Purists may have the Mini Countryman, but it is a car that the German-owned brand had to do to draw customers that liked its funky styling but needed more room and versatility. In a stroke of marketing genius, they gave it a slight lift and called it a crossover. After all, everyone loves crossovers!
All-wheel drive no doubt factored into the equation as well, as the Countryman was the first modern Mini to feature the brand's all-new All4 system (it's one of those fancy intelligent kinds), a big selling point in snowbelt states. So did Mini do a good enough job doing the car it had to do? We spent a year and nearly 24,000 miles behind the wheel to find out.
Like all S model Minis, our long-term Countryman was motivated by the brand's well-worn 1.6-liter turbo with 181 hp, hooked up to its capable six-speed automatic. Its straight-line speed didn't blow its extra two doors off, but with a 0-60-mph sprint that clocked in at 7.2 seconds, it got us in and out of any situation where rapid acceleration was a necessary part of the equation. And being all-wheel drive, the Countryman didn't exhibit nearly the torque steer tendencies of some front-drive Minis (we're looking at you, JCW cars). While bulkier and heavier than the rest of the Mini stable, the Countryman proved a willing dance partner when ripping around a canyon road or dodging a giant piece of tire tread on the highway, and stopping it quickly was not an issue (we recorded 112 feet from 60 to 0 mph).
Another area where it's just like the rest of the Mini stable is the jolt you're treated to when you hit a pothole or other road imperfection, thanks to its taut suspension and run-flat tires. It can body slam you if you're not careful, and unfortunate rear seat passengers take even more of the brunt (sorry, Mom). Moving forward, this is an area Mini should address.
Given its enhanced dimensions, the Countryman did a fair amount of trips to points north and east of our L.A. home base, most famously a 2500-mile jaunt up to Washington state and back by associate Web editor Christian Seabaugh, who even ripped it around a rutted trail for a stretch and reported that "the Countryman took to the dirt roads like the Secret Service to Colombian prostitutes."
It's too small to be a legit crossover, and too big to be a legit Mini, but the Countryman proved to be fun and functional during ...
During his journey, Seabaugh stopped 10 times along the way at gas stations. Not that the Countryman was especially thirsty, as it recorded a decent 24.1 mpg combined during its 23,936 miles in the fleet. It was a range issue. Its smallish, 12.4-gallon tank meant stopping to fill up about every 250 miles or so, although it eked out 300 miles a couple of times. But range was a minor annoyance compared with the most troubling aspect of our year with the Countryman: its violent and maddeningly random shuddering issue. The first time it happened to me, I was rushing down the highway, about to make a lane change. I hit the gas and then suddenly bam! ba-bam! The car violently bucked and shuddered, almost like it was being momentarily slammed into park. It usually happened under hard acceleration and on an incline. And you'll never guess, when we took it to the dealer, we got the classic "couldn't replicate the problem" line. We've done some trolling around the Internet and noted that there have been a fair amount of similar complaints, although the Interwebs could suggest no concrete fixes. We asked Mini officials for comment and got no response.
Other than that, the Mini was problem-free except for a windscreen replacement we made the mistake of having the dealer perform to the tune of $1747.41. Yeouch! (We checked with Safelite later, and they would have done it for a third of that price. Lesson learned.) The good news is that, for the first 36,000 miles, the one recommended stop for an oil change and other minor service were covered by Mini. (The dealer even changed worn front brake pads, along with a faulty coolant thermostat.)
As the biggest Mini in the stable, the Countryman can fit four adult humans, or two humans and a dog, or two humans and a bunch of camping gear, a couple of the configurations it managed with ease during its stay. We were not fans of the interior rail system accessory setup splitting the rear seats, which made cargo loading an issue, and we noted some squeaking and rattling in the cabin toward the end of the vehicle's stay. We hear Mini has been able to get a bench seat option for the Countryman approved by the feds. That will be a welcome addition, especially if the rear seats would fold down flat, another interior pet peeve.
There are a couple other small niggling issues with the Mini's cabin setup, namely the low-mid-mounted window/door lock switches that can be blocked by cups, but we're still big fans of Mini's interior aesthetic overall, including its iDrive light Mini Connected system with navigation ($1750) that came with real-time traffic info--we loved having that in L.A.
For 36 large after the addition of several goodies in the Premium Package ($1750, cool dual sunroof, automatic climate control, harman/kardon sound system) and the Sport Package ($1000, 18-inch rims, bi-xenon headlights), it can be hard to make a case for a "crossover" that isn't much bigger than most of today's compact cars. But with All4, four doors, and room for four, for Mini at least, it's a big package, and it generally performed as advertised during its stay with us.
| 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 |
| Service life || 12 mo/23,936 mi |
| Base price || $27,650 |
| Options || Premium Pkg ($1750: sunroof, auto-temp, harman/kardon sound), connected navigation ($1750: incl keyless starting, Bluetooth, USB); automatic trans ($1250); Sport Pkg ($1000: 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights); Cold Weather Pkg ($750: heated seats, mirrors); Park Distance Control ($500); metallic paint ($500); cargo net ($250), center armrest ($250), rain sensor and auto headlight ($250), adaptive lighting ($100) |
| Price as tested || $36,000 |
| Avg CO2 || 0.80 lb/mi |
| Energy cons || 140 kW-hr/100 mi |
| Problem areas || Occasional accel shudder |
| Maintenance cost || $0 (1-oil change, inspection) |
| Normal-wear cost || $0 (front brake pads/sensors; thermostat) |
| 3-year residual value || $19,080* |
| Recalls || None |
| EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ || 23/30/26 mpg |
| Average Fuel Econ || 24.1 mpg |
| *Automotive Lease Guide |