by Frank A. Aukofer

Upsized to the point where it rivals the interior space of a midsize sedan, the 2018 MINI Cooper Countryman offers a practical and sporting driving experience in a tidy package.

It also delivers luxury in the tested S model with all-wheel drive, a more powerful engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

P90240629_highResIn modern parlance, the Countryman ALL4 is classified as a small crossover sport utility vehicle. It is British in origin, assembled in the Netherlands and uses an engine built in Germany. It is based on the BMW X1, no surprise because MINI is owned by the Bavarian Motor Works.

The Mini dates to the 1960s in Great Britain, where it pioneered the use of a transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel drive. Though only 10 feet long, its two-box design enabled it to carry four adults, though comfort depended on their size.

After BMW bought the company, it resurrected the Mini in 2001 and named it the MINI Cooper, using a name that had been attached to performance-oriented models. Now the performance models are labeled “John Cooper Works.” Like the original, the MINI Cooper started as a two-door sedan.

P90240631_highResBMW is a company seemingly dedicated to plugging every niche in the market so nearly two dozen MINI Cooper variants eventually appeared, including convertibles, a four-door, the Clubman, Paceman and, eventually, the Countryman.

There’s no mistaking any MINI for anything else. All models bear a familial resemblance. But the Countryman, since getting stretched by more than eight inches for 2017, now has gotten pudgy looking, though not to the point of turning off the brand’s fans.

Inside, it retains vestiges of the original MINI, though with changes. The large circular screen in the center, which once held the speedometer, now is a multifunction location. The speedometer, tachometer and other mainstay instruments reside behind the steering wheel and move up and down with it. However, the steering wheel does not telescope.

P90240757_highResFor 2018, the Countryman has been modestly modified. The fuel gauge has been re-designed and a toggle switch controls the drive modes: Sport, Normal and Eco. Previously, the modes were selected by a ring at the bottom of the automatic transmission shifter.

With 97 cubic feet of space for the driver and up to four passengers, the tested Countryman offered plenty of headroom and ample knee room for four, especially in the outboard back seat positions. However, the fifth passenger relegated to the center-rear position gets shortchanged on headroom, foot space and comfort.

P90240747_highResA negative is the perforated cloth sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof, a current fad among luxury cars that admits too much hot sunlight. Sun shades should be opaque. The motorized front section of the sunroof opens to the sky; the back is fixed glass.

Front seat comfort is improved for many drivers by a thigh support that is manually adjustable for length. The front seats also have substantial bolsters to hold the torso in place during spirited driving.

That sort of motoring is the Countryman S ALL4’s strong suit, specially in the Sport mode, which delays transmission shifts to higher engine revolutions for more rapid acceleration. The steering and suspension system are oriented toward sharper handling, though the firm ride is not punishing.

P90240662_highResPower comes from a 189-hp 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 207 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through the snap-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

The engine emits a satisfying growl under hard acceleration, though some drivers used to muted sounds might find it annoying. Zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time in the Sport mode is in the seven-second range.

A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard. The 8-speed automatic is a $1,500 option. The tested Countryman had a base price of $32,550. With other options that included parking assist, head-up display, power front seats with memory, power tailgate and “Chesterfield” leather upholstery with “British Oak” tanning, the suggested delivered price came to $41,050.

P90240630_highResStandard equipment included dynamic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, the panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play, LED fog lights and 18-inch alloy wheels.

If people find the pudgy look endearing and the price is not daunting, MINI buyers will find a lot to like.

P90240627_highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, 189 hp, 207 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,671 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/26 mpg. Premium required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $32,550.
  • Price as tested: $41,050.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

P90240671_highResPhotos (c) MINI.