I regret to inform you that despite what the image above indicates, Autoblog's long-term Mini Countryman will again be passing hands without having been thoroughly tested in the type of inclement weather for which it's been prepared. While we thought there was no way it would escape a February in Cleveland without slogging through weeks of snowfall, our Countryman's Bridgestone Blizzak WS-70 winter tires only met the cold stuff once, and then for only a day or two before everything melted. As I write this monthly recap on Leap Day, February 29, the temperature outside is 60 degrees and the sunshine is reflecting off my computer screen and into my eyes. What the hell is going on?

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We're in the same boat as a lot of people who rightly prepared for winter by shoeing their vehicles with snow tires. Every errand on dry pavement is prematurely wearing down our tread while we wait for Old Man Winter to finally arrive and stay awhile. Fortunately, I've enjoyed the slightly softer ride afforded by the thicker side walls of our Blizzaks. I haven't tried our Countryman with its factory wheel/tire combo yet, but can say I wouldn't appreciate a ride any harsher than it is now.

Left: What you see using Bluetooth audio, Right: What you see using Mini Connected app

Instead of slaloming between snow plows, I focused most of my attention on the Countryman's interior. In particular, I played a lot with Mini Connected, which is part of a $2,000 Technology Package (adding navigation costs $750 on top of that). I say "play" because, aside from basic tasks performed by every modern infotainment system like iPod integration and Bluetooth syncing, Mini Connected doesn't offer much in the way of useful features. It can do a neat trick with an iPhone or iPod Touch where it will literally broadcast the device's display and familiar menu structure onto the car's navigation screen, but the resolution is low and you have to be running the Mini Connected app on your iOS device. It's much easier to just plug in the device or connect via Bluetooth. Other features like the ability to access Twitter and RSS feeds for news held little value for me.

That said, I generally liked the Countryman's infotainment system, in particular the unique input controls. The joystick and two raised buttons in between the front seats are out of the way in their cramped confines, but still fall easily to hand and can be used without diverting one's gaze. While not the best interface I've ever used, I give Mini credit for doing the best with what little room it had to work with.

Speaking of little room, the Countryman is a small CUV, but my wife and I found it perfectly sized for our needs, which do not include kids. All four bucket seats are comfortable, though Mrs. Editor-in-Chief didn't appreciate the size of the bolsters, and we usually had enough room for groceries behind the second row of seats without folding them forward. I found the center rail that runs between the front and rear seats to be a gimmicky style choice that limits usability, but thankfully a rear bench seat is now an option. The cupholders, as well, are ridiculously small and designed only to hold 12-ounce cans.

We're currently in the market for a small crossover or hatchback and are considering other models like the Kia Sportage and Soul, Chevy Equinox and Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen, but the Countryman is head-and-shoulders above the rest in the area of driving enjoyment. Some have commented that the Cooper S Countryman model's 181-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder (shared among all Cooper S models) isn't powerful enough to pull around the weight of a CUV, but I found it more than adequate and even strong while accelerating through second and third gear. That said, I shudder to think how slow the 121-hp base model must feel.

So I'll pass the Countryman's key (actually just a plastic fob) back to editor/fleet manager Steven Ewing and be genuinely disappointed that it's leaving. I enjoy the style and fun that Mini offers with its models, but the Countryman is the first that's actually large enough for me to consider. Which I would, were it not for the one qualifier that will ultimately sink the Countryman every time: price. The only Countryman I would consider buying is a Cooper S All4 like our tester, which has a starting price of $27,750 that escalates quickly. The one I'm waving goodbye to has an as-tested price of $38,000, which is just too dear for my hard-earned dollars.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Jac Cottrell
      • 3 Years Ago
      We have a 05 MINI Cooper S and recently picked up a Countryman ALL4. We love it. Actually sold the 2010 Forester XT that we had for little over a year since the ALL4 is so much more fun to drive (shocking, I know!)
      Bimmer Guy
      • 3 Years Ago
      John, how do I contact you?? I have something you might be interested in?
      • 3 Years Ago
      Send it to me in Maine & I will give it a thorough testing in the snow.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Good article but I'm also interested in reliability and problems. Any one actually own this vehicle and want to share some insight?
        • 3 Years Ago
        So far so good with our 2011 Countryman. It has 9500 miles on it now, and while it has had zero issues I am wondering if ours will be afflicted with either the high pressure fuel pump failure, thermostat housing cracking, or engine software update. Northamericanmotoring.com is the main site I've been following since purchase, and those are the mechanical issues of note some owners have had. A friend of mine on the west coast also has a 2011, his is an ALL4 (mine is the FWD S) and he had the software update performed to cure an erratic idle. Some early owners and magazine testers have noted that early-build chrome beltline trim has delaminated and will be replaced under warranty. Other than that, the car is as described by AB: fun to drive, odd, mildly infuriating in some ways and laughably awesome in countless others. Sometimes I wish I bought an "easy" sport sedan like a 328 instead, but this really is one of the most unique cars in its price range. That it has some minor quirks only goes to show how coddled we've become with current cars - people used to put up with 10x the issues with far fewer complaints from products. Here's hoping it gets to the crucial post-warranty period without any of the well documented MINI issues that owners of other models have spoken of.
          • 3 Years Ago
          Thanks - hope it holds up well and you enjoy it.
      Radioactive Flea
      • 3 Years Ago
      Oh look, another Autoblog Mini article.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Radioactive Flea
        Oh look another person who thinks AB unfairly covers certain brands. I have never noticed AB playing favorites with automakers.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Radioactive Flea
        Awesome brands get a lot of attention, because they're awesome. Never wonder why Hyundai is on here a lot too?
      • 3 Years Ago
      Yeah - what the hell is going on? http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/image/j/l/warmingtrend.gif http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate-change/guide/science/explained/temp-records
      • 3 Years Ago
      hmmm coming soon to a city near you, global warming!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Come to Mother Russia.. we still have snow.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Next time you need to test cars in the snow, just hand it over to me. No reason not to really.... Here in Sweden we always get at least a couple of months of snow, ice and real cold. And a car to drive would be awesome, but not possible with my economy :)
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