It feels like we've been waiting a decade for the arrival of the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman, the crossover version of the Mini.
But not even two years have passed since the unveiling of the Mini Crossover Concept at the 2008 Paris Auto Show. We've followed test mules to the Arctic, to the Nürburgring and to Death Valley. Earlier this month, the Beachcomber concept in Detroit gave us a clearer look at the final styling.
Next stop is the 2010 Geneva Auto Show in March, where the production Countryman makes its official debut. And come January 2011, the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman and the 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman will land in the United States.
Fun With Oxymorons
Mega Mini. Maxi Mini. Un-mini Mini. Yes, we're already hard at work inventing cute names for the 2011 Mini Countryman, the biggest Mini of them all.
Mini has yet to release full specifications for the Countryman, but at 161.3 inches from its upright, pedestrian-compliant nose to its pancake-flat rump, the Mini crossover is 5.5 inches longer than the Mini Clubman and 15.7 inches longer than the wee Cooper.
More front and rear overhang is inevitable on a Mini transformed into a utility vehicle, but the wheelbase has also been stretched to 102.2 inches — almost 2 inches longer than the Clubman's and a solid 5 inches over the standard Mini Cooper hatch.
The First Five-Passenger Mini
Those extra inches are going to good use, as the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman's standard rear bucket seats have a 5.1-inch range of fore/aft adjustment. You don't have to be content with a four-seat Mini this time around, though. Order the three-place bench seat at no extra cost and your Mini Countryman will seat five. The bench will adjust fore/aft (albeit in 60/40 sections), and like the bucket seats, its seatback cushions recline.
When everyone's fully reclined, the cargo bay offers 12.2 cubic feet of capacity. Or you can make your passengers sit bolt upright and you'll have 15.4 cubes. Either way, a stroller will fit, says Mini, reminding us that the Countryman is aimed at those of us who have crossed over into the world of diapers and affectionate purple dinosaurs.
Drop the rear seats into the floor and you're met with 41 cubic feet in the Cooper Countryman, which is a significant jump over the 32.8 cubic feet in the Clubman. There's space enough for two 26-inch mountain bikes provided you remove the front wheels, according to Mini.
And if you just have to put more stuff on the Countryman's roof, be advised that Mini will offer a factory roof rack. On the matter of roof color, you'll have the usual Mini options of black, white or body color. However, given the blacked-out A-, B- and C-pillars on this car, we can't imagine ordering anything other than a black top on a Mini Cooper Countryman.
Not So Mega Motors
We also can't imagine not choosing the turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine that is only available in the Mini Cooper S Countryman.
As you've heard, this engine adds BMW's Valvetronic variable valve lift system to an arsenal that already includes a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection. The result is 181 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque (with 192 lb-ft on the overboost) and the promise of reduced fuel consumption. At the same time, we don't expect to be wowed by the mpg in the heaviest member of the Mini family.
The Countryman will be among a small handful of U.S.-market SUVs that gives you the opportunity to shift your own gears, via the familiar six-speed manual gearbox. Mini's six-speed automatic transmission is optional and includes paddles shifters. Front-wheel drive is standard, and Mini is estimating acceleration to 60 mph from a standstill in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 128 mph. (Mini doesn't say, but we expect this is a front-wheel-drive Mini Cooper S Countryman with a six-speed manual.) The last Mini Cooper S Clubman we tested (it had an automatic transmission) took 7.2 seconds to hit 60 mph.
Base versions of the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman take the normally aspirated version of Mini's 1.6-liter engine. There's no Valvetronic or direct injection on this engine, which makes 121 hp at 6,000 rpm and 118 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm. We sort of like wringing out this motor in the Cooper hatch, but in the pudgy Countryman, it's probably going to drive you nuts. Expect 10.5 seconds to go by before you hit 60 mph, says Mini.
Of course, the whole point of driving around in a high-riding Mini is to have some extra capability in the snow. All-wheel drive is optional on the 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman only, as the base Countryman can't spare any of its meager torque to the rear wheels.
Mini calls its all-wheel-drive system ALL4, which doesn't stand for anything, but merely indicates a clutch-pack coupling built onto the final-drive unit. An electrically driven hydraulic pump governs the pressure that reaches the coupling. In dry conditions, you can expect most of the engine's torque to go to the Countryman's front wheels most of the time.
Up to 50 percent can be redirected rearward to promote proper cornering character, and in really extreme conditions, up to 100 percent of engine torque can go to the rear wheels. (Probably the front wheels would have to be frozen solid in blocks of ice for such a scenario to go down.) Additionally, an electronic limited-slip front differential allows for side-to-side torque swaps between the Cooper S Countryman's front wheels.
Mini hasn't yet disclosed exactly how much ground clearance the 2011 Countryman will have, but we do know that a sport suspension (which lowers the car's stance by 0.4 inch) will be optional on at least the front-drive version. That's on top of the already sportier calibrations Mini has applied to the front strut/rear multilink suspension on the Cooper S Countryman. A full line of John Cooper Works parts will be offered as well.
Seventeen-inch rims with 205/50R17 run-flat tires are standard across the board on the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman line. If you're really serious about filling out those black fenders, you can order 18s from the factory and 19s as a dealer accessory.
The $30K Mini
You still have a year to think about how you want to paint and equip your 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman or 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman. We hear a production Beachcomber version with removable doors is still being considered as well, though it hasn't yet been given the official nod from Munich.
In addition to being the biggest and most rugged member of the Mini family, the Countryman promises to be the most tech-laden. Adaptive headlights are optional, and Mini is promising full integration for iPhones and other smartphones that find their way into your Countryman.
Undoubtedly the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman will be more useful and practical than any Mini to date. But it's also edging away from the simple bliss of motoring and into traditional BMW price territory. So prepare to spend $30,000-$40,000 on the long-awaited Mini crossover utility vehicle.