2012 Cooper S Countryman New Car Test Drive
The Mini Countryman is an all-new model for the brand, larger than any Mini before, with four doors and available all-wheel drive. Everything outside looks new, but many of the basic bones of the car are identical to or derived from other Mini Cooper models, including the engines. It's as much a car for new buyers as for Mini owners with new friends, a larger dog, or another offspring.
The rear seats are a bit more spacious in the Countryman than they are in the regular Mini Coopers. All Mini Coopers have four seats, but the Countryman is a realistic four-adult car.
The Countryman has also four conventional doors, so it's easier to get in or load kids, and can handle 41 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats or a third of that in the deep trunk.
Both the standard 121-hp four-cylinder and the 181-hp turbocharged engine of the S model are proven in Coopers. The 2011 engines are slightly more powerful than the 2010 versions. The turbo's primary advantage isn't so much the 60-hp bump as is the additional torque available over a much broader engine speed range, which makes the car more responsive in everyday driving.
Both the 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatics work well and are offered with either engine; all-wheel drive comes only with the turbo.
Fuel economy ratings range from an EPA-estimated 27/35 mpg City/Highway for a front-wheel-drive Countryman with the manual gearbox to 24/31 mpg for a Countryman ALL4 automatic.
Agility has always been a Mini hallmark, one frequently likened to kart-like handling. Perhaps that's why they designed to roof to resemble a helmet. The Countryman is no different, with crisp handling and response to driver direction that is the envy of most other crossovers. Indeed, we found the Countryman jolly good fun to drive, though it hasn't the razor-sharp reactions of a Cooper hardtop or Clubman.
Any Mini driver will find the cabin familiar, with a few additions and revisions. Recurring styling themes with unusual controls and instruments highlight the space and it remains functional and quite useful. With some options, the electronic interaction with an iPhone will send tweets automatically and offer a soundtrack to suit the conditions and your driving style.
There isn't a lot in the way of competition to the Countryman, although Nissan's Juke, some Scion products, and Kia's Soul do have similar traits and quirkiness. BMW's upcoming X1 may be similar in size and some dynamics, but it is a completely different vehicle and shares nothing but corporate ownership with the Countryman.
In years past, the wagon version of the Mini was called Countryman and built by Austin, among others. Was it just coincidence the 2011 Countryman was introduced to the U.S. in Austin, Texas?.
Mini Countryman ($21,650) comes standard with a 121-hp 1.6-liter engine and front-wheel drive. It includes leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, power mirrors, locks and four auto-up/down windows, alloy wheels, six-way manual front seats, sliding and reclining rear seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, pushbutton start, rear wash/wipe, adjustable-color ambient lighting, trip computer, center rail storage, and AM/FM/CD/satellite radio with one-year subscription.
All models come with a 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic ($1250). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Mini Cooper S Countryman ($25,250) features a 181-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and front-wheel drive. Countryman S adds traction control and sport seats to the standard equipment list, and is distinguished by mildly different trim and grille.
Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 ($26,950) upgrades the S with all-wheel drive.
Four option packages are available for all Countryman models: A Convenience Package ($1,250) adds a universal garage-door opener, Comfort Access keyless entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights, Bluetooth and USB/iPod adapter. A Cold Weather Package ($750) includes power folding heated mirrors, heated windshield washer jets and heated front seats. A Premium Package ($1,750) features a dual-panel moonroof, automatic climate control, and harman-kardon premium audio. The Sport Package adds 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, fog lights, traction control and hood stripes.
Options that are standalone include piano black cabin trim ($250); flat load floor ($250); rear park sensors ($500); rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights ($250); adaptive xenon headlamps ($600); climate control ($500); harman-kardon audio ($750); Bluetooth/USB iPod ($500); Navigation system ($1,750) includes Mini Connected; white signals ($100); metallic paint ($500); parallel lines cloth/leather upholstery ($1,000); Gravity leather ($1,500); Lounge leather ($2,000). Numerous other options and accessories are available.
Safety features standard include six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes with cornering brake control and brake hold. Traction control is standard on S and ALL4 and optional on Countryman. All-wheel drive on the ALL4 enhances safety in slippery conditions.