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2024 Mini Countryman First Drive Review: The Biggest Mini Ever Is Still Cute and Practical

2024 Mini Countryman First Drive Review: The Biggest Mini Ever Is Still Cute and Practical photo
2024 Mini Countryman First Drive Review: The Biggest Mini Ever Is Still Cute and Practical photo

When Mini came back to America as BMW’s cute cousin in 2002, the characterful aesthetic was a huge part of the Cooper’s appeal. Decades later, vehicles have become even more homogenized and computerized. For a modern car to have any semblance of personality, it needs a distinctive design and interface. The 2024 Mini Countryman JCW and electric 2025 Countryman SE are not the Minis you remember from the early 2000s (let alone the 1960s) but they still manage to stir some of the magic that’s made the brand special in the past.

Most reviews of the new Mini Countryman open with how big it is, and yes, this is the largest Mini ever minted. It’s had a substantial growth spurt even from the outgoing model—it’s about five inches longer and nearly four inches taller. But in the context of today’s compact SUVs, the Mini Countryman is still somewhat on the small side—about half a foot shorter than the current Toyota RAV4, for example.

And the Countryman makes good use of its interior cubic inches. The steep rear window and tall roofline make for ample cargo space regardless of whether you fold the rear seats, and a lot of light comes into the cabin through tall windows. It has good posture and visibility for those who like to sit somewhat high, but it’s less cumbersome than even most smaller SUVs. Seats are comfortable, and headroom’s amazing even in the back (station wagon-style long roof wins again there).

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The dashboard layout, controls, and unique round infotainment rig are the pillars holding up the Mini vibes. Touchpoints are mostly all great. The steering wheel’s chunky and using a little piece of webbing to make a spoke is an original and cute idea. Mini still uses a cheater head-up display, projecting speed and other information onto a little flip-up translucent plane that sits between the pilot and the windshield. Honestly, I prefer this to HUDs that beam driver info directly onto the windshield—it’s more legible this way and feels kind of jet fighter-y.

Door handles and shifter have decisive action. The physical controls are minimal, unfortunately, but neatly designed. Toggles feel substantial, and I even like the key-style ignition control. (You turn a little switch that happens to be shaped like a key, while of course the real key fob never needs to leave your pocket.) The Mini Countryman feels like a toy … you’ll either appreciate that or you won’t. Almost everything you interact with is at least a little bit novel and I dig that approach to cockpit design.

Mini calls its drive modes “Experiences” now, which is fitting. The car’s actual behavior and physical responsiveness don’t change all that much, but the sounds and screens do. This aspect of the car’s toyfulness won’t be quite as charming to hardcore car nerds, but the only real complaint I have about it is that it’s just laggy enough to be annoying. Swapping between modes, sorry, Experiences, triggers a brief theme tone and transitional animation … which is almost, but not quite, smooth and synchronized. You can tell it’s asking a lot of the little processor behind the dashboard. The transitions can be deactivated entirely which basically solves the problem, but then you’re not getting the full Experience!

I spent a day driving two variants of the new Countryman: The JCW performance spec and the new SE battery-electric model. Two radically different powertrains, both with their pros and cons.

Mini Countryman SE: The Electric One

I thought the dusty gold-colored trim was a neat and interesting choice. <em>Andrew P. Collins</em>
I thought the dusty gold-colored trim was a neat and interesting choice. Andrew P. Collins

I would not say the macro-Mini EV feels like a go-kart (despite that being the name of one of its drive modes). It’s simply not possible to create a sensation of feathery dartiness in a 4,400-pound car, even with the explosive torque of electric propulsion. However, the Mini SE feels lively and responsive among compact SUVs. Regenerative braking toggled by a steering wheel paddle helps stimulate a feeling of driver engagement, even though (somewhat ironically) that means you’re actually doing a lot less than you’d be driving a good old-fashioned manual shift Cooper.

But I loved diving into a turn, cranking up regen, then blasting out to the Star Trek-like swooshing sounds being made by the car. Was I going fast? Not really, but I felt satisfied. You can hear some of that on this reel we posted to our IG page.

The infotainment experience (it’s about the sounds as much as the screen) is doing all the heavy lifting on creating a uniquely Mini vibe. Set it to Go-Kart and you get a sporty display with a booming spaceship sound effect on throttle. There’s also an efficiency display mode which makes the car much softer sounding and throws up a digital animal accomplice—a flapping hummingbird when you’re chilling, a running panther when you step into power.