After spending September in the San Francisco bay area with Senior Editor Damon Lavrinc, our long-term 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 moved to southern California during the month of October to serve our esteemed photographer, Drew Phillips. In early November, I handed Drew the keys to our long-term 2011 Jetta TDI and stole the Countryman from his driveway. He hasn't seen it since.
I like the standard Cooper S hardtop. It is fun to toss the little 2,668-pound two-door around and it delivers decent fuel economy. However, after four weeks of living with this maxi-Mini four-door (a whopping 540 pounds heavier), I have come to the conclusion that bigger isn't necessarily better – there is simply too much sugar in this Mini's sweetly flavored drink.
Related Gallery2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4: November 2011
Once I stopped hyperventilating over our test vehicle's $38,000 sticker price, it was time to settle into the cabin and take in the human interface. It's landscape will be very familiar to Mini loyalists but with even more switchgear than its less complex siblings. I was frustrated by the goofy and hard-to-read pizza-sized speedometer, the uselessly shaped cup holders, the confusing array of toggle switches (quick – try to roll down the right rear passenger window without looking) and an odd center rail that does little more than look cool when it glows at night. Want to plug in your smartphone or USB device? Make sure you don't slice its cord with a parking brake handle that does its best to mimic an old paper cutter. Blame sappy Mini cuteness for compromising interior ergonomics.
The Countryman is not a sports car, but there is a "sport" button to perk things up. Oddly, it is ridiculously hidden at the very base of the center stack. I pushed it every time the vehicle was started (of course it doesn't remember its last position) and the steering gets heavy and the throttle response changes – for the better. True, there was a bit of spunk in the Countryman's step, but its harsh suspension combined with heavy 18-inch wheels and stiff runflat tires meant the Mini got very jumpy when the surface wasn't perfectly smooth. A very high center of gravity didn't help matters one bit, either. It was another case of Mini style over function.
The Countryman theoretically satisfies those who need a bit more room. As such, it has a liftgate and a four-passenger cabin with configurable sliding/folding second-row seats. The additional cabin space is well-suited for moderately sized bulky items, but all of my human passengers complained about a lack of side bolstering and uncomfortably stumpy arm rests in the second row. The back seats are also rather flat.
The all-wheel-drive system, rear passenger footwell and necessary cargo space all rob the Countryman's fuel capacity. The tank holds just 12.4 gallons of premium unleaded, which is nearly a gallon smaller than the 13.2-gallon tank on the standard Mini Cooper. Combine that with city fuel economy in the low 20s (my last three full tanks have averaged 23.46, 21.81 and 19.33 mpg) and the Countryman's useful city range with a two gallon reserve is just over 200 miles. This little CUV is definitely a candidate for rail-mounted auxiliary drop tanks.
Our big Mini is being picked up next week for a transport ride to Detroit where it will spent winter in freezing weather. That is probably a good thing, as the snow and ice should make us forget about the cutesy compromises and focus on its competent all-wheel-drive system, gutsy turbocharged engine, strong HID headlights and smoking-hot heated seats.
Let's hope the guys in the Midwest like the Mini, as the Countryman's Kool-Aid was far too syrupy for my tastes.