Test Drive: 2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4

The fish is clutching at the sides of its tank with its little fins, mouth contorted in angst, water sloshing violently around the bowl.

Silly? Yep. Childish? Absolutely. Frivolous? Sure. Needless? Well, no.

My daughter is screaming at me, “Daddy! Slow down! You’re making the fish upset!” I do, and the fish settles happily back in his bowl, the water calm. A few moments later the fish does a backflip and the large centre stack flashes green. One of the five stars illuminates green to let me know I’m driving efficiently.

Mini does a good job of filling their cars with fun and whimsy. In all models, the three-mode selector for Sport, Normal, and Eco in all Mini models bring up their own suite of interactive screens. In this 2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Cooper S All 4, Eco mode brings up the Minimization Analyzer, which shows me how greenly I am driving. Sport mode brings up access to the sport displays. It’s not quite as cool as the display in the regular Mini Cooper S, which brings up a go-kart and the text “Let’s Motor Hard!” when you put it in sport mode.

But the fish is still cool. My daughter loves it, and any time I have her in the car I’m allowed to only drive in Eco mode, and she wants to see me get all 12 driving reward stars, because then the fish does backflips and smiles.

Silly? Yep. Childish? Absolutely. Frivolous? Sure. Needless? Well, no.

See, it’s a well-known fact that up to 25 percent of your individual fuel economy result on any given drive in any given car is dictated by your own right foot. Coaching tools and quirky gamification ideas like this have a tangible effect on the driving habits of people, and help educate kids about driving habits and styles. So I’m a fan of these sorts of things, and I think Mini has one of the best and more enjoyable systems there is.

Not that Minis need help being enjoyable. The 1,665 kg, 4,314 mm long, AWD Countryman might be a bit large for its moniker, but it retains that effervescent handling and response that the brand is known for. The All4 has nearly 58 percent of its weight up front which, while not ideal, makes for a rapid turn-in. The steering is electrically assisted but maintains heft and communication and you’ll have the Countryman turned in quicker than you can say, “Shut up, Fish”.

I enjoyed the eight-speed automatic, its changes were smooth and it is well-matched with the engine – but I would prefer to save the $1,500 and take Mini’s excellent manual transmission instead. The twin-scroll turbo helps keep the 189 hp/207 lb-ft 2.0L engine feeling lively, and throttle response is quick. I would have liked a little more “oomph” under acceleration. Even in Sport mode take-off was spirited, but not spectacular.

Then again, perhaps I should remind myself this is an SUV, albeit a small one – that can get to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds. For your money you get 450 L of cargo space, expanding to 1,390 if you drop down the 40-20-40 folding rear seats. I was impressed by that extra detail – even if it did look like the Countryman was flipping me off when I left the middle seat up.

In terms of seating the Mini is reasonable if you get the $1,450 Essentials Package. Then you get the panorama sunroof, heated front seats, a centre rear armrest and rear seats that are adjustable fore and aft to create more legroom when needed. They also recline. Shoulder room is sparse but legroom and headroom are decent in both rows.

Driver seat comfort is good. Both front seats are well-cushioned and even better bolstered with adjustable thigh support for those of you with long legs. These ones are a $2,250 “Leather Chester” standalone option.

The seats are also heated, but a lack of available heated steering wheel is perplexing – especially in this $44,880 loaded model. The $750 head-up display is a nice touch and is can be toggled from a switch in the centre stack – why someone would want to turn it off I don’t know. Automatic climate control is here, but only after you select the $1,800 Loaded Package which also nets a storage compartment, electric front seats with driver memory, keyless access, and a power liftgate.

Want the bigger, 8.8-inch touchscreen for your iDrive-powered infotainment system? For that you’ll need the Wired Navigation Package which at $1,000 gets you nav, Mini Connected services and wireless charging.

The interior is gorgeous, especially with the aforementioned Leather Chester package, a $650 Style Package that comes with a leather steering wheel and piano black trim, plus the chrome trim. I don’t like the orange LEDs around the round centre-stack cluster, nor the orange lamp illuminating the motorcycle-style main instrument cluster and couldn’t find a way to change the colouring in the systems. I imagine it’s possible though, as the interior of the Countryman lights up like Coney Island whenever you unlock the doors, turn the engine on, stop, look up, look down, breathe, or pass wind.

Even the dashboard face lights up with hidden lights which is cool.

Official ratings are 10.5/7.4/9.1 L/100 km city/highway/combined. My week of pure city driving in eco mode most of the time netted an average of 9.8 L/100 km, which is not bad for what is essentially a compact SUV. It would be better if you didn’t have to fill it with premium fuel, though.

You have to pay to play in Mini land, for sure. And you’ll be trading a little bit of space when you compare the Mini to its competitors for the money – but not as much as you think.

Some things exist just to be fun. To make people smile, to make people enjoy their lives just a little bit more. The Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 is one of those things.

And my smile is as big as a fish.

2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 189 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Fuel Economy: 10.5/7.4/9.1 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 450 L/1,390 L seats down
2017 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4
Base Price $31,990
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,245
Price as Tested $47,225
Optional Equipment $12,890 – Loaded package (Automatic trunk, Comfort access, Auto dimming interior mirror, Electric seats w/ driver mem., Storage compartment package, Automatic climate control) $1,800; Essentials package (Panorama sunroof, Heated front seats, Centre armrest in rear, Adjustable rear seats, Front fog lights, Adjustable rear seats includes 60:40 rear seat base adjust fore & aft and backrest adjustment) $1,450; LED lights package (LED fog lights, LED headlights) $1,400; Wired navigation package (On-board navigation, Mini connected XL, Wireless charging with extended Bluetooth and USB, Wired package, 8.8" touchscreen) $1,000; Style package (Mini yours sport leather steering wheel, Chrome line interior, Chrome line exterior, Interior trim piano black – replaced with Mini yours interior style noted below) $650; Leather Chester $2,250; Automatic transmission $1,500; Harman Kardon sound system $750; Metallic paint $590; Mini All4 exterior styling $500; Mini yours interior style piano black illuminated $250; Mini head-up display $750
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.2
9 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
10 Practicality
9 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
6 Value