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When MINI set out on the road to building a bigger, taller crossover, the car world's ears perked up--and if they could have, they'd have formed question marks.
A big MINI? Isn't that like jumbo shrimp?
The oxymoron from Oxford's ready now for all critics, and after our road test of the 2011 MINI Cooper Countryman, we can tell you that the alarm bells should be silenced. Turn off the emergency-alert system. Put the red phone down. The Countryman's still a MINI in feel and fettle, even though there's barely anything related to the current MINI Cooper other than the name badges.
The Countryman, you see, is spun off the same platform that BMW calls the X1. There's real all-wheel drive baked in, and a BMW-ute-ish ride height and stance to give away those light German roots. The Countryman's assembled in Graz, Austria, where its real countrymen have included other contract-manufactured cars screwed together by Magna Steyr including the Chrysler minivans, Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, and formerly, the BMW X3. Not an Oxford spat in sight.
It's almost undetectable, the way the Countryman feels more international and global and less distinctly MINI. It's so faint a sensation anyway, it hardly matters--whether you're driving the normally aspirated Cooper Countryman I strapped into, or the heavier, more powerful Cooper S Countryman and its Cooper S Countryman ALL4 kin.
The Countryman looks like a MINI, if a distant relative--and it feels like one too, in the same frame. MINI crows that it's the best crossover for gas mileage, too. Given all that, isn't it about time the meaning of the MINI name grew up and out, just a little bit?
- Faithful MINI cues
- Richer, tighter interior quality
- Unexpected back-seat room
- The usual MINI options smorgasboard
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Some like the steering--and some don't
- Rear-end styling almost misses the MINI dinghy
- No paddles for the automatic shifter, yet
- Controls and switches are still a little futzy