It’s no secret the CUV is becoming the most widespread body style on earth. Unfortunately the competition to create practical, high-riding, space-efficient designs is so intense it is condemning many to cookie-cutter status.
With the ’17 Countryman, BMW’s Mini brand avoids this curse by seamlessly transporting the rare, endearing qualities of its tiny premium cars to its big second-generation CUV. Almost always, the original vehicle’s charm and authenticity gets lost in the translation, but not this time.
And even though it still is a subcompact, it is Mini’s largest vehicle ever, more spacious than a number of its competitors in the subcompact CUV segment. Cue the irony.
Our $38,000 test vehicle instantly impressed WardsAuto editors with its eye-catching textures, colors and high-quality materials from stem to stern. Editor Christie Schweinsberg, known for her extreme vetting of interior craftsmanship, marveled at the sumptuous leather and extensive use of soft-touch materials in key areas such as the IP cover, top half of the doors and center armrest. The headliner and A-pillars also are snugly covered with a high-quality knit material.
“Not a seam out of place,” says editor Tom Murphy, another professional nitpicker.
The Countryman also gets high marks for its sophisticated but easy-to-use HMI and exceptionally good voice recognition. Electronic user-experience features such as VR are not as big a part of our interiors scoring as our 10 Best UX evaluations, but when an automaker excels with a feature often plagued by glitches in other vehicles, we notice.
“Voice (control) kicks ass in this car,” Schweinsberg says. “You don’t have to say anything besides the radio station name (no source necessary), and you can rattle off a full address and it will find it without ever having to say the word ‘address.’”
VIDEO: INSIDE AWARD-WINNING COUNTRYMAN
The switchgear also stands out. Center-stack toggle switches are part of Mini’s design heritage. The Countryman’s toggles have a premium look and feel and let you know that you are in a CUV that wants to stand out from the crowd: The starter button is a toggle switch in the center stack.
“This is the nicest Mini interior I’ve experienced,” sums up Murphy.
We’ve seen much of this design language before in Mini’s Clubman and Hardtop models, and we rated them highly. But the pricey Clubman trades away some of Mini’s trademark sportiness for luxury and the iconic Hardtop models are superbly executed brand experiences for Mini fans, but remain too small for mainstream U.S. buyers.
The Countryman takes the style, craftsmanship and fun of all the Mini models and puts them into a spacious and comfortable CUV with cargo space and rear-seat headroom that other Mini models can’t match.
The Countryman doesn’t just use Mini’s DNA, it captures its soul in a package big enough for everyone to love, not just Mini fans.