What's harder to define is the Countryman's usability. The largest of the Minis will accommodate huge loads of cargo for a hatchback, but falls short for a typical crossover. It holds four adults easily, but some will miss the ability to carry a fifth person in the rear center position. It will, however, run circles around most crossovers in handling. A quick poll of the office still leaves us scratching our heads as to how to really classify the Countryman with respect to other vehicles.

As is typical of Mini, just about everything on the car is optional. This allows for a high degree of personalization, but also makes it easy to rack up an extra $10,000 on the base price. It seems to happen at an exponential rate: You start adding a heated seat here and an armrest there, and suddenly you need to spend another $1750 on navigation because you can't have a $30,000 car with a monochrome stereo display and then you can't have a $32,000 car without a sunroof and you can see where this ends.

Our test car is priced at $33,150, so it is way out of the price range of someone looking at a Nissan Juke. It is, however, a far nicer car than the small Nissan. The size difference means it isn't really occupying the same space as a RAV-4 or CR-V. If you want an all-wheel drive enthusiast car at this price, you can go with an STI or an EVO, but will buyers cross-shop these in either direction? Probably not. This begs the question: Is Mini building the Countryman to attract new customers, or just to keep the ones it already has?

2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4
BASE PRICE $27,650
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 4-pass, 4-door crossover
ENGINE 1.6L/181-hp/177-lb-ft* turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3255 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 102.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 161.8 x 70.4 x 61.5 in
0-60 MPH 7.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.7 sec @ 89.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 113 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.9 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 135/109 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.71 lb/mile
*192-lb-ft with overboost