2018 MINI Countryman S E ALL4 SAV WTF? (Decoding a Thrilling Ride)

It’s designed to lure the Holy Grail customer that every manufacturer’s chasing. He lives in the city and she wants the all-in-one roomy/compact SUV that drives like a sports sedan, comfortably fits their friends while making them envious — all while saving the world from choking on gas fumes. Enter the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 SAV.

In a hurry? Here’s the short version: the Countryman S E does well on the one-ride-to-rule-them-all-and-in-the-darkness-park-them tally. So, bring your checklist to the test drive. Sharing the architecture of the BMW X1, the Countryman’s as much compact performance SUV as it is a traditional MINI go-cart-y plaything. It’s not cheap but is competitively priced among its rivals.

Now the necessarily extended remix: After all, the Countryman is MINI’s largest vehicle, and S E ALL4 SAV may be the manufacturer’s largest name. Let’s translate the jargon.

S stands for sport, a boost in power, fun, and consequently price. Driving enthusiasts love the S. E plug-in electric hybrid. Environmentalists and gas price hawks love the E, though the electric thing unnerves some. More about that later. ALL4 is MINI’s branding term for all-wheel drive (AWD). More about it later too.

‘Cooper’ is the title for any base MINI product (ranging from the 3-door to this largest model, the Countryman) upon which you’re welcome to expand. Master marketers, MINI salutes its history with that Cooper moniker. Meanwhile, the buyer feels like they’re getting more in the base product — just look at the extra word! — while assimilating that history. Does this matter? Hell, yes! A significant subset of MINI owners are cultish devotees who actually give their cars human names; it’s not unlike underground club of Jeep Wrangler owners who flash lights, and wave at each other in traffic.

Speaking of jargon, MINI calls the Countryman an SAV, for Sport Activity Vehicle, cheekily chucking the rather, umm, utilitarian Utility handle. (Betcha can’t say that last phrase three times fast! It comes out ‘you-tiddly you-tiddly handle’.)

Then again, take one spirited ride in any MINI S product and utilitarian is not likely an adjective you’re likely to employ, regarding the experience. Yes, even the MAXImal MINI Countryman. At 4.314 meters long, 1.822 wide and 1.557 tall, the Countryman is by far the biggest threat to the image of MINI ever. That’s well over a meter longer than the original 1967 Austin MINI Cooper* and nearly a half meter wider. (To be fair, it’s also a hell of a lot safer than these erstwhile rolling shortbread tins.)

Nevertheless, the zaftig Countryman still drives like a MINI. As one observant expert in a rival publication noted last year, “before we get hysterical over the girth of this largest Mini ever, the Audi Q3 is still 76mm longer than the new Countryman, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 104.1 mm longer. Yet the Countryman boasts more legroom, headroom and shoulder room, front and back, than both those competitors.”

Start talking AWD / 4-wheel drive and most Canadians will need to change their underwear. Like lemmings, we chant ‘it’s safer’ as though all-wheel drive is some super-power, but is it? On an ice patch, four braking tires with their meagre square inches of contact patch are equally useless as two. Still, we do love our all-wheel-drive here in the frozen north and, with so many other myths to battle in the media these days, let’s leave that one to rest and accept defeat.

However, start talking about E and many of us immediately imagine the worst. The feeling even has a name: range anxiety. What if it’s really cold and I get stuck in heavy traffic and I run outta juice? Relax. The S E is a hybrid. If you can find plug-in stations for charging, great! You could drive extended periods without needing gasoline but, unlike full-on electric vehicles, you don’t need to recharge it. It’ll just run on gas. So, you can assuage your range anxiety but still proudly show off your devotion to the environment!

Better still, as of this article’s publishing day here in Ontario, Dog Food has yet to be crowned as our province’s Dear Leader. Meaning? Incentives of between $5,000 and $14,000 are still available to buyers. But who knows for how long?

MSRP: $43,490

Extras: $1,450 Essentials Package (speaking of great names!): Panorama Sunroof, Storage Compartment Package, Heated Front Seats, Centre Armrest in Rear, Front Fog Lights

$650 Style Package: MINI Yours Sport Leather Steering Wheel, Chrome Line Interior, Chrome Line Exterior

$250 MINI Yours Interior Style Piano Black illuminated and MINI Yours Interior Style features illuminated dash trim at night

$1,400 LED Lists Package: LED Fog Lights, LED Adaptive Headlights

$1,200 Wired Navigation Package: On-Board Navigation, MINI Connected XL, Wireless Charging w/Extended Bluetooth and USB Wired Package

As Driven: $48,440


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