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Video | The Mini Countryman Is an Underrated Small SUV

I recently had the chance to drive a Mini Cooper Countryman John Cooper Works, which is an incredibly long name that includes the word "Cooper" twice, and I was absolutely thrilled with it. In fact, I’ve always been thrilled with the Countryman, ever since it came out, and today I’m going to explain exactly why.

First, let me give the basics: the Mini Countryman is essentially a "crossover" or an "SUV" Mini, with all-wheel drive, slightly raised ground clearance, and a larger interior than a regular Mini. The Countryman has, to some extent, been scorned by Mini people as it’s not a "real" Mini, since it’s been crossover-ified, and it no longer shares the Mini’s tiny size or its go-kart like driving feel.

Right now, the Countryman is offered in four flavors: there’s a base model with 134 horsepower, a mid-level S model with 189 hp, an electric version with 221 hp, and the high-performance John Cooper Works model with 228 horses. I drove the John Cooper Works, and I should warn you right off the bat: this thing is expensive. Base pricing starts around $38,000, and you can equip one to the $50,000 price point. Yes, fifty grand for a Mini.

That’s big money — but I’m going to explain to you why I think it’s worth it. First, let’s talk performance: the Countryman may have only 228 horses, which isn’t very high for an SUV, but — despite the complaints of Mini owners — it’s also not very large for an SUV. The result is 0-to-60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is way better than most rivals: the Mercedes GLA250 does 0-to-60 mph in 7 seconds, for instance — and if you step up to the GLA45, you’ll get a much faster time, but you’ll also pay $13,000 more to start. So the Countryman is relatively quick for an SUV in this segment.

It’s also relatively sporty. Yes, I will concede that the Countryman doesn’t quite feel like a tiny little exciting Mini Cooper hatchback — but it also doesn’t feel like a big SUV. In fact, as small SUVs go, this is one of the most exciting, one of the most nimble, with some of the best sporty handling around. I really, really, really love the Mini Countryman for its driving feel — and I think people who don’t love it are coming at it from the wrong point of view: yes, perhaps it isn’t the sportiest little vehicle for a Mini, compared to regular hatchback models — but it’s very sporty for a small crossover. And that’s where it shines.

And it gets even better, because the Countryman also has a lot of great stuff on the inside. Mini models are notoriously quirky and unusual, and this one is that, with its giant center screen and the huge circular light on the dashboard that can do basically anything you want — from displaying the climate control to the stereo volume. The Countryman is just as cool inside as a normal Mini, and I think that’s another big benefit: it breaks free from the small SUV mold, where several cars are all too similar, including the GLA, the BMW X1, the Lexus UX and the Audi Q3. The Countryman is weird and different in a good way — and it’s fun to drive, to boot.

But then there’s that pesky price tag. No, the Countryman isn’t more expensive than its luxury brand rivals — but the problem is that Mini isn’t quite a luxury brand. Sure, it’s owned by BMW, and the interiors are very nice, and, frankly, there’s a lot of BMW stuff inside a Mini, and the driving experience is great, and blah blah blah — but despite Mini’s best efforts, it just isn’t the same. And that’s where most buyers move along: when they’re asked to pay the same money for a Mini as they’d pay for an Audi, a Mercedes or a BMW.

But, to me, a good argument can be made that the Countryman improves on those cars, as it’s just a bit more unusual, a bit funkier, a bit more outside the box, and a lot more fun to drive. No, it may not have the same luxury brand name as some of the other stuff — but it’s still a blast to drive, it still looks cool, and it’s still excellent on the inside. And for those reasons, I think it’s unfairly underrated — and I suggest you add it to your shopping list of little luxury SUVs. Find a Mini Countryman for sale

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