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The Mini Cooper Countryman features functionality, with four doors, comfortable room for good-sized people in back, and available all-wheel drive. It's the practical Mini, a more all-purpose vehicle than the other models. Countryman was all new for 2011, so updates for 2012 are few.
Option packages have been re-aligned for the 2012 Mini Countryman, and more personalization choices, such as a full-leather dashboard, have been added.
The Countryman retains the look and fuel economy that have established Mini as a premium brand among small cars while offering real space for four adults and substantially more cargo volume than the other Minis. The Countryman isn't as responsive as the sportiest Mini models, but it's good fun to drive and more engaging than other vehicles in its class,. It's also more comfortable than other Minis.
While the taller, larger Countryman looks a bit different than other Minis, it's based on the same underpinnings and uses the same engines. The base, 121-horsepower four-cylinder is frugal and adequate, even with the optional 6-speed automatic. The upgrade turbocharged version delivers more horsepower and more torque over a broader range, making it more responsive around town and more entertaining.
All-wheel drive is available with the turbo. Front-wheel drive is standard.
Fuel economy ratings range from an EPA-rated 27/35 mpg City/Highway for the base engine with manual to 24/31 mpg for the turbo with all-wheel drive and automatic.
Most Mini Cooper models have four seatbelts, but the Countryman is a realistic four-adult car. It has four traditional side doors, so it's easier to get in or to load kids inside. It delivers 41 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats, with a third of that in the deep trunk with all seats in place. The Countryman will work for families with two small children.
The interior treatment is similar to that in other Mini Coopers. Recurring styling themes, unusual controls and stylized instruments highlight the cabin yet it's functional and quite useful.
Options, including navigation, premium harman-kardon audio, leather and wheel packages, and park-distance control, are plentiful. They can increase the base price $15,000 or more.
The 2012 Mini Countryman is available with a choice of four-cylinder engines, a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter engine and a 181-hp turbocharged version of the same engine. The turbo is available with all-wheel drive. All come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, but all are available with a 6-speed automatic ($1,250). The Sport Package adds 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, fog lights, hood stripes, and traction control.
Mini Cooper Countryman ($21,750) is powered by a 121-hp 1.6-liter engine with front-wheel drive. It comes standard with vinyl upholstery, six-way manual front seats, sliding and reclining rear seats, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, power mirrors, locks and four auto-up/down windows, 17-inch alloy wheels, pushbutton start, a rear wiper, adjustable-color ambient lighting, trip computer, center-rail storage with two cupholders and a sunglass case, six-speaker audio with single CD, high-definition and satellite radio hardware, and a one-year subscription to Sirius. For 2012, carpeted floor mats are standard.
Mini Cooper S Countryman ($25,350) features a 181-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and front-wheel drive. Countryman S adds traction control and sport seats to the standard equipment list, and is distinguished by subtly different exterior trim.
The Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 ($27,050) upgrades the S with a full-time variable all-wheel drive system.
Option groups have been re-aligned for 2012, but the most popular extras are available in four packages. The Premium Package ($1,750) includes a universal garage-door opener, automatic climate control, Comfort Access proximity key, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, and chrome interior trim. The Technology Package ($2,000) features rear Park Distance Control, Mini Connected hands-free operation, harman-kardon premium audio and a center armrest. The Cold Weather Package ($750) adds power folding heated mirrors, heated windshield washer jets and heated front seats. Stand-alone options number in the dozens, ranging from piano black cabin trim ($250) to sport suspension ($500) to a navigation system ($1,750). Various cloth and leather interior combinations are available, with a range of paint, color and trim choices. The Mini Yours line, new for 2012, adds even more upscale choices, including a full-leather dashboard and two-tone steering wheel. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Standard crash-protection features include front-impact airbags, front passenger knee-protection airbag, front side-impact airbags and full cabin head-protection curtains. Standard active safety features include stability control and anti-lock brakes with cornering brake control and brake hold.
Traction control is standard on S and ALL4 and optional on the base Countryman. Other safety options, available in packages or separately, include the rear Park Distance Control and adaptive xenon headlamps ($600).
From a distance of 50 feet, the Countryman looks a lot like a Mini Cooper. Its distinctions are obvious only if it's parked near another Mini model. While it's unique in the Mini line, the Countryman absolutely will not be mistaken for any other brand.
Labeled a crossover by many, the Countryman is the first four-door Mini. Designers have done a great job retaining Mini's familiar visual charm in the Countryman, and that's one reason it's not obvious how much larger than other Minis the Countryman really is. At 161.8 inches in length and 61.5 inches high, it's 17.7 inches longer and 6.1 inches taller than a Mini Cooper hardtop. It's about six inches longer than the extended-wheelbase Clubman. The Countryman has a similar footprint to Ford's Fiesta subcompact hatchback, and it's substantially smaller than other compact crossovers. It's a foot shorter than a Volkswagen Tiguan, and 1.7 feet shorter than a Toyota RAV4.
Countryman's grille is more upright than that on other Mini models. Its headlight clusters are big and oblong, rather than classic Mini round, with two pipes for main beams and a ring of LED elements that serve as daytime running lights (DRLs). Countryman S and ALL4 models have extra openings in front, including a slot above the bumper that replaces the hood scoop on other Coopers to feed cold air to the intercooler. The S also has square, chrome-trimmed openings near the fog lights for directing cooling air to the front brakes.
In side view, the Countryman features what Mini designers call a helmet roof. It's less flat and more domed than that on other Mini models. All of the roof pillars are black, so the contrasting roof appears to be floating.
The MINI logo at the rear serves as the tailgate release, and the license plate recess has the same shape as the air intake in the front bumper. Unlike the Mini Clubman, with its swing-out barn doors, the Countryman has a conventional hatch. It opens remotely with the key fob or manually by swiveling the center of the logo. A rear wiper/washer comes standard and it clears virtually all the window you see in the mirror.
We couldn't help but notice a sort of insect quality viewed from behind or overhead, with the single center antenna and the various curved sections reminding us of biology-class labs. The Countryman is playful, different and seems quite appropriate for this maximum Mini.
It's available in plenty of colors, some unique to it, with contrasting roof paint. We recommend the lighter shades if you live in a place with high-voltage sunshine. You can accessorize almost indefinitely with chrome, dark light housings, stripes bordering on wallpaper, and a Union Jack, Black Jack or checkered flags for the roof and mirrors.
Anyone who appreciates other Mini Cooper models should feel right at home in the Countryman. Design themes, features and materials are similar in all Minis. The big difference is that the Countryman is a true four-passenger vehicle, with a lot more all-purpose utility.
With larger front door openings, the Countryman is easier to climb into than the other models, and its front seat bottoms are higher than those in other Minis by about three inches. For the same reason, the Countryman is a big improvement in forward visibility. The view outward is very good in all directions, because the roof pillars are fairly narrow and more widely spread out. The edges of the hood can be seen by the driver, the glass is expansive and the rear wiper is very effective. The side mirrors are available with a power-fold option for rare neighborhoods where a Mini is wide.
The standard upholstery is vinyl, or Leatherette as Mini calls it. It doesn't come off as cheap, and we'd be quite happy with it. Upgrades include cloth, a couple types of leather, or a combination of cloth inserts and leather side bolsters on the seats. Contrasting piping is available. Door panel inserts have soft-touch surfaces, the roof is a fuzzy fabric and carpeted floor mats are standard for 2012. Most of the standard trim pieces are well-grained plastic. There are no sharp edges or mold lines where panels meet, and nothing looks like a cost-cutting measure, nor out of place.
Choices in cabin trim are as varied as what's available in some luxury cars, with dark silver, piano black, faux carbon fiber and wood among the choices. Door panel inserts and some control surfaces are available in matching or contrasting colors. The Mini Yours interior options, new for 2012, were until now reserved for full luxury cars. These include a leather-surfaced dashboard with exposed stitching and a two-tone leather steering wheel.
The Countryman's front seats are reasonably comfortable, and the available sport seats are up to the car's capability. The cushions are adjustable for height but not angle, so longer legs may find thigh support minimal and tend to submarine, sliding down and forward, over time. Only one front passenger wished for more lateral support in the backrest (after being flung about like a puppet through half an hour of hard driving). Driver and passenger both benefit from wide foot wells, without wheel-well intrusion to make the outboard leg feel shorter than the other one.
The dashboard is larger than that in other Minis to fit the bigger format, with larger vents in slightly different locations, but it's pure Mini in look and operation. Most switches and controls are black with white labeling, and the optional chrome trim adds rings around everything from the shifter to the tachometer. Instruments and controls are bathed in deep amber at night, while door handles and ambient lighting can be adjusted through a rainbow of colors.
The tilt/telescoping steering wheel and properly placed shifter ensure a decent driving position for all sizes. The pedals are nicely placed for fancy footwork if your shoe size isn't too big. The handbrake is a horizontal bar attached on the right side of the console; it works fine for the driver but sometimes made it difficult to find the passenger's seatbelt buckle. And in hard motoring it will be one of the first things the passenger grabs to hang on.
The tachometer is directly ahead of the driver and most of it can be viewed through the wheel. It includes a digital speed display, which is handy because the parallax error in the central speedo can be up to 5 mph. The tach also displays mileage and trip data, but this readout can wash out with polarized sunglasses.
The huge speedometer sits at the top of the center stack of controls, giving equal property rights to driver and front passenger. It includes the fuel gauge, arcing across the bottom like so many pieces of candy corn. On cars with the optional navigation or Mini Connect system, the speedometer has a stubby needle that rotates around the outside edge, with a TFT image display in the center (not affected by polarized lenses). The nav system is operated via two buttons and a small rotary controller just behind the shifter, and it works better than it sounds. Menu logic and programming is much like BMW's latest iteration of iDrive, so be thankful the bugs were worked out before Mini got it.
Audio controls sit at the bottom of the speedometer. Below these are the CD slot, ventilation controls, toggle switches for the four windows, and door locks. The lock toggle does not correlate push-down with lock and lift-up with unlock. It just moves the locks to the other position whenever you move the switch, and these toggles may also be an issue with long fingernails. Along the bottom are controls for fog lights, sport mode, and stability control-off.
There are map lights on the inside mirror and another pair right over the front seatbacks, though this set seems really useful only for a reclined passenger. Inputs for plug-in audio devices are behind the shifter, and the only standard-equipment concealed cabin storage is in the glovebox.
The Countryman does come standard with Mini's Centre Rail storage and fastening system. Centre Rail is two aluminium rails running lengthwise through the middle of the interior in place of a conventional center console. Various accessories, including cupholders, ashtrays, storage boxes and armrests can be locked anywhere along the rails to the occupants' preference. Every car comes with a two-spot cupholder and sunglass case. Other devices, including armrests, are extra.
Rear-seat space is comparable to the typical compact sedan's, with ample headroom and access through generously-sized rear doors on both sides. The rear buckets aren't as heavily bolstered as those in front, so it's easy to slide in and out. Each seat slides fore and aft up to 5.1 inches, to maximize either rear-passenger or cargo space. With rear seats moved back to maximum depth, there's plenty of leg room for passengers six feet tall. It feels like there is more than the claimed 33 inches of rear legroom, but there is limited toe space under the front seats. The window toggles in the rear doors can be awkward to operate, and it seems that a dog paw might easily break one off.
As it does with passenger space, the Countryman also provides the most cargo space in Mini's lineup. It has a liftgate, like the Mini hardtop, and delivers a minimum 12.4 cubic feet of space for stuff, even with the rear seats upright and as far back as they'll slide. That's comparable to the trunk in the typical small sedan. Sliding the rear seats forward creates more cargo space, and folding the seatbacks expands maximum cargo volume to 41.3 cubic feet. There's enough height and length to haul two mountain bikes with their front wheels removed, according to Mini.
Cargo room is better still because there's a substantial well under the load floor, which aligns with the hatch opening. There are tie-down points in back and several optional storage accessories, including a basic net. The load height isn't far off the ground, yet the hatch still opens high enough that our 6-foot, 4-inch test dummy didn't whack his head.
The four-door Mini Cooper Countryman is the largest Mini ever, but it doesn't give up much of the sharp steering or precise handling that defines other Mini models. It's also the most comfortable Mini ever. With Mini's new, optional ALL4 all-wheel drive, the Countryman could quickly become a favorite with Mini buyers in United States, even if those buyers have a slightly different mindset than longtime Mini enthusiasts.
The Countryman is good fun to drive, eager to sprint off into a corner like a rabbit bounding into a vegetable patch. Those who haven't owned Minis may not be aware that you can have this much fun in a small crossover. Those who've owned other Mini models might be the only drivers less than impressed with the Countryman's dynamic performance.
That's because Mini owners are used to a certain level of response, which can be slightly diminished by added weight and a slightly higher center of gravity with the Countryman. A Countryman weighs about 400 pounds more than the Mini Cooper hardtop, or 250 pounds more than the Clubman or Convertible. Those are significant differences for a 3200-pound car. Still, we'd guess that the Countryman's slightly slower reaction times will be obvious only to those Mini owners with the sportiest models, like the hyper-tuned John Cooper Works variants (not yet available with the Countryman), or those who compete in autocross slalom events.
The biggest drag may be the base engine, which has to move the Countryman's extra weight. The 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder will get the job done but needs revs to do it best, so don't be shy with the gas pedal. Both the manual and automatic transmissions are geared properly, though on anything but highway cruise control we left the automatic in Sport mode to get the best of it. Using a lot of the engine a lot of the time, the base engine never felt or showed any sign of stress. It's among the smoothest little four-cylinders out there, and the noise or vibration never became annoying.
Still, the turbocharged engine in the Countryman S is well worth a premium price and the minimal hit you'll take in real-world gas mileage. Matching 181 horsepower with the Countryman's 3200 pounds, it delivers a slightly better power-to-weight ratio than the typical mid-size sedan. With a reported 0-60 mph time of 7.0 seconds, the Countryman S is plenty quick, particularly as crossovers go.
Moreover, the Countryman S generates up to 192 pound-feet of torque for passing and merging. The torque starts to come on below 2000 rpm and is pulling full-steam by 2500. The only difference in noise level is an extra exhaust whoosh in the rear seat under full throttle. In most instances, the S is quieter than the base Countryman because it needs fewer revs to get the job done. On winding roads or grades, the S can run a gear or two higher, and go quicker to boot.
All Countryman models (Countrymans? Countrymen?) come with a Sport button that makes the engine respond to the throttle faster, though engine response is so good the only time we found this advantageous was for blipping the manual's throttle on downshifts. The Sport mode button also affects the effort needed to steer, making it bit heavier without delivering better feel.
The Countryman's steering doesn't feel quite as razor sharp as that in some other Mini models. There's a slight numb spot just as you begin to turn the wheel off center. Yet the Countryman is supremely responsive as so-called crossover vehicles go, and its directional stability, or its ability to stay on the intended track without steering correction, is first rate. With a bit of familiarity, it goes exactly where you point it.
Its ride is decent, too, certainly more comfortable than any of the other Minis models, particularly on beat-up roads. It's most comfortable with the standard 17-inch wheels, as opposed to the upgrade 18-inchers. There's a bit more suspension travel in the Countryman, though drivers may also notice a bit more body roll (side-to-side sway) through bends than they will in a Mini hardtop or Clubman.
Mini's ALL4 all-wheel drive system is offered only on the Countryman S. In technical terms, ALL4 uses a power take-off at the front differential and delivers power to the rear wheels with an electro-hydraulic, multi-plate clutch. In real world application, this means that in normal driving circumstances all of the engine's power is turning the front wheels, as it does in every other Mini model. But if those wheels slip in any fashion, a bit more than half the engine torque can flow to the rear wheels, balancing the Countryman's traction.
ALL4 adds 154 pounds to the Countryman's operating weight (not much for an all-wheel drive system) and lowers EPA mileage ratings to 25 city, 31 highway, compared to 27/35 for a standard front-drive Mini Cooper Countryman. Still, the Countryman S ALL4 gets better mileage than just about any all-wheel drive vehicle available in the United States. And with ALL4, the Countryman can do things other Minis, including the JCW models, simply can't do.
It can, for example, accelerate hard from a stop with no tire squeal and no torque steer tugging your hands through the steering wheel. That's because ALL4 spreads power to rear wheels so those in front aren't overwhelmed with power, and the process is predictive. If you mash the gas pedal when the on-ramp signal turns green, All4 engages rear drive as fast as the engine makes power, and you're off.
A reasonably skilled driver can also turn the Countryman S ALL4 with the gas pedal. Like all Mini models it understeers a bit, or pushes on its front wheels out toward the edge of the pavement, if it's driven really hard into a curve. But with the Countryman ALL4, a squeeze on the accelerator pedal can actually tighten up its line through the curve, because the all-wheel-drive system will power up the back wheels and turn the back of the car. In such circumstances, other Minis will just churn the front tires and keep pushing toward the edge of the road until the driver lifts of the gas pedal. For the enthusiast driver, this ability to steer with the gas pedal adds an element of control, and fun.
For the rest of us, ALL4 adds an extra layer of traction and a bigger margin of safety, particularly on wet or snowy roads. It does not add significant off-road capability, and that is as much a function of ground clearance and tires as anything. Most Countryman variants come with tires more suited for grip on smooth, dry pavement than sloppy or rough surfaces. For that reason, graded dirt roads are as far into the countryside as a Countryman should go.
If you like the Countryman's size and are considering all-wheel drive but don't want the power or price of the turbocharged model, a second set of wheels with dedicated winter or rougher-terrain tires will get you just as far, maybe farther, than an ALL4 on the standard tires. All4 and that second set of appropriate tires are the best choice of all for action through Midwestern winters or mud.
The Countryman's brakes work just the same as they do on any Mini Cooper, which is to say very well. They respond immediately as the pedal begins to move, and you don't need to press it very far to get a high rate of deceleration. Turning or braking, or both simultaneously, the Countryman stays planted and doesn't lean too far sideways or forward.
Stability control is standard, as is cornering brake control, which that uses the braking system to help direct the car where you aim it by braking wheels individually to maximize directional movement. Both these systems tend to stay in the background, and you really have to screw up before they engage.
The 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman delivers no-excuses room for rear passengers, easier entry and exit than other Mini models, a lot more cargo space and the all-season advantage of optional all-wheel drive. It's powered by the same engines as other Minis, with an adequate 1.6-liter four-cylinder and an entertaining turbocharged upgrade. It offers the same style choices and personalization options, including a new, full-leather dashboard. The Countryman raises Mini's practicality quotient substantially, without a huge dip in mileage or motoring fun, and it will expand Mini's reach to a broader swath of potential buyers.
G.R. Whale contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Austin, Texas; with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Vienna and Detroit.
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