2017 MINI Countryman vs Buick Encore Comparison

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Let’s just get the obvious out of the way: This is one of the most unfair comparisons ever.

Comparing the MINI Countryman to the Buick Encore is like deciding between a big, fat piece of warm apple pie a la mode or a plate of somewhat stale ethically sourced vegan wheat biscuits.

When I first framed this comparison up, I actually thought the two cars had a lot in common. I saw two relatively new subcompact crossovers that are both unconventional choices — they’re not the obvious picks in their segment and you could argue that both are a bit more premium than your average mainstream brand.

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But then I drove the MINI for about two seconds and immediately questioned my decision to compare these two vehicles: We’re all car enthusiasts here — we love MINIs, so I quickly realized that I was basically setting the Buick Encore up for a huge and unfair loss.

The Buick Encore, however, outsold the MINI Countryman last year by nearly six times, so maybe it does have a fighting chance!

Similarities and Mostly Differences

I have a hard time accepting the fact that the Encore outsells the MINI by so much — we’re talking 78,500 Encores versus 12,700 Countrymans. But they do have a few similarities. The obvious choices and top three sellers are the Jeep Renegade, Subaru Crosstrek, and Honda HR-V, but these two CUVs skew a little more to the luxury end of the segment, starting in the mid-$20,000s and climbing above $30,000 when well equipped.

But that’s where the similarities end. These two crossovers could not be more different.

Compare Specs

2017 MINI Countryman S
vs
2017 Buick Encore
Vehicle 2017 MINI Countryman S Advantage 2017 Buick Encore
Engine2.0L turbo 4-cyl-1.4L turbo 4-cyl
Horsepower189MINI153
Torque207MINI177
Transmission8-speed auto-6-speed auto
Cargo Capacity (cu-ft)17.7/47.6Buick18.7/48.4
Cargo Capacity (liters)501/1,347Buick532/1,370
US Fuel Economy (MPG combined)26Buick27
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km combined)9.1Buick8.3
US PriceStarts at $27,450 (includes destination)BuickStarts at $23,915 (includes destination)
US As-Tested Price$41,000Buick$35,675
CAN PriceStarts at $29,235 (includes destination)BuickStarts at $25,195 (includes destination)
CAN As-Tested Price$49,111Buick$36,990

Starting with style, the Encore is one of the dorkiest looking subcompact crossovers in the segment. It looks squished and the proportions are all wrong, so it ends up looking like a little piggy on stilts. There is an upside to those awkward proportions, however, and that is excellent headroom, and it’s also easy to get into and out of.

The MINI, on the other hand, looks fantastic. It’s fun and unique and takes everything we like from the smaller MINIs and applies it to a bigger crossover, but losing none of the cuteness or personality in the process. The MINI can also pass as looking sporty and a bit rugged, where the Encore just looks odd.

More Differences Inside

Moving inside, the MINI’s interior is also much cooler than the Buick. Our tester had a beautiful brown quilted leather (which is optional), and it’s simply a lot more interesting to look at. I also love the retro toggle switches, colorful lighting, and the big circular dashboard display. This interior shines and has a lot of personality, so it’s a happy place to be, where the Buick is a lot more functional, but it looks drab in comparison.

2017-mini-countryman-vs-buick-encore-comparison

Some people, however, might find the MINI’s interior a bit confusing. Some of the controls are not entirely obvious and things are placed in strange places sometimes. I’m also not a fan of the infotainment system — the menu structure isn’t that intuitive and, although it looks cool, it’s not that easy to use. It’s based on BMW’s iDrive system, so you can use the touchscreen or control it with a rotary knob. You can also draw letters on top of the knob with your finger to input addresses and stuff so you don’t have to waste time scrolling through the letters. I don’t love either option – just give me a touch keyboard on the touchscreen.

While I love the MINI’s unique interior, the Buick’s is a lot more familiar. It’s easy to get used to and although I think it’s a bit boring, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The weirdest thing to me is that the door sills come up very high, so it feels like I’m sitting in a tub, and as a result, the sightlines are quite bad. Just something to keep in mind if you’re a shorter driver.

2017-buick-encore-007

I do, however, prefer Buick’s infotainment system over MINI’s. It’s more straightforward and user-friendly, and the fact that it comes with a 4G LTE wifi hotspot is a huge bonus. The screen also has a matte finish that seems pretty resistant to fingerprints.

The Buick isn’t even that much more practical than the MINI, making me even more confused as to why so many people buy it. The MINI is rated to have more rear seat legroom and the Encore beats the Countryman for cargo capacity, but just a by a little bit. The Encore has 18.8 cubic feet (532 L) in the trunk and 48.4 (1,370 L) with the rear seats folded flat, while the MINI has 17.7 (501 L) in the trunk and 47.6 (1,347 L) with the seats folded (and they split 40/20/40, which is handy), so it’s not a big enough difference to be a huge deal. I also found it difficult to find a comfortable driving position in both cars.

On the Road

I was somewhat surprised by how this MINI drives. I thought that it would be too big and heavy to be fun, but it actually drives really well, just like the smaller MINIs. I especially love the heavy and responsive steering. Driving MINIs just makes me so happy, and that’s really hard to pull off in this segment.

2017-mini-countryman-vs-buick-encore-comparison

The MINI we tested was the sportier Countryman S model, so it has an unfair power advantage over the Buick. The base Countryman comes with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, but this S model gets the upgraded 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft; it’s enough to make the MINI feel alive so that passing people and zipping around town is very entertaining. Our S model has an eight-speed automatic, which isn’t perfect because it has hard shifts from time to time, but you can even get it with a six-speed manual, which is nice. Base Countrymans get six-speed autos.

Driving the Countryman, it just reminded me of why I enjoy MINIs so much — you can’t underestimate how fun they are and they don’t take themselves too seriously. This car puts me in a good mood with its balanced handling and fantastic suspension, which is stiff enough to feel sporty, but not so stiff as to be uncomfortable.

2017-mini-countryman-vs-buick-encore-comparison

Meanwhile, compared to the MINI, the Buick is unstimulating and it takes itself very seriously. Fun just isn’t part of this car’s vocabulary. Yes, it’s at a huge disadvantage here, but it would still pale next to the base three-cylinder Countryman as well. It does everything you need it to, and the only real problem is that it lurches into gear when you start from a stop, which is jarring and makes the car seem a bit unrefined.

The Buick is powered by a turbo 1.4L four-cylinder engine with 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque paired to a six-speed automatic, and the little CUV actually gets going pretty decently off-the-line or during a pass. There isn’t much to comment on how the Encore drives: it’s completely average and there are no major knocks against it. It’s definitely a comfortable setup with a softer suspension, and I think a lot of people might like that.

The Sales Question

So why does the Encore outsell the Countryman six to one? It probably comes down to a few things: Buick has a better dealer network, MINI doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to reliability, and pricing is a huge factor. The Countryman is also different, and some people might be scared off by that. The Buick is much more affordable than the MINI, even though the MINI has more tech and luxuries available. The base Countryman starts at $27,450 ($29,235 in Canada), while the Encore starts as $23,915 ($25,195 in Canada) – all prices including destination charges. As tested, our top trim Encore rings in at $35,675 ($36,990 in Canada), while our fully loaded Countryman S stickers at a heftier $41,000 ($49,111 in Canada). Adding to the MINI’s cost is its need for premium fuel, while the Buick runs on regular fuel. 

2017-mini-countryman-vs-buick-encore-comparison

The Verdict: 2017 MINI Countryman vs Buick Encore Comparison

To wrap it up, I love the Countryman’s sporty, balanced driving dynamics, funky looks, and fun interior, but it is a lot more expensive and has a sometimes confusing infotainment system. The Buick counters with a better infotainment system, comfortable ride, and a much more affordable price, but is boring in almost every other aspect. It does nothing wrong, but it also doesn’t shine in any one area either.

For me, the MINI wins this comparison hands down — it’s so much fun and I love its personality. I would definitely scrap some of the expensive options to keep the price lower. But the fact that the Encore outsells the Countryman by such a huge margin really tells you what the market wants. Most people want something that’s easy to drive and familiar, and fun driving dynamics isn’t something that a lot of people care about. If you want a driver’s car, go for the MINI. If you want to play it safe, the Buick is a better choice.

Like a piece of apple pie with ice cream on top, the MINI will be a lot more enjoyable than the vegan wheat biscuits, but like the Buick, the boring vegan snacks will be a healthier choice and will still keep you full (and probably more regular) even though they’re not as tasty.

MINI Countryman

Buick Encore

  • Paul

    You must have a fixation with the Mini, heck my e mail from you people had a total of six Mini related stories and that was all that was in it. WTF.

  • ReallyDoubt

    The Mini, is once again, stupidly priced. Even modestly equipped, Mini ensures that more is paid for less content.

  • hp79

    Let me correct this for you, “MINI doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to reliability” -> “MINI is known for being one of the worst when it comes to reliability”.
    Also, the optional stuff prices are crazy on the MINI. Of course it doesn’t sell well.

    I have a 2015 F56, yeah, it’s fun but I don’t know if I’m going to keep it after my lease is up. Interior rattle from cheaply built plastic clip panels and also road noise is another problem with these MINIs. You didn’t even compare road noise? I bet the Buick will be really quiet compared to MINI. And why not include Honda and Subaru while at it? I am genuinely interested how much better they will fare against premium priced MINI.

  • kgelner

    I have a 2011 CM All4 (Sport) that has been pretty reliable over all, one thing people are not factoring is how safe they are as well – airbags all over, and the great handling means you can avoid accidents altogether.

    As you say, other cars may be a bit more utilitarian but the MINI CM is just really fun all around. And the All4 system works really well, especially so with winter tires on.

    I do agree that iDrive system is not great, I happily got the screen option before they had iDrive. I’m hoping in a year or two they’ll have a saner car UI worked out. Until then, the screen is optional and you’d even save money omitting it – you can just plug your smartphone into the USB port in the car and control things that way.

  • hp79

    Are you seriously thinking you can avoid accidents just because the MINI handles a little better? Even if it handled twice better I don’t think avoiding an accident is possible. It wouldn’t be called an accident then.

  • kgelner

    No, I’m seriously SAYING you can avoid accidents because it handles a LOT better. I test drive some other similar cars every year to see if I should switch and the degree of control you have is night and day. Consider stopping distance alone, for the 2015 Buick : 70-0 mph: 177 ft, vs the MINI CM at 157 feet (2011 model anyway, I could not find stopping specs for last years CM). Would you rather have 20 more feet to stop on the highway in an emergency? I sure would. Just the other day someone tried to merge directly into my side out of the blue (no signal and no look) but the very direct steering managed to get me out the way in time, whereas most of the other small SUV’s I’ve tested are much less reliable steering and may have even led to flipping the car in a hard swerve like that onto a shoulder…

    It is an accident when it’s someone else driving into you. Or for instance, when a deer appears at night… I have avoided a lot of crazy things because of the great handling and stopping ability the car has. It’s not twice as good but it’s pretty significant. Just re-read the review, where they say as much…

  • Jack Woodburn

    Ms. Lai, your complete lack of objectivity as an automotive journalist is terribly disappointing. You’d fit much better in a career as a political “journalist” at CNN or MSNBC. I’ll pass any future articles with your byline.

  • PAR

    One major factor, not documented, the MINI cost of ownership and repairs are significantly higher than the Encore.

  • Jodi Lai

    Your opinion means so very much to me. Life changing. Thanks for the advice.

  • John L Rosato

    i think your assessment was very fair….your pointed out your preference…but also found the reasons why the encore was very popular….your right on…at this price level and category of car…the encore has what the market wants….Others, who care about driving dynamics vs. comfortable drive and price will choose the mini…other price conscience buyers will prefer the Encore….thanks for the insights…

  • shkeller55

    Ignore the haters, Jodi, as always. I agree with your conclusions. And I come to Autoguide specifically to see or read your reviews.

  • Duke Woolworth

    I saw quite a few of the Opel/Buick/Chevy in France and the UK last month. Evidently a buy in their eyes.

  • LibertyIsBetter

    The fact you disagree is does not make Jodi biased. We all have preferences and I am in the camp with Jodi. My driving motto is “No boring cars.” I could not drive a Buick Encore unless forced. There are people who like sensible cars and there are people who need more out of their driving experience. Most driving enthusiasts are likely to go with a more interesting car. People who look at cars as simple transportation stick to the sensible and often dull cars.

  • Jack Woodburn

    Disagreeing is one thing, fawning bias that ignored significant shortcomings noted by several other more credible automotive journalists is quite another. The Mini rests on a dated platform, it is over priced and has significant reliability issues that annually puts it at the bottom of the list in that regard. Cuteness and quirkiness do not make for a laudable vehicle at that price point. I stand by my challenge of the author’s comparative (to her peers of BOTH sexes, so don’t bother going there) lack of objective journalistic professionalism in this so-called “review.” I’m not a Buick guy, I just expect objectivity and as a reader I didn’t get it.

  • Mainemoose

    You did a great job comparing an apple and an orange in the ever expanding small CUV segment. You stated your preferences. We all have them. Mr. Woodburn’s ideas of “dated platform” and report bias are a product of today’s lack of information and are nonsense, but everyone has their right to opine, informed or not.

    The Countryman can be built and nicely optioned for about $32-34k on the Mini site. There are a lot of very expensive packages that can be added which I wouldn’t, including the automatic. If you love to drive great handling cars like MIni, then the manual transmission would be the choice I would make. But for most drivers stuck in daily in mega city stop and go traffic, the automatic would work. Nothing wrong with the pudgy Buick. I would consider both of these vehicles on the quirky side of the spectrum, but not hugely unlikable in any way.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Chris

    As a mini owner (R56 JCW) the cost of ownership (in the US) is quite a bit higher than a Buick, don’t care what year model you have. Mini Dealers skewer you like shish kabob if your brave enough to go their, $2K for a brake job Ouch! They are fun to drive but that’s pretty much where it ends. Any kind of performance mod you want to do starts at 1K and goes up so tuner crowds beware! I had a chance to drive a 2017 Clubman and it was a slow under powered turd with limited visibility, i just couldn’t see the attraction at all. I also drove a new 2017 S two door hardtop and was very impressed but sticker shock repelled me like cryptonite. In all your comparison is apples to oranges for sure! Maybe next time pit the Mini with the VW Jetta 2.0 T. probably a little more evenly matched all the way around!

  • Patrick

    In the video it’s mentioned that the Buick Encore has 153hp/177 of torque, which are the specs for the optional engine. However, the Encore shown in the video has the older 138/148 engine (the intake plumbing is different on the optional engine). Was the Mini compared to that actual car, or another unit not shown on screen?

  • Pavel Karasik

    2013 Chevrolet Suburban Vin # 1GNSKJE77DR333576 have a Transmission problem for the past 2 years, and GMC don’t want to do anything about it. Krystal Dealership in Brooklyn, NY and Manfredi Dealership in Staten Island, NY, have no Customer Service what’s so ever

  • Gary Moeller

    I agree. I drive a 2009 Clubman and have avoided a number of accidents thanks to its quick, precise steering and fantastic brakes. The only vehicle I have driven that I have driven with better brakes is my Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and its Brembo brakes. The Mini comes close though! I think boring cars SUCK!

  • Gary Moeller

    I disagree. I am from Houston and have gone back for visits every year or two. I have yet to have to buy a tire or wheel due to damage from a pothole. I have the optional 17″ wheels and tires on mine. BTW, I drove my 2009 Clubman S from Virginia to Texas and back each time. It is great driving 80-100mph and getting 33-37 mpg. My Mini is just starting to breath good at those speeds. The three brands you mentioned would run out of steam at those speeds. My Mini’s great handling and precise steering saved me from a bad accident on I-10 during rush hour when some idiot merged without looking and I had no place to go, so three of us ended up using two lanes with inches between us until the idiot woke up and got off at the next exit. If I had braked, the car behind me would have been all over me. We were all traveling about 70mph or more in bumper to bumper traffic.

  • John Wagener

    I had to get a new daily driver 2 years ago to replace my 96 toyota corolla I also have a 2003 MINI JCW. I teste drove the CM all4. Really liked it. Nicely executed. But I bought a Subarau XV. The CM wasnt $10K better and I really didnt need another car with the same driving experience.