- Faithful MINI cues
- Richer, tighter interior quality
- Unexpected back-seat room
- The usual MINI options smorgasboard
- 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
features & specs
MINI legitimizes the crossover movement with the vibrant, all-the-right-moves Countryman.
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?
2011 MINI Countryman
The 2011 MINI Countryman proves you don't have to be built from a Cooper to look like one.
The MINI Cooper Countryman--yep, that's its formal name--has the bigger size and softer profile of a crossover, but with all the MINI cues that tie it directly to the smaller Clubman and Cooper hatchbacks.
But while the Clubman is like a limo-stretch Cooper, the Countryman is a little less direct in its references. Sure, the front end has the ribbed grille, the front fenders have Band-aids of chrome with marker lights, and the sideview has the colorful hardtop. The Countryman even the right glass-to-metal ratio. In back is where the analogy to smaller Coopers doesn't hold up as well. The rear's more amorphous and soft, the clear compromise in the design. Call it a 50-footer: your brain would think "MINI" at that distance, while up close it would parse it and sniff out the curvy X1 hiding underneath.
The Countryman cockpit feels less MINI-chaotic, and more German-disciplined. Big round gauges are evocative of the Cooper. So is the big circle sitting in the center of the dash: it's almost the size of a Frisbee, so it can frame the speedometer and when equipped, the navigation system.
The dash itself is a continental-looking piece that could find its way into any soft-roader from Nissan or Skoda or Jeep. The window switches, an L-shaped parking brake and half-moon door handles dress it up to something like MINI spec. A jet-black interior would bring things in line with heritage nicely, but as is, the Countryman's still impressive in its continuity with other MINIs.
2011 MINI Countryman
What's not to love? The 2011 MINI Countryman shares its fine, free-revving fours with other MINIs, and handles with much of the same zest.
With a choice of base and turbo four-cylinder engines, the MINI Countryman won't strike fear in the hearts of John Cooper Works hatchback drivers, but MINI's handling prowess translates well into this bigger crossover.
Driving thrills don't often come from a 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder, but with the Countryman's six-speed automatic strapped to the four-cylinder and lots of hilly ascents to tackle, this MINI rarely feels out of breath. Our test drive confirms the four puts out decent torque fairly low in the powerband, and the automatic comes with a Sport button that speeds up shifts and holds gears longer. MINI estimates, would equal a 0-60 mph shot of about 10 seconds. It doesn't offer them now, but paddles for shifting strike us as a supremely logical next step.
We haven't had the chance to drive the 180-horsepower turbocharged Cooper S Countryman, which MINI says will hit 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds and will reach a top speed of 128 mph. In other installations, like the Cooper Convertible, the turbo engine's a gem, with the kind of cut-and-thrust talents that seem linked to MINI, at least the BMW-era MINIs. The six-speed manual shifter would be our choice, too, since it's a light, direct piece that ties you a little more intimately to the MINI's inner workings.
In our sprint around the sinewy roads of the Smokey Mountains, the Countryman reveals a little more of its upsized feel. The ride quality doesn't suffer as much for its standard 18-inch are standard on the Countryman--and yet, it's pliable on most road surfaces, with amazingly little suspension and tire noise, something you'd also sense immediately in any Cooper. The Countryman's meaty electric power steering mimics some real responsiveness and weights up nicely in deep plunging curves; BMW does EPS better than just about anyone else, outside of the Volkswagen Golf. The MINI's brakes bite quickly and answer pressure with the right counterpressure.
Our car didn't have it, but the Cooper S Countryman is available with a permanent ALL4 all-wheel drive system with an electronically activated differential that splits power 50:50 in normal driving, and up to 100 percent rear when traction fails in front. An electronic limited-slip differential is standard.
2011 MINI Countryman
Comfort & Quality
Space is the 2011 MINI Countryman's ally--the back seat is adult-sized, and even the smallish cargo area can hold a few pieces of luggage.
It's a success, as much in back as up front. Those fabulous front seats are adjustable in a couple of ways, and have the kind of perennially pleasing shapes that don't require 18-way power adjustment. The bottom cushion's long enough for almost anyone to get a firm grip, and the center console doesn't shear too much leg room.
The Countryman is the biggest MINI--jumbo shrimp, call on line one--but even knowing that, you'll find the back seat's a stunner. Six-footers will find a couple inches of headroom to spare, even with MINI's large sunroof installed. Knee room isn't quite as lavish, but the Countryman seems more spacious than the much bigger Acura ZDX. The seats also slide on rails for better legroom compromises from front to back, and the rear bucket seats tilt back slightly for a relaxed riding position.
The Countryman puts its squeeze on its cargo hold. The Countryman's 12.2 cubic feet of luggage space will barely swallow a couple of water bottles and a camera bag, once you've loaded in a couple of roll-aboards. MINI says there are 40 cubic feet of space when you fold the rear seats forward--which sounds fine, until you realize the new Jeep Grand Cherokee almost has that cargo volume all the time, behind its second-row bench.
2011 MINI Countryman
The 2011 MINI Countryman promises strong safety scores, but no crash tests have been performed.
With a full complement of safety gear, the MINI Cooper Countryman seems poised for high scores in both the federal and the insurance-industry crash tests to come.
The Countryman's standard safety equipment includes dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control; and tire pressure monitors. Rear parking sensors are available, but a rearview camera is not--and neither are fancy-tech frills like lane departure warnings, blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control.
Adaptive headlights can be ordered, though, and so can xenon headlamps, both for better visibility. The Countryman's high driving perch makes urban shuttling a snap already, though, and even to the rear corners, the visibility is quite good for a vehicle with thick rear pillars.
As of yet, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the Countryman. We'll update this information when results are published.
2011 MINI Countryman
The MINI Countryman wants you to have it your way: dial up turbo power, with all-wheel drive and all the shiny trinkets, and you'll pay, dearly.
With a host of electronic goodies like USB connectivity, available Bluetooth, and the new MINI Connected system that controls Pandora and other mobile-audio iPhone apps, the Countryman's checked off most of the critical boxes it needs to appeal to an older, more married, more be-childrened crowd than the Cooperites it's catered to for almost a decade.
The base 2011 MINI Countryman comes with vinyl seats; the center-rail console; pushbutton start; 17-inch wheels; an AM/FM/CD player with HD radio; and an on-board computer. It's priced from $22,350, not including destination. Options include parking sensors; Bluetooth and USB connections; a MINI Connected suite of tech features that connects your car with your electronic devices, and can deliver audio from Pandora, or read your text messages; and a navigation system. The usual MINI catalog of wheels, decals, and Brit-bling come from the brand's dizzyingly deep accessory bin.
Move up to the $25,950 MINI Cooper S Countryman, and along with the turbocharged engine, you'll get a white roof; sport seats; a leather-trimmed steering wheel; and Sirius satellite radio. A Harman Kardon sound system is optional, as is an anti-theft alarm, and your hand-selected choices from the add-on book.
The most expensive Countryman is the Cooper S Countryman ALL4. The $27,650 all-wheel-driven wagon gets standard fog lamps, and the usual options apply.
All versions can be fitted with leather seats; front heated seats; all kinds of chrome or body-color trim; and the panoramic sunroof.
2011 MINI Countryman
MINI backs up early fuel-economy claims with a top rating of 35 mpg on the highway with the new Countryman.
MINI promises the Countryman will have the best fuel economy in its class, and according to the EPA's ratings, it's among the most fuel-efficient crossovers available today.
The standard Cooper Countryman and its 120-hp four-cylinder are rated at 27/35 mpg, when the manual gearbox is specified. Opt up to the automatic, and the rating drops to 24/30 mpg.
On the Cooper S Countryman, the EPA sets official numbers at 26/32 mpg and 25/32 mpg, respective to transmission choice.
With the ALL4 version, fuel economy of 25/31 mpg is achieved with the six-speed manual. The six-speed automatic lowers that to the gas mileage of the Countryman family: it's 24/31 mpg.