1. Over a foot longer and with an extra 5-inches between the wheels, the Countryman has room for four plus some actual cargo space.
2. Base models get a 121-hp 4-cylinder, while the Cooper S gets a turbo and 181-hp.
3. The Countryman is the first MINI to feature all-wheel drive, which is only available on the top-level Cooper S model.
4. Pricing starts at $21,650 with Cooper S models at $25,250 and the Cooper S All4 at $26,950.
Scratch that, the Countryman is something youíll definitely want to own, once you drive it Ė and only if you opt for the top Cooper S model with its turbocharged 4-banger. Being naturally larger than the traditional hardtop MINIs, the Countryman is heavier too and adds about 400-lbs. Using the same engine found in the hatchback Cooper S, that translates to straight-line acceleration thatís definitely fun, but will never wow you with power.
Making 181-hp and 177 lb-ft of torque itís good for a 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds with all-wheel drive and the auto-box, which (sadly) our test car came with. Not that thereís anything wrong with this unit, itís just that an AWD crossover with a stick shift ranks near the top of the auto journalist cool meter alongside high-powered wagons and stripped-down beaters. Opt for the Sport Package, keep the little sport button pressed and the more immediate throttle response and access to boost makes for a peppy machine.
Front drive models are a little quicker due to a curb weight thatís around 200 lbs lower, but the added weight is a small price to pay for extra traction, whether for poor weather driving, or finding some dirt roads to have some fun on. Called All4 the system defaults to front-wheel drive and only adds power to the rear when necessary. When slip is detected up to 50 percent of the engineís torque is set to the rear wheels and in extreme circumstances all of the engineís power will hit the back tires so you can drift the tail end Ė something thatís extremely fun on such a rigid package with the sort of tight steering that gives you confidence behind the wheel.
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From a fun-to-drive perspective, apart from being a little down in the acceleration category, the Countryman is an absolute hoot. Fuel economy doesnít suffer much either, and for a crossover, especially one thatís this much fun, itís impressive. Our All4-equipped model with the turbo is rated at 24/31-mpg, which is almost the lowest youíll get. The down-on-power non-turbo Cooper model gets just 24/30-mpg with the auto-trans, a huge difference from the stick shift base model at 27/35-mpg.
With the MINI-ness maintained, the Countryman also fulfills on its promise of being a vehicle thatís functional. While there are only four seats, this ensures all occupants have sufficient room with more than just adequate rear seat space. Next to the standard hardtop MINI it's over a foot longer and adds 5-inches between the wheels Ė something you really notice in the back seat.
At a minimum thereís 12.2 cu-ft of cargo room, which is enough for groceries for a family of four. If youíre looking for more room in the back, the seats can push forward 5.1-inches for a total of 16.5 cu-ft, but then rear-seat room is compromised. Total cargo room is rated at 41.2 cu-ft with the rear seats folded flat.
Even without the seats folded thereís space between them to slide longer items through. Unfortunately this can also mean you really get to hear loose items sliding around back there.
Access to the rear is through a large liftgate that opens at the top. For such a small car it opens quite high and even gives enough clearance for those in the six-foot range to walk underneath. It opens by pulling on the MINI logo on the rear but in keeping with the rest of MINIís backwards ergonomics the handles to close it are awkward to reach.
Inside the ergonomics nightmare continues with MINIís trademark toggle switches. The latest annoyance weíve noted is that when youíve got a travel mug in the cup holder it blocks access to most of the lower controls, including the window controls. But proof that all hope it not lost, the rear seat window controls are actually in a normal location and operate as they should.
Included in our test car is the new $1,000 MINI Connected system, and weíve gotten comfortable enough with it to discover yet another poor example of ergonomics; the little chrome joystick is slippery to touch and should probably be coated in some sort of high-grip rubbery material.
The system itself consists of a 6.5-inch screen in the middle of the center speedo and allows for relatively easy access to everything from vehicle info, the radio and your iPod or iPhone. You can sync up any phone through the Bluetooth but itís designed to work with Mac products, and when you download a free app the system will allow access to thousands of radio stations through Web radio, and will even read Tweets to you!
Our test car also came with the $1,750 Premium Package that includes the nice panoramic sunroof, climate control and the upgraded Harmon Kardon audio system. Weíre not sure how bad the regular sound system is, but it must be terrible, because this unit cuts power at even modest level when the bass hits too hard.
There are a few things we do like about the interior, like the push-button shifters on the steering wheel and the automatic transmission gear selector that looks like a little racerís helmet. Everything else is familiar to anyone whoís seen a MINI before, with the exception of the new center rail that runs the length of the cabin. Designed to hold accessory items like additional cup holders, an iPod dock or a sunglasses case, itís not a bad concept, but as we discovered, thereís not a lot of space up front and items like a glasses case can get in the way of the emergency brake. And speaking of the e-brake, itís yet another example of funky design over functionality. It may have a cool toy truck look and feel to it, but itís not easy to grab a hold of Ė although perhaps not everyone needs to pull WRC-style dirt-road drifts.
A refreshing change for MINI is the Countrymanís exterior. Thereís no mistaking this new crossover shares its genes with the modern Cooper, and yet itís significantly more modern looking and sheds the chick-car stigma.
Drive it and you will want to own it. But wanting to buy and buying isnít always the same thing, particularly when you look at the price tag. Models start at a reasonable-sounding $21,650 although thatís for the base 121-hp engine, which is certain to leave you disappointed. Worse still, add on an automatic transmission for $1,250 and youíve got a lethargic package with a Prius-like 10.9 second 0-60 time.
That being said, the Cooper S is a must, but starting from $25,250 plus almost $2,000 for AWD and youíll understand why MINI calls itself a Ďpremiumí brand. Comparatively speaking, the Nissan Juke costs thousands less. True, the interior isnít as nice and it doesnít have quite the urban hipster appeal, but when it comes to driving fun itís an equal.
A functional little package, while it might not be the performance equal of the hardtop hatchback, the Countryman retains much of that carís fun-to-drive character. This new segment is unique in that thereís a much greater focus on style and driving enjoyment than weíre used to in crossovers and the Countryman is a stand-out example of this. You donít buy a Countryman because you need a crossover, you buy it because you want a MINI, but those other little models are just a bit too cramped for your lifestyle.