2016 MINI Cooper Countryman Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker
April 26, 2016

Buying tip

If your phone is as important to you as your car, the Mini Connected apps and other smartphone-connected features in the 2016 Mini Countryman,

The 2016 Mini Counryman retains a fair amount of the Mini character and fun-to-drive spirit, but a growing crop of small crossovers give it more competition than ever.

The 2016 Mini Cooper Countryman is the maxi-est of the Mini lineup, not to mention the only one where all-wheel drive is available as an option. While it had the small utility niche largely to itself for several years, a new crop of competitors will likely highlight the Countryman's relatively high price for the space it offers—though few of the newcomers have quite the Mini charm or personality.

For 2016, the Mini Countryman is essentially the same vehicle that was launched for the 2011 model year. It had a mild refresh last year, but for this year, changes are restricted to some trim and paint-color changes, and a new special-edition model called the Park Lane.

The Countryman's shape is essentially that of a tall four-door wagon with a liftgate, similar in plan to most other utility vehicles of many sizes. Side by side with smaller models in the Mini range, however, you might be hard-pressed to highlight similarities. The Countryman's styling captures the overall Mini effect in design flourishes on a larger and more standard package. 

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Last year saw a new and bolder grille, and additional chrome details for the sportier and more powerful Cooper S model. The underbody guards that come standard on most all-wheel-drive models can now be added to front-wheel-drive Countryman versions too. The rest of last year's updates included new 17-inch alloy wheel designs, LED fog lights, and accents in glossy piano black, along with a handful of new exterior colors.

Inside, this is the second year for the latest (optional) Mini Connected infotainment system, which not only integrates with smartphones but provides internet-based services that span infotainment, communication, and driver experience. A growing range of apps that run on the display screen in the center of the dash, operated via a joystick in the center console, provide all those functions.

Front seats are comfortable, but while head room in the rear is ample, knee room can be tight. While the Countryman's compact size limits its interior volume, the load bay will hold about as much as the trunk of standard sedan—and cargo space rises to 42 cubic feet of cargo with the split folding rear seats folded down.

The engine choices are all 1.6-liter fours, one standard and one turbocharged. The base engine, at 121 horsepower, is naturally aspirated, but on the sportier Cooper S model, it's turbocharged, for an output boosted to 181 hp. Above that, the special John Cooper Works model wrings a higher output yet from the same turbo engine: 211 hp. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on every trim level, with a 6-speed automatic is available on all models. The Mini all-wheel-drive system, dubbed "ALL4" is optional. The best value for money is probably the base Cooper ALL4, if you don't mind slow acceleration; on the other end of a much more expensive scale, the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works ALL4 is for buyers who crave maximum performance.

The Mini Countryman gets good marks from the IIHS including its highest rating of "Good" in every test category—even the tough new small-overlap front collision. The NHTSA, however, hasn't tested the Countryman throughout its six years on the market, likely due to low volume.

Equipment and appearance combinations for the Mini Countryman are essentially endless. The car comes well-configured in base form, but given how it can be upgraded with a huge number of high-tech and luxury features, there's a Countryman for almost anyone. Just be sure to pay attention to the bottom line if you have a heavy hand on the optional equipment list.

For 2016, the Countryman Park Lane is a new special edition package, offered only in an Earl Grey metallic paint with Oak Red roof, mirror caps, and side scuttle inlays. It also appears on stripes and trim accents throughout the interior, complementing bright silver dash surfaces and door trims. It's a $2,500 package for the Cooper and Cooper S versions of the Countryman, or $2,000 for the Cooper S Countryman ALL4.

EPA ratings for fuel economy range from 27 mpg city, 32 highway, 29 combined for the naturally aspirated to 23/30/26 mpg for the turbocharged 1.6-liter with all-wheel-drive and an automatic transmission. Other combinations fall in between those two numbers.

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2016 MINI Cooper Countryman

Styling

The 2016 MINI Countryman is identifiably a MINI, but larger in every dimension--for better or for worse.

The 2016 Mini Countryman is the least Mini-like of the entire lineup, with only some design details to turn this small but high-riding crossover utility vehicle into the quintessentially British small car (now owned by BMW). Still, those details let it continue to stand out among a growing crop of smaller-than-before crossovers.

It starts with an aggressive front end, comprising a wide grille—updated last year—plus flared fenders, and trim details sized to give an image of fun and athleticism rarely found in the segment. The Countryman's lines ring true to the brand while making the vehicle's more practical uses apparent. The look is modern and sculpted, but the upright nose, short hood, floating roof, and big round headlights are variations on Mini traditions.

Inside, the Countryman may be more like its brand-mates: quirky. Big circular gauges dominate, while ovals, levers, and switches form the rest of the control theme. Chrome air-vent trim and anthracite-colored dials are now included across the range. Buttons and switches are chaotic—regrettably a Mini hallmark until recently—and the information displays are captive to the style.

While the compact size limits interior volume, the load bay will hold at least as much as the trunk of standard sedan, and up to 42 cubic feet of cargo with the split folding rear seats folded. Essentially, this is a small, upright four-door-plus-tailgate utility vehicle that's been made by Mini—though side by side with smaller models in the lineup, you might be hard-pressed to point to similarities.

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.

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2016 MINI Cooper Countryman

Performance

The 2016 MINI Countryman is agile for its class of small crossovers, and responsive on the road.

The 2016 Mini Countryman drives like a Mini, as you would expect, but it's a Mini with a more conventional feel—most likely because it's the largest vehicle in a range of cars known for being small and hence supremely agile.

All engine choices are 1.6-liter fours, though they come in standard and turbocharged versions. A 6-speed manual is standard (and more fuel-efficient), and a 6-speed automatic is available on all models, with and without ALL4 all-wheel drive.

The base Cooper Countryman makes do with a 121-horsepower version of the engine, which provides 0-to-60-mph acceleration in about 10 seconds. With a weight of 3,000 pounds or more, it's hardly fast—in fact, a Toyota Prius is slightly quicker. The Sport button makes the automatic transmission knock out quicker and more responsive shifts, granted. If you're looking for acceleration to go with nimble handling, go for the optional Cooper S version, whose turbocharged engine puts out 181 hp for considerably peppier performance and 0-to-60-mph acceleration of about 7.5 seconds.

Regardless of its acceleration figures, though, the Countryman feels light and nimble. It doesn't have the go-kart-like cornering of the smaller Cooper Hardtop, but against any other vehicle of this size and weight, the Countryman offers crisp responses, electric power steering that gives positive feedback, and brakes with good bite and pedal feel.

If you have to have the ALL4 all-wheel drive, the base Cooper ALL4 gives you the best value for your money. At the other end of the scale, the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works ALL4 is the choice for buyers who crave maximum performance. Zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds isn't much quicker than the Cooper S, but a sharper setup and appearance helps get the most out of the Countryman's performance potential.

It's not intended for rugged off-road use—no Countryman is—but its ALL4 all-wheel drive enhances traction in low-grip situations that include gravel roads, snow, or rain. An electronically activated differential splits power 50/50 front-to-rear in normal driving, and up to 100 percent of the power can be sent to the rear when traction fails in front. An electronic limited-slip differential is standard.

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2016 MINI Cooper Countryman

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 Mini Countryman holds passengers adequately, but luggage space is hardly lavish.

While it's clearly the most versatile and usable car in the lineup, the 2016 Mini Cooper Countryman doesn't offer quite as much space and comfort as you might expect.

Up to four adults can fit into the Countryman, and almost anyone can find a comfortable position in the wide, adjustable front seats. But the second row isn't all that roomy—especially compared to some of the better entrants in the new smaller-SUV class. The two-position rear seat has now been discontinued, replaced by a more conventional three-position bench seat. Head room in the back is good, but leg room is tight, and it's really only suited for two adults anyhow.

The cargo volume behind the rear seats is just 12.2 cubic feet—more than the trunk of a small sedan. Fold down the rear seats, and that space grows to 40 cubic feet—though the height and width of the resulting cargo volume prohibit many large objects.

Last year, Mini dressed up the cabin with chrome air-vent trim and anthracite-colored dials across the entire range. Fit and finish in the Countryman test cars we've driven has been good, but we should note that we've seen multiple vehicles with persistent squeaks and rattles that have developed over time.

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2016 MINI Cooper Countryman

Safety

The 2016 Mini Countryman has good scores from the IIHS, but the NHTSA hasn't rated it.

The 2016 Mini Cooper Countryman provides a decent set of safety equipment, a high seating position, and good safety ratings from the one agency that has tested the car. All-wheel drive is available (on ALL4 models), as are adaptive headlights and rear parking sensors.

The IIHS gave the Countryman "Good" scores (the top rating) in every category, including the tough small-overlap front crash test. A lack of forward-collision warnings keeps the Countryman from being named a Top Safety Pick by the agency. The NHTSA hasn't tested the Countryman since its launch six years ago.

The result should be better-than-average occupant protection for a vehicle of this size, though advanced-technology options like blind-spot monitors are missing from the options list. Despite the thick roof pillars, the high position and plenty of glass means visibility is generally very good with the Countryman.

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2016 MINI Cooper Countryman

Features

The 2016 Mini Countryman offers powertrain, trim, and feature options that can add to the bottom line quickly.

Like its brethren in the lineup, the 2016 Mini Countryman specifications serve as just a starting point for buyers to put their own imprint on a car that may well end up as one of a kind before they're done ticking boxes. Which is a long way of saying that the equipment and appearance combinations for the Mini Countryman are essentially endless. Just keep an eye on the bottom line, because they can add up very quickly.

At a reasonable entry price in the mid-$20,000s, all Countryman versions come with standard air conditioning, cruise control, and power accessories (windows, doors, locks). Cloth upholstery and an AM/FM/CD player with MP3 auxiliary input are also standard. Upgrades available across the Countryman range include leather seats, heated seats, and a panoramic sunroof.

The major step-up in trim levels is from Cooper to Cooper S, which gets not only the turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter engine, but also sport seats, a contrasting roof, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and satellite radio. Cooper S options include premium sound and an anti-theft alarm. All-wheel drive models also get fog lamps. The John Cooper Works Countryman comes standard with "All4" all-wheel drive.

A wide range of Mini Connected services allow drivers and passengers to tap into smartphone-based apps (like Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, and Rhapsody) for information and entertainment. Noteworthy options include a panorama roof, park assist, xenon headlamps, adaptive turning lights, and a premium Harman Kardon audio system.

Note that a heavy hand on the features and options list, along with the dealer accessories menu, can push the price of a Mini Countryman up into small premium territory—and while the Mini Countryman has personality and capability, it's far from playing in leagues that contain the German prestige brands.

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2016 MINI Cooper Countryman

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Mini Countryman has average fuel-economy ratings, especially against the latest crop of small crossovers.

The 2016 Mini Countryman faces more competition in the small crossover utility segment this year than ever before. While many of the new subcompact SUVs lack the panache of the Mini brand, there are now many more option from makers like Chevrolet, Honda, Jeep, and Mazda—and some handily outdo the largest Mini model.

Unusually for a modern car, the Mini Countryman gets better gas mileage ratings fitted with a manual gearbox than with the optional 6-speed automatic. That used to be the case, but more modern automatics with state-of-the-art electronic control systems now largely outdo shifting for yourself—so the Mini's a throwback that way.

EPA ratings for fuel economy range from 27 mpg city, 32 highway, 29 combined for the naturally aspirated to 23/30/26 mpg for the turbocharged 1.6-liter with all-wheel-drive and an automatic transmission. Other combinations fall in between those two numbers.

At around 3,000 pounds for the base model, the Countryman is relatively light for its class. Still, if you do mostly city driving, and take advantage of the Mini's quick responses and generally perky performance, you may not meet those city numbers.

By comparison, the new Honda HR-V hits a 31-mpg combined rating when fitted with a continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive, and the Chevrolet Trax equals the Countryman, at 27 mpg combined with all-wheel drive and 29 mpg with front-wheel drive.

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