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Is the 2017 Mini Countryman Still Fun to Drive?

Is the 2017 Mini Countryman Still Fun to Drive?

The redesigned Mini Countryman is bigger in nearly every way for 2017, and in the weight department, it gained an extra 300 to 400 pounds. For an SUV designed to be athletic, this could mean a lot in terms of the way it handles. Athletes: Imagine gorging yourself on hamburgers and then running around the block — doesn't sound very fun, does it? Does the 2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman still deliver on its promise of driving fun despite its new plus-size footprint and extra poundage?

Mini didn't just add a bunch of weight to the old car, which tipped the scales at 3,208 pounds for a Countryman S with all-wheel drive and a manual transmission; a 2017 Cooper S Countryman with all-wheel drive and a manual is 3,629 pounds (compare more specs here). Rather, the 2017 model is built on a new, wider and longer platform with a more substantial footprint, and under the hood is a bulked-up Used Engine with increased power and torque: 8 more horsepower and 30 more pounds-feet of torque. The previous Countryman wasn't a shining example of fun to drive compared with its Mini counterparts (Cooper Hardtop, Cooper Clubman), but it was still more agile than many of its compact SUV competitors. Still, the 2017 model had room for improvement.   

We polled 's reviewers to see where they land on the redesigned Countryman. For me, perhaps the most surprising characteristic is how eager the Cooper S Countryman digs into a corner, which is complemented by precise steering that's weighted more heavily compared with the outgoing SUV. Add in the six-speed manual transmission and our test model's all-wheel drive, and the Cooper S Countryman is a riot compared with the stately-but-sedate Audi Q3 or bone-crushingly stiff Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. The exhaust has a little rumble, and you can hear whistling turbocharger noises from under the hood with the windows down. Despite the additional power and torque and Mini's claim that the 2017 is faster than before (zero-to-60 mph in 7 seconds versus 7.3 seconds), the Cooper S Countryman feels sluggish because it's using the same Used Engine as the two-door Cooper S Hardtop but carrying around 900 more pounds (that's a lot of hamburgers).

Here's what other reviewers thought of the Countryman's fun-to-drive factor:

Senior Research Editor Mike Hanley: "I thought it was pretty fun for what it is. It drove much more like a large hatchback than the SUV Mini makes it out to be. The combination of handling and the manual transmission drivetrain added up to quite a bit - if not all — of the traditional Mini driving experience of nimbleness and agility. All in all, a pleasant surprise, especially because I didn't have fond memories of the first-generation Countryman."

Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays: "The mere fact that it's an SUV with a manual transmission — and not a trucky, long-throw unit, either — makes it fun. Is it up to par with other stick-shift Minis? In some ways. Body roll is relatively limited, and the car retains a fun, point-and-shoot personality. But you pay for it with brittle ride quality, which is punishing for anything in the SUV realm. For the Cooper S model, it also didn't seem that quick. You have to keep the revs up to really wring the most out of the Used Engine ."

Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder: "I never thought the original Countryman stood out as particularly fun to drive, as detailed in the original review. I had a major beef with its steering from the very beginning. The new generation has better steering, so in that regard, I believe it has improved somewhat. But it's not something I was desperate to get back into. This new Countryman isn't the same story to me as the change to the current Hardtop from the previous."   

"Fun to drive" means more than just how it handles, and it's not the same for everyone. Mini upped the Countryman's fun factor because it's a hoot on the inside with playful styling, fun colors and LED lights that make it a happy little SUV — much more than the bland interior of the old SUV. So even if you're not tuned into the driving differences, there's more all-around fun in the 2017 Countryman. But if you are into the driving experience, then there's something for you, too.

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