Left Lane

I was quite upset when I first laid eyes on the MINI Cooper Countryman when it was launched in 2010. I’ve had an affinity for MINI since I first grabbed the key’s to my older brother’s Cooper and essentially stole it for a test drive many years ago.

I loved the crisp handling, the hip styling, the tight but comfortable confines and its sheer playfulness.

So when I saw the bloated, four-door Countryman I thought the magic that had made me appreciate the Cooper was gone, replaced by the prospect of increasing the U.S. sales market with its larger (both in numbers and in size) customer base.

But when I climbed into the 2019 Countryman I was pleasantly surprised. I dropped down into the deep, bucketed and bolstered seats that I had grown to love in the two-door. The interior was just as appreciatively funky as I remembered, although the huge speedometer in the center of the dash now serves as an infotainment screen. And like everything else on the Coopers I had driven in the past, seemingly every interior piece was unique. The noises were still pleasant, from the satisfying thump of the door closing to the ratcheting when closing an air vent. Hell, it even smelled like I remembered.

That’s not to say the MINI is in anyway dated, and I loved some of the new hip features like a rev counter that lights up over the infotainment center rather than give out boring numbers. 

Blue interior lights shone in the cabin, revealing a little bit of tartan in the center console, and the front cloth seats had a stripe, which any guy can tell you, adds at least 5 horsepower. Not all may be a fan of this fab styling, but I certainly am.

However, good looks only gets you so far. While I appreciate the MINI’s styling, its real joie de vivre has been its superb handling and peppy power plants. So does the Big Mac MINI still provide the thrills of its smaller counterparts after returning from its freshman year heavier and with an eco-conscious engine after attending a few green rallies?  

The short answer — yes.

MINI is known for its razor sharp, go-kart like handing, and despite going up a few belt sizes, the Countryman still carves corners with aplomb, just perhaps not as much so as its smaller brother. 

That said, I made many passes along a deserted back road, and with each pass my foot applied more pressure to the accelerator. And with each pass, the MINI remained poised and my smile grew wider and wider.

The steering is suitably weighted for driving with gusto, giving you enough confidence and feedback to continue giving the MINI a thrash on undulating roads. And when you overdo it, the Countryman’s brakes are responsive if lacking a bit of feel.

Powering the Countryman in standard models is a twin-turbo, 1.5-liter, three-cylinder with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder fitted into S versions. The plug-in hybrid I tested came with the 1.5-liter engine coupled with an electric motor to crank out a combined 221-horsepower.

While the hybrid has the highest amount of horsepower in MINI’s range, it also is the heaviest. The hybrid’s double power plant is plenty for daily driving and will get you from 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds, but it lacks a playful peppiness and grunt off the line.

The upside, you may be thinking, is that while the hybrid may not have the same engine output, at least it’s less thirsty at the pumps. 

You’d be right, but not in the ways one would expect.

With the hybrid system, the Countryman’s tank is brimmed at 9.1 gallons and it has a range of just 12 miles on all-electric power.

I discovered the outlets in my garage weren’t suitable for charging hybrid/electric cars, which forced me to charge the batteries solely through coasting. I averaged around 30 miles per gallon over a week of mostly city driving. MINI says you can get up to the 65 mpg with the batteries full charged. This MINI is also anything but miniscule. The Countryman provides plenty of leg and headroom in the rear seats for two passengers. While the rear cargo area is by no means massive, you won’t be crushing all your potato chips on a grocery run. 

The hybrid Countryman starts at $36,900, and the version I tested came with plenty of options and rang in at $45,750. Those options included the PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) sport edition, which includes, among other features, power folding mirrors, a power tailgate, roof rails, a panoramic moonroof, LED fog and headlights, and the Driver Assistance Package which adds park assist, a head-up display and active cruise control. I would absolutely add the $2,000 John Cooper Works appearance package which adds an a more aggressive look. The package also comes with 18-inch JCW spoke wheel and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. With these options on the Countryman, already a looker if you appreciate its funky styling, it looks fantastic. The navigation package, which includes wireless charging and Apple CarPlay is also available.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my treks in the PHEV Countryman, I’m still at a loss for who this car is meant to attract. But then again, MINI’s have always been a bit polarizing “love-em-or-hate-em” anyway.

So if you’re after a small, practical, all-wheel drive five-seat crossover that is well-appointed, has sharp handling, funky styling and plug-in capability, I hope you’re in the “love” camp. Because I’m not sure you’re going to find anything else that ticks all those boxes.

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