The Car Connection MINI Cooper Countryman Overview
Though the Mini Countryman is the largest model in the brand's range, it's one of the smallest crossovers on the market. The list of its competitors is long and growing with names like Chevy Trax, Buick Encore, Nissan Juke, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.
The Countryman was launched in the U.S. for 2011, and it's seen only minor updates (most of them cosmetic) since then. For 2016, changes are restricted to some trim and paint-color changes, and a new special-edition model called the Park Lane, following a new grille and new chrome trim on the Cooper S version for 2015
The Countryman actually shares body panels with only one of the other smaller, shorter vehicles in the Mini lineup: the Paceman hatchback. But the family resemblance is easily spotted. All-wheel drive is available, but front-wheel drive is standard.
MORE: Read our 2016 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 five 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 select 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 is a three-person bench. When it was first launched, the Countryman had a four-seat interior with two individual rear seats. In either configuration, it's a tight spot for many adults. The Countryman's closest competitor in size is probably the Nissan Juke, which is similarly cramped in the back.
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-hp rating. The vehicles also come with front- or all-wheel drive configurations. All-wheel drive hurts fuel economy a little, and it's only available on the Cooper S model and comes standard on the John Cooper Works.
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 might the regular Mini Cooper. Compared to its smaller siblings, the Countryman can feel a bit down on power, even with the turbocharged engine in the Countryman S. This, of course, has to do with its increased weight.
All Countryman models are equipped with a long list of safety items, such as stability and traction control; a number of airbags; and anti-lock brakes with corner brake control. While it has not been tested by the federal government, the Countryman receives the highest marks possible from the IIHS in all tests and gets that agency's Top Safety Pick nod as well.
The Countryman was one of the first models to offer 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.
In the 2013 model year, a John Cooper Works version of the Countryman joined the lineup. With 211 hp 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; it's the first JCW model yet to offer an automatic transmission in addition to the standard 6-speed manual; since then, the auto has migrated to other new JCW models.
The 2013 model also brought a redesigned armrest with relocated power-window controls and a larger console storage area. The second-row seat is now a three-person bench, with a two-person bucket arrangement available as a no-cost option. MINI also added the Paceman that year, a vehicle that is essentially a two-door version of the Countryman. The models are sized similarly, although the Paceman is much tougher to get in and out of and the Countryman remains far more popular; in fact, it's the most popular vehicle in Mini's lineup right now.
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. A new Countryman is likely a few years off and is rumored to share a platform with the next BMW X1 crossover.