- Uniquely MINI
- Better interior trim
- Rear seat is more than usable
- Electric steering feel
- Automatic lacks paddles
- Amorphous rear end
The biggest MINI, the Countryman adds crossover flexibility to the lineup without diluting the fun-to-drive factor too much.
Though it may be brand's largest vehicle, the MINI Countryman is still compact in absolute terms. Whether that clouds the message or not, the MINI Countryman does two things unexpected--it hangs on to plenty of the MINI driving essence, while lifting its roof to give four adults lots of space and comfort.At a distance totally MINI, the Countryman goes soft-focus close up, losing some of the distinctly MINI proportions in the sacrifice for interior room and a more palatable package. It's bigger, taller, and has a front end made for being recognized at a distance, which is to say, it's pronounced. The details can still evoke the old Minis with some success, from the chrome-surrounded marker lights to the contrast-color roof, but it's clear in the family of MINI vehicles this is a cousin, not a firstborn son. That's a little less obvious from the inside out, though, as the Countryman's dash has almost all the chaotic layout of the smaller Cooper hatchbacks without their all-black plastic unity.
The Countryman is not so much a Cooper under the skin, either. It's a new architecture that brings with it ALL4 all-wheel drive capability, but the usual range of four-cylinders, turbo or no, and six-speed transmissions. Power is not quite abundant with the 121-horsepower Countryman; it's much better in the 181-hp Cooper S trim, but it's a sporty ride for a crossover nonetheless--even before you opt for the John Cooper Works edition and its max output of 221 hp. Acceleration peaks in about 7 seconds, 0-60 mph, with the JCW, while gas mileage hits its stride in the base car and its 35-mpg highway ratings.
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. There's a more refined ride than in any of the smaller Coopers, thanks to more weight and a longer wheelbase, but the difference from a typical MINI is measured in small degrees, not in a major paradigm shift.
The NHTSA hasn't yet rated the Countryman, but the IIHS gives the nearly identical 2012 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.
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.