If anything, spending spending five-plus hours in the Countryman at once has revealed some new likes and dislikes. Follow the jump to read more about them and what life is like for the Countryman in Southern California.
Like all Mini models, there's no doubt that the interior of our Countryman takes some getting used to. We still haven't found a use for the analog speedometer in the Mickey Mouse center stack, as we generally use the small digital readout below the column-mounted tach to get a reading on our speed. At least the circle serves another purpose, housing the Mini Connected infotainment. Thankfully, being able to spend more than a few days in the car has allowed us to get used to placement for the many switches and buttons.
One aspect of the Countryman that we've grown to love are the seats. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, they're incredibly comfortable and provide excellent support. It's something that we've appreciated on our long trips, and a stark contrast to the unlikable buckets in our long-term 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The materials look like they will last for the long term, too.
That's not to say we haven't had interior complaints. For some reason, the cupholders aren't large enough to fit a standard 20-ounce bottle. The cable provided by Mini to connect an Apple iPhone or iPod doesn't connect well, and either comes out too easily or sticks and doesn't want to be removed at all. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but during our five-hour trip home from Monterey, the cord would disconnect over slight bumps in the road. Having to reconnect our device more than a dozen times during trip was utterly maddening. We would have gladly used the standard iPhone cord, but the Countryman requires a separate connection for audio in addition to the USB cord.
Another complaint for longer trips is the Countryman's 12.4 gallon fuel tank. Mini states that owners will be able to get 384 miles to the tank, but we generally were able to squeak out just over 300 if we racking up freeway miles and pushing the fuel gauge to right at zero. With the Countryman averaging more like 24-25 mpg in a mix of street and city driving, that equates to more like 275 miles per tank. Granted, we put quite a few miles on the car during the last few weeks, but it felt like we were filling up every other day.
Given it's a Mini, it's hard to complain about the size of the hatch, although our mix of luggage and photo gear filled up the 16.5 cubic feet fairly quickly. That's nearly twice the cargo space of the Clubman, though, and if we really need more space the rear seats fold down for a total of 41.3 cubic feet.
Cargo room in mind, the redeeming factor of the Countryman continues to be how fun it is to drive. The turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four is a gem of an engine and the 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft torque on tap provides plenty of fun no matter what the driving situation. The six-speed gearbox is a joy and we can't imagine letting the car do the gear swapping for us. The suspension is firm, although not too stiff, and the Sport button actually makes a difference, firming up the steering effort considerably. Since we've mostly been on the freeway the past few weeks, we've left it off for the most part, but wouldn't hesitate to press the button if a twisty mountain road came our way.
Editor Lavrinc' assessment of the finicky clutch is spot-on, as we've stalled the Countryman several times. The AWD driveline bogs down the engine easily, and at least 2000 rpm are required to get things going even on a slight incline. We've become used to feeding in a little more throttle from a standing start, though, and it has become less and less of an issue. Being in Southern California, we'd much rather have the standard FWD Countryman, but we're sure the AWD system will come in handy when the car heads East.
Michael Harley will bring his perspective of the Countryman next month. Until then, be sure to check out all of the car's neat details in our new California sun-soaked photo gallery.