- Unique yet still MINI
- Improved interior quality
- Surprising rear-seat room
- Steering feel is divisive
- No paddle shifters for automatic yet
- Rear-end styling is not so MINI
The 2012 MINI Countryman brings the right mix of sport, utility, and comfort to the compact crossover game.
A bigger MINI might sound like a contradiction in terms, but even the biggest MINI--the Countryman--is compact compared to the competition. With its size, the Countryman adds a healthy dose of practicality, too, with better off-road capability, four doors and four usable seats.
The Countryman also marked the debut of a new styling direction for MINI, and the 2012 Countryman sticks to its guns. Taller, bigger, and with a more boldly-styled front end, the Countryman is instantly recognizable, both as a MINI and as something out of the ordinary. Inside, the Countryman is more similar to its smaller siblings, with all of the good (quirky design, surprising roominess) and bad (odd ergonomics) that brings.
The Countryman, however, is not very MINI under the skin; it's actually based off the platform under BMW's X1. That brings with it ALL4 all-wheel drive capability, a more refined ride, and somewhat more weight, but the difference from a typical MINI is measured in small degrees, not major paradigm shifts. Power is not quite abundant with the Countryman, even in Cooper S ALL4 trim, but it's a sporty ride for a crossover. All three Countryman trims (base, S, and S ALL4) are available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Base models use the same 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder found in other MINIs, while the Cooper S Countryman models (including the ALL4) use the 181-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder common to the Cooper S range. It's a bit of a shock how much MINI there is in the Countryman's handling, but no surprise that in the end, it's more sporty crossover than real sports vehicle.
Fuel economy is, accordingly, more or less in line with other MINIs despite the added bulk: the non-turbo base model rates 27/35 mpg with the manual transmission and 25/30 mpg with the automatic. The Cooper S Countryman does only slightly worse with the manual at 26/32 mpg, and actually a little better with the automatic at 25/32 mpg. Adding all-wheel drive to the Countryman S is only a 1-2 mpg penalty depending on the transmission chosen.
Also, like its MINI family, the Countryman is almost infinitely configurable, with many color-customizable paint elements, interior options, and equipment packages. Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth or vinyl upholstery, ambient lighting, HD Radio, and power accessories. Available options include leather upholstery, MINI Connected with navigation, a Premium package with automatic climate control, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights, a Cold Weather package, a pair of Sport packages, and a Technology package.
The NHTSA hasn't yet rated the 2012 MINI Cooper Countryman, but the IIHS gives the nearly identical 2011 model a rating of "good" and a Top Safety Pick. Standard stability and traction control, corner brake control, anti-lock brakes, seven airbags, and more are all baked right in, helping it earn its top marks.