When you've been test-driving nearly every new vehicle on the market for as long as I have, you get to the point where you mostly know what to expect. Not that I or most other veteran car reviewers make up our minds about new products before we drive them, but certainly we formulate theories to go about testing once a new car lands in our driveway. More often than not, our experiments confirm our hypotheses. This can be a great triumph or a crushing let-down, but rarely does a vehicle manage to be both so completely as the Mini Countryman.

I expected the jumbo, four-door Countryman to be overkill.

In advance of my stint with our long-termer, I fully expected to be disappointed by its size. I am one of those people who can go on the road for a week with a small duffel bag, and as such, have never found the limitations of the tiny Mini hardtop particularly challenging. The Mini Clubman solved my only problem with the hardtop by affording me a bit more room for my daughter. Thus, I expected the jumbo, four-door Countryman to be overkill.

But if I had a reasonable expectation that the larger size and heavier curb weight would render the Countryman considerably less fun to drive, I also figured that I'd love it anyway. After all, it's a Mini, and I have yet to meet one that didn't charm me with its aesthetics and minimalist focus on driving.

Quite surprisingly, neither of these assumptions proved correct.
2011 Mini Countryman

Regarding the size: It's perfect. Not only has Mini managed to figure out the exact dimensions that make the Countryman both a "real" car and yet still small enough to be a Mini, it's still a great driver. In many ways, it's a better all-around car than its more petite siblings, not in the least because it doesn't suffer as much from the short-wheelbase pitching over highway expansion joints that can be a problem in a hardtop Mini Cooper. The steering is excellent and the car turns in and corners like a whip. The power transfer of the all-wheel-drive system makes the Countryman's larger size much less of an issue, as it starts to feel more like a BMW when it's really pushed.

Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes behind the wheel of our Countryman, I was ready to get out. Between its optional sport suspension and run-flat tires, the ride on Michigan's rough pavement is brutal. While the Countryman's seats are great, comfortable and supportive, they can't begin to make up for the stiffness – it's like the car has metal suspension bushings.

I have never stalled a vehicle so often as I did the Countryman during my first week in it.

While the too-stiff suspension issue is likely an easy enough remedy (order the standard suspension and replace those run-flats), other issues began to pile up pretty quickly. Like the clutch. Perhaps the expected take rate on a manual Countryman was so low that Mini didn't feel the need to do a better job here, but I have never stalled a vehicle so often as I did the Countryman during my first week in it. Between the power-robbing all-wheel-drive system, the lag of the turbocharger and a friction point that's both vague and brief, our Countryman can make even experienced drivers look like 15-year-olds.

But again, it seems like this might be fixable, as it's a mechanical issue. The interior, on the other hand, is a bigger problem, one I'm not sure I'd want to live with.

2011 Mini Countryman interior

It's been a decade now, but I've realized that I'm just sick of the too-cute-by-half Mini cockpit. It needs to go, and BMW should start from scratch with a design that puts function over form. Put the instrument panel back where it belongs, in front of the driver, for starters. (Maybe the designers can look back at the E36 3 Series dash for some ideas.) Other ergonomic issues plague the Countryman, from the intrusive center rail to the poorly located iPhone jack that's underneath the parking brake.

After a few weeks of time served in the Countryman, I was not as disappointed to see it go as I was just plain disappointed. The car had just proven to be too much of a pain in the ass to live with on multiple levels.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 30 Comments
      Rob J
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sport suspension + run flats cannot possible equal a good idea. This seems like the perfect car for no spare and a AAA membership.
      merlot
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Put the instrument panel back where it belongs, in front of the driver, for starters." Everything the driver needs is front; the tach has a digital readout for speed and most warning lights and info. I never use the center speedo to check my speed on my '12 hardtop S. I don't find the ergonomics that bad either. Aside from retraining your brain were the window switches are, it's not a big deal. My biggest gripe with the MINI is the poor sun visors and the stupid BMW turn stalk. It takes more effort to move the lever up/down verses back/forth which means I sometimes flash my brights rather than signaling a turn.
      Rocketboy_X
      • 2 Years Ago
      The Speedo wouldn't be as much of an issue if it was based on the First Gen design. They really horked it up when they decided to cram the radio into the middle of it.
      MacProMan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Funny how the author writes BMW correctly but MINI incorrectly, it's MINI not Mini
        graphikzking
        • 2 Years Ago
        @MacProMan
        just curious - I know that BMW is an acronym, but I never knew MINI was. GE, GM etc since they are initials for multiple words are generally all capitalized. If MINI stands for 4 words - then I understand that each letter would be capital but if it's just a name for a company then I see no foul in either way. I thought that MINI just capitalized their name because they like the look. Maybe they trademarked it like that as well.
          B_Rad
          • 2 Years Ago
          @graphikzking
          Mini is the Rover trademark. MINI is the trademark used under BMW.
          MacProMan
          • 2 Years Ago
          @graphikzking
          it's not an acronym but the official type, sorry for pointing out a mistake and guess that's why I am getting deboosted but I am sure the folk at MINI want it written correctly too
      desinerd1
      • 2 Years Ago
      looks like an ugly fish that died and washed up on shore http://www.ee.columbia.edu/~ronw/photos/sydney-2005-2006/ugly%20fish%20-%20edit.JPG
      Justin Campanale
      • 2 Years Ago
      Wow, this article is way too negative about this car. 1) Runflats and city streets aren't a good combo. If you want the ride quality to improve, get a nice pair of all-seasons. 2) Driving a countryman All4 with an MT, I have never, ever stalled
        Rocketboy_X
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        Odd, because lover of all things MINI, Motoringfile.com reported that the probability of stalling is rather high until you have changed your clutch/shift style. And that it's near impossible to switch between two different cars because it's such an odd setup.
      Waltzon
      • 2 Years Ago
      I haven't driven the Countryman yet, but I have had the same reaction to all of the Mini vehicles I have been in. Love the driving dynamics, hate some of the ergonomics, and just about puke because of the price they charge. I could swallow the price if I got in and the car was an all-around delight, but cannot even begin to justify $30K and up for a decently-equipped S model with the 10-year-old interior and the bucking bronco ride.
      dohc73
      • 2 Years Ago
      Replacing the the run-flats with conventional tires is the cure-all fix everyone thinks it is. For starters, no conventional tire, save for racing slicks, have sidewalls that are anywhere as stiff as run-flats do. The engineers developed the suspension around the use of run-flats. You take away the sidewall stiffness, you take away the true steering and suspension dynamics. Is it dangerous, no, but it definitely takes away an edge that is useful in everyday driving. I speak from experience having done this to an 09' CooperS with sports suspension and mechanical front-diff. The ride only improved marginally and as the tires wore down, the ride was just as harsh as with the run-flats. Traction improved though and I was able to manhandle the car a little bit more, but it was more to do with a slightly wider width tire that was the only alternative at the time 195/55/16 to 205/50/16. Of course, if you forgo the sports suspension, it may be different, but not by much as I've driven standard suspensions and they are almost as jarring.
        Rocketboy_X
        • 2 Years Ago
        @dohc73
        I've done the same with an 02 Cooper S, and will tell you, the runflats stink on ice.
          Tonus
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rocketboy_X
          Could this be because you're using all-season/sport tires perhaps? This has nothing to do with run-flats but traction. I use Run-flat Blizzaks on my '09 Cooper S and do quite well with ice and snow.
        dohc73
        • 2 Years Ago
        @dohc73
        *Is not the cure-all fix
      Dvanos
      • 2 Years Ago
      These things are selling like hot cakes!!! I see them everywhere except the Mini Dealer.
        desinerd1
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dvanos
        You probably didn't go to the service section of the dealership. A mechanic was telling me that Mini repair shop is a virtual gold mine.
      EvilTollMan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Cool lil whip, tried to get my Mom to lease one but she ended up in the XC60
      Basil Exposition
      • 2 Years Ago
      ...but it's so cute!
      Drakkon
      • 2 Years Ago
      The MEDI Countryman?
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