transmission tunnel. The seats are also of a perceptibly higher quality with quilted leather upholstery and ample lumbar and thigh support.
As it’s up against some serious competition, especially from German models like the Mercedes GLA and the recently launched Audi Q2, Mini has supplied the new Countryman with a raft of standard features, such as a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and start, automatic lights, backs seats that slide and recline. The electrically adjustable driver’s seat is easy to get into the right position, and overall visibility is remarkably better than from the cockpit of many of its rivals.
The handling dynamics have also been improved considerably. While the first-gen Countryman had a reputation for rough ride quality, the latest iteration manages to balance trademark go-kart handling with a significantly more refined and compliant ride than before. The excellent chassis dynamics help keep the crossover steady and planted even when thrown around corners at high speeds. The steering is also pleasantly weighted and responds with characteristic Mini eagerness. Our Countryman S All4 tester is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-litre engine, which mated to an eight-speed automatic, makes 189bhp and 280Nm of torque available from as early as 1,350rpm. While the generous mid-range twist results in acceptably sharp acceleration in most situations, the turbo mill struggles to handle demands for abrupt spurts of momentum at higher revs. But that could be the result of a deliberate decision so the upcoming John Cooper Works version distinguishes itself better from the Countryman S.
Although it’s bigger than before, the designers have managed to keep the extra girth from being glaringly obvious from the outside. With its squared off haunches, roof rails and plastic cladding on its wheel arches, the Countryman looks suitably rugged for its all-wheel drive capabilities, although its modest ground clearance rules out any adventure that will take you beyond a certain distance from civilisation. And the overall design doesn’t deviate from the essential Mini styling language, making it look like an overgrown hatch.
It remains to be seen if the new Countryman will manage to coax Mini traditionalists into accepting it. But for what it is, the new Countryman is truer to the original Mini ethos in that it offers more room and convenience inside than its appearance suggests. It’s slightly better looking, handles sharp, has a refined ride, and has enough quirks about it to make unmistakably Mini. If you can get over the fact that a steroid-fed, not-so-mini Mini is here to stay, the 2017 Countryman S is your best upgrade option from a Mini hatch.