By Jim MacPherson
There are many ways to look upon the new-for-2011 Mini Countryman. You could consider it the first four door-Mini to be offered on these shores, the first Mini with optional all-wheel drive, or the first Mini that holds adults in the rear seat comfortably. In the end, however, I took to calling the Mini Cooper S Countryman the Maxi Mini.
Despite being the largest Mini, the Countryman still seems small to most Americans. Placed in my garage, it left plenty of room in front for a motorcycle and riding lawnmower, neither of which I own. But if I did, they would all fit nicely in a single bay.
“The Mini Countryman has been very successful,” says Rick Miller, operations manager at New Country Mini in Hartford. Miller, who is known as “The Mayor of Mini,” says, “A lot of families with children are looking and the kids are often more excited about the car than the parents. The kids are gleeful.”
Base and high performance “S” models of this wagon/crossover are offered. The base model uses a 1.6-liter, 121-hp four cylinder engine. Our “S” model featured a 1.6-liter, 181-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission and the optional all-wheel drive system, abbreviated “ALL4.” A six-speed automatic transmission is optional with either engine, but all-wheel drive is available only on the turbocharged model. Front-wheel drive is standard. “We mostly sell All4s,” Miller said.
Engine performance is good. Once underway there is ample power with little turbo lag, which combines with the shift linkage and easy clutch to make driving this car a lot of fun. When first starting out, however, our review Mini Countryman tended to bog down until the turbocharger could get into the act, which resulted in a zero-to-60 time of 8.6 seconds. On the road, the Countryman feels much faster and the engine is willing to rev to its redline without punishing passengers with excessive noise or vibration.
Handling highlights the expected Mini agility. The steering is quick and sharp, lean is controlled nicely in turns, and balance is exceptional.
The ride in our “S” model, on the other hand, was less appealing. This Mini’s reactions to larger bumps and pavement heaves were often abrupt and sharp while less dramatically broken pavement produced almost constant body motions and vibration, some of which caused some interior panels to creak and buzz.
Up front, there’s room abound for the six-foot crowd, even with the sunroof, and six-footers will also fit in the rear seats. These slide back and forth to favor either passengers or cargo. The rear seatbacks recline for greater comfort and they fold for maximum cargo capacity. A console rail with storage bins, cup and sunglasses holders and connection points for mobile entertainment devices divide the front and rear seats and limit the seating to four people.
However you classify this Maxi Mini, the Countryman is great fun to drive. It is also roomy enough to be practical for families and it even works for four-person carpools.
“People driving them are raving about them,” Miller said. “Many of them owned the original [smaller] Mini before. They say it’s the best. It still has the Mini feeling.”
If you always wanted a Mini but found it, well, too mini, the Countryman might work for you. It should broaden the Mini market considerably.
Engines: 1.6 1.6 Turbo
HP 121 181
Torque (lb-ft) 118 177
EPA 28/35 (Manual trans.) 26/32 (25/31 AWD)
25/30 (Automatic) 25/32 (24/31 AWD)
Starts at: $26,950