Long Term

2011 Mini Countryman: September 2011

2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4
2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4
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Our long-term 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 has served out its time in Northern California and is set to head down to LA later this month. But before it departs the sunny side of the bay, I've got some closing thoughts after a few months behind the wheel.

To begin with, Mini has succeeded in creating a livable, entertaining crossover that's nothing if not unique and hasn't diluted the brand's core values... much. Particularly in S and All4 guise, the Countryman has just the right amount of sport to keep us interested and enough functionality to make it an everyday vehicle. Sure, I'd like a little more cargo space, but there's ample room for a family of three – maybe four – to make a weekend trip up to the hills or out to the coast and enjoy the spaces in between.

As we showed you yesterday, one of the Countryman's party pieces is the Mini Connected system, which blends navigation, infotainment and a range of audio and connectivity solutions into a fairly easy use, seamless experience. But just like everything else from Mini, it comes at a price and our long-term's $38,000 sticker is a tough pill to swallow. Yes, this is a premium product from a premium automaker in a segment it helped to define, but for that kind of coin there are dozens of other options with just as much, if not more, functionality and value. But they don't have the style, they don't have the panache and they don't have the character. The Countryman has all those in spades. What it doesn't have, however, is a clutch I'd be willing to live with.

We thought it might've been a fluke with our particular car, but having spoken to a handful of colleagues and owners, the Countryman's clutch seems to be universally loathed, specifically on the all-wheel-drive models. Uptake on the pedal, particularly when the six-speed manual transmission is cold, is ill defined with no discernible friction point that's been the cause of countless stalls when pulling out of the driveway. Reversing seems to highlight the issue, but I've experienced the same problem in first gear more than I care to remember.

We're not sure what the root cause is, but we suspect that adapting the front-wheel-drive system to All4 spec has caused some unforeseen drivetrain issues. The extra load of driving the rear wheels appears to be too much for the engine/transmission combo to handle. Considering this is BMW's first front-wheel-drive system that's been modified to all-wheel-drive, we're sure there were some hurdles to overcome. But being a vehicle engineered by the Germans, we're surprised the issue has become so prominent. I'm looking forward to my So Cal colleagues' impressions to get their take on the matter and possibly take it into Mini to rectify the issue. Or at least lessen it.

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