New & Used MINI Countryman: In Depth
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The Countryman is the largest model in the MINI range, but it’s still one of the smallest crossovers currently on the market. It competes with the Nissan Juke and the Buick Encore.
The lines of the Countryman are instantly recognizable as a MINI, but larger in every dimension. It actually shares no body panels with the smaller, shorter vehicles in the rest of the MINI range, with one exception: the odd three-door Paceman hatchback, essentially a Countryman with its rear doors missing--and perhaps a competitor for the similar three-door version of the Evoque.
The MINI Countryman was launched in the U.S. for 2011, and it's had no major updates since then.
MORE: Read our 2015 MINI Countryman review
The MINI Countryman has roughly the same footprint as a Volkswagen Golf hatchback, but it manages to look larger and offer some actual off-road capability, thanks to bulging fenders and higher ground clearance than its MINI siblings. The interior packaging provides space for four people and a decent amount of gear. Like other Mini models, the Countryman doesn't come cheap, especially in higher trim levels with added equipment. MINI is targeting well-off buyers who could choose something bigger or more luxurious but instead choose the brand for its size and charm.
The Countryman's interior layout is very similar to that of its smaller MINI friends. The retro design runs strong throughout, while some of the idiosyncratic touches have been smoothed over, including the location of the lock and window switches. In back, there are two individual seats, with an optional accessory rail running between them. It's a tight spot for many adults, which explains why a third center seat is not available in this market. The Countryman's closest competitor in size is probably the Nissan Juke.
The base model is the regular Countryman and it comes with a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Up one rung on the ladder is the sportier Countryman S model, which gets a turbocharged version of the base model’s engine and a 181-horsepower rating. The vehicles also come with front- or 'ALL4' all-wheel drive configurations. All-wheel drive is safer but hurts fuel economy a little.
Whichever wheels are doing the driving, it’s a bit of a shock how good the thing handles though you’ll never mistake it for a sports car like you may with the regular MINI Cooper. We also found the vehicle to be a bit down in power, even when driving the turbocharged Countryman S.
Safety is a strong suit as the Countryman is equipped with a wide array of safety equipment, including a full complement of airbags, stability and traction control, corner brake control and anti-lock brakes all helping it to score top marks in independent crash testing.
Beginning in the 2013 model year, a new John Cooper Works (JCW) version of the Countryman joined the lineup. With 211 horsepower and an overboost mode that kicks torque up to 221 pound-feet in bursts, the JCW can accelerate to 60 mph in about seven seconds; and it's the first JCW model yet to offer an automatic transmission in addition to the standard six-speed manual.
The 2013 model also has a redesigned armrest with relocated power-window controls and a larger console storage area. Also, the second row seat is now a three-person bench, with a two-person bucket arrangement now a no-cost option. Also on the horizon is the 2013 MINI Paceman, which is essentially a two-door version of the Countryman.
For 2015, the Countryman gets a new grille, with the sportier Cooper S Countryman identifiable by additional chrome detailing. Most all-wheel-drive models get standard underbody guards, which can be added to the front-wheel-drive models too. Other updates include new 17-inch alloy wheel designs, LED fog lights, and accents in glossy piano black, along with a handful of new exterior colors.
The most major tweak for the new model is the latest MINI Connected infotainment system, which not only integrates with smartphones but also offers internet-based services encompassing infotainment, communication, and driver experience. They're provided through a growing range of apps that run on the display screen in the center of the dash, and operated via a joystick in the center console.