Ever since the new generation Mini Cooper arrived on our shores about a decade ago, us auto journalist types have been bitching, moaning, and otherwise complaining about the Mini's interior design -- which is still one of the ultimate expressions in form over function in a modern vehicle. But now that I've been in the Mini Countryman for a couple months, my mind's starting to change about Mini's eclectic cabin treatment, and I've put together a list of some of the good and not so good points.

Let's start with the most obvious demerit -- the window/lock switchgear and front cupholder placement. If you have a drink of any normal height (about 7 inches or so) it will obscure the seat heater and window switches--already a bear to access thanks to the bars that separate them and their placement at the bottom of the center stack. Let's move the window and lock switches back to the doors where they belong, Mini. You can make 'em edgy looking, we won't mind.

Moving up the Countryman's center stack, the heat and A/C controls are easy to operate and logically arranged, with buttons that toggle temp and fan strength with ease. Some may not like the dog dish speedo flanked by two air vents that houses the Mini Connected suite and navigation, but I'm a fan. It's the lightning rod of the Mini's cabin. I never look at the speed there anyway, there's the digital readout centered in the tachometer binnacle behind the tilt and telescope steering wheel for that. Mini Connected is a breeze to use and is operated by a stalk right behind the gear shift, flanked by home and screen toggle buttons. I'm more in tune with it all the time, and spin the stalk and work the buttons between the navi, radio, and phone with ease and little distraction.

The Countryman's front bucket doesn't have power, but it's six-way adjustable, and when I hit the corners hard the side bolsters offer up acceptable lateral support. I fit really well in the cockpit with plenty of room to spread out, and there's a big dead pedal. The steering wheel is a perfect size -- nice and meaty and not too big. But the shift paddles are weak. Can we have one shift up, the other down? The ability to do either on one paddle is a good idea in theory, not so much in practice.

The ignition is another strange bird. There's a start button, but unlike other pushbutton start/stop functions on the market, Mini forces you to put the key in to start it. Um, why? I want the fob in my pocket or my bag and not have to fumble with it. Go keyless, Mini, all the cool kids are doing it!

Another feature with its plus and minus points is the rail system that spans the length of the cabin and allows you to attach various items like cupholders, a sunglasses case, and a phone cradle, which is pretty trick. But when you put the rear seats down to load cargo, the rails create a big gap in the middle. Oh, and no fifth passenger for you. The phone holder can also get in the way of the armrest. It's a wash.

All in all, from where I'm sitting, the Mini's cabin isn't the disaster zone it's been made out to be, and with some additional refinement, form and function would likely get along just swimmingly.


Our Car
Months/miles in service 7/12,626
Avg econ/CO2 23.7 mpg/0.82 lb/mi
Energy cons 142 kW-hr/100 mi
Unresolved problems None
Maintenance cost $0
Normal-wear cost $0