It rains in Portland, no news to anyone, and the locals deal with it by riding bicycles and eschewing umbrellas. While in Portland for a Mini-sponsored drive of the new Cooper Countryman, Mini Product Manager Magnus Aspegren proudly proclaimed this Countryman as the biggest car yet from Mini. In the past, I pointed an accusing finger at Mini for belying its name by making its cars bigger, but I need to accept the bloat.
Embrace the rain, embrace the big Mini.
The 2017 Mini Cooper and Cooper S Countryman debuted at last year's Los Angeles auto show, a new generation of this model designed to compete with premium compact crossovers such as the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. And despite the new Countryman increasing in size to a length of 14 feet 2 inches, it still comes in shorter than those competitors.
Poking around the four-door Countryman, I was impressed by the ample area in the rear bench seat, which looks like it seats most people comfortably. The covered cargo area in back could easily hold a week's worth of luggage for two, if you're not the sort of person who travels with an entourage. For greater cargo flexibility, the rear seatbacks fold down separately from the middle section, working together for a total of 47.6 cubic feet of space, meaning the Mini Countryman could hold 10 24-roll packs of paper towels.
Plus, you can get cover from the rain in the back of the Countryman, not that a Portlander would care.
As with all Minis, the Cooper Countryman comes with a 134 horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three cylinder engine, while the Cooper S version gets 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine. I drove the latter.
You can get any Countryman model with a six speed manual transmission, with either a six-speed or eight-speed automatic available.
However, the Countryman stakes part of its claim to crossover fame with the Mini All4 all-wheel-drive system, available on both the Cooper and Cooper S versions, giving it extra traction for Portland rain and icy roads. The system puts up to 40 percent of torque to the rear wheels at low speeds, and operates in front-wheel-drive mode at higher speeds, according to a Mini spokesman. It doesn't offer the ability to lock the torque distribution.
Driving the Countryman through pounding rain outside of Portland, the car proved comfortable and handled well. The wipers automatically sped up to deal with the unrelenting downpour and the bright white LED headlights gave it added visibility. Traveling down an icy road, I felt the car's wheels slip a bit, then take hold, likely a combination of all-wheel-drive and traction control.
Beyond this rain-soaked drive around Portland, Mini let me run off with the Cooper S Countryman for my trip back to San Francisco. On the way, I intended to stop at some scenic falls, but faced with a snow covered road heading off into the woods, I balked. While the All4 system gave me some faith, the Countryman's 6.5 inches of ground clearance gave me fears of ending up high-centered, and forced to walk 5 miles to the nearest town.
Switching to Sport mode for engine and transmission when I found a dry, twisty road, the Countryman's driving dynamics impressed me. Oh, it doesn't quite live up to the phrase "go-kart handling," which Mini tends to bandy about, but everything feels tight and responsive. Taking a quick turn, I felt the car rotate under my butt. I derived more driving satisfaction out of the Mini Cooper hardtop, but the Countryman doesn't fall far behind.
I spent most of the 600-plus miles to San Francisco on the freeway, and under these road trip conditions the Countryman really excelled. It kept road noise to a minimum and comfort close to maximum. The soft, cloth-covered seats in my example let me cruise for hours without complaint, while the suspension admirably soaked up freight-truck-chewed asphalt.