If you've ever seen a modern Mini Cooper parked next to an original, you already know we're not dealing with the same definition of "mini." Since the new Mini is a whole lot less mini than the old Mini, does that give Mini carte blanche to build even bigger Minis that further stretch the definition of the name? It's a vexing philosophical question we've been grappling with since our long-term 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 arrived, but perhaps the real question is: does any of that matter; does it have any effect on whether or not the Countryman is a good crossover?

To find out, we'll be driving a True Blue Metallic Countryman for the next 12 months. While the debate continues over classifying the car's size, what's decidedly un-mini is the price, a hefty $36,000 even. That was our doing, though, as we spec'd a car with more than minimal content. Included on the tab are the Sport package with its big wheels, the Premium package with its sunroof and harman/kardon sound system, nav, a Cold Weather package for our winter sports fans, rear parking sensors, that snazzy blue paint, and more. In all, we added $8350 in options. At least the stripes were free. Still, 36 large is a lot of money for a four-seat, compact crossover, and here again the Mini is stirring debate among the staff.

Also up for debate is the usefulness of the Countryman's standard center rail, which comes with attachments like cellphone holders, sunglasses cases, extra cupholders, and more. Some find it brilliant; others predict the rails will get gummed up with food, dirt, and other junk.

Then there's the issue of Mini's quirky interior. Some consider it part of the brand's charm and heritage, while others think it frustrating and unintuitive. And is 30 mpg enough for a small vehicle with a turbo four, especially when the six-speed automatic we specified is a $1250 option? Is the car enough fun to drive, or does it ride too hard and lean too much?

As you can see, the Countryman is quite polarizing, with staffers already drawing lines in the sand. Will the dissenters learn to love the Mini's quirks? Will the supporters still love its eccentricities after living with them for a year? Most important, will we like it better than the Juke? All these questions need answers, and we hope to find as many as possible over the next year.


Our Vehicle
Base price $27,650
Price as tested $36,000
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 1.6L/181-hp/177-lb-ft* turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (F/R dist) 3265 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
Lateral acceleration 0.86 g (avg)
MT figure eight 26.9 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 23/30 mpg
Energy cons, city/hwy 135/109 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 emissions 0.71 lb/mi
Total mileage 3074 mi
Average fuel econ 22.7 mpg
*192-lb-ft with overboost