What's New for 2011
The 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman is an all-new model.
When does a Mini stop being mini? A Mini SUV might seem like an oxymoron, and indeed the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman is big compared to the regular Cooper hatchback. When compared to even the smallest crossover SUV, however, the Countryman is still pretty, well, mini. The result of this big-for-a-Mini and small-for-a-SUV Countryman is a lot of advantages but also some significant drawbacks.
The Countryman takes its place as Mini's biggest model. It's 5.5 inches longer overall than the Cooper Clubman as well as being wider and taller. It also sports four doors, an elevated seating position and available all-wheel drive. But driving enthusiasts shouldn't fret too much about Mini's move into small-crossover/SUV territory. The Countryman still upholds the traits identified with this brand, such as distinctive styling, nimble handling and countless customization possibilities.
This is also the first Mini that won't make you worry if you have more than one passenger. The Countryman offers a surprising amount of rear-seat legroom, even for adults. Indeed, the rear seat's ability to slide and recline makes the Countryman's aft quarters more spacious than those of the larger Hyundai Tucson. The amount of space provided for the luggage area is less impressive, but since the backseat slides and folds nearly flat, at least this Mini can still hold a fair amount of stuff given its size.
Of course, relative to other compact SUVs, the 2011 Mini Countryman suffers the same sort of liabilities as the Mini hatchback. These include: four-passenger seating. a firm ride for optimal handling, excessive road noise, quirky ergonomics and a price that gets uncomfortably high once you start selecting goodies from the lengthy options list. Compact SUVs like the Kia Sportage and the Volkswagen Tiguan are more sensible choices.
Of course you could say the same thing about any number of subcompact cars relative to the Mini hatchback, and yet we still give it our ringing endorsement. There is something about the sheer joy the Countryman offers, whether it involves personalizing it with just the options you want or simply zipping around a corner. As with other Minis, the 2011 Countryman succeeds despite its faults. As small crossovers go, it's a spirited choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman is a four-seat compact SUV available in two trim levels: Countryman and Countryman S. The latter can be equipped with an AWD system dubbed ALL4.
The base Countryman comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, adjustable steering and throttle settings, roof rails, cruise control, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, HD radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Countryman S adds a turbocharged engine, different exterior trim, traction control, foglamps and sport seats. The latter three items are available on the base car.
There are a staggering number of options available on the Countryman, including an enormous catalog of customization features like body graphics and interior color schemes. Traditional options are grouped into packages, but most are also available as stand-alone items. As such, options include 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a variety of headlamps options (automatic, xenon and/or adaptive), heated mirrors and washer jets, rear parking sensors, keyless ignition/entry, a dual-pane sunroof, automatic climate control, different upholsteries (leather/cloth or full leather), heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth, an iPod/USB audio interface and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system.
Also available is Mini Connected, which includes a large display inside the central speedometer and a corresponding console-mounted controller better suited to operate the car's available Bluetooth, iPod and smartphone integration technologies. A navigation system can be added to Mini Connected.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 that produces 121 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is only available with this engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. Mini estimates that the base Countryman will go from zero to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds with the manual and 10.9 seconds with the automatic; both are quite slow for a compact SUV. Estimated fuel economy is 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined with the manual, and 25/30/27 with the automatic.
The Countryman S has a turbocharged version of the same 1.6-liter engine, which produces 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional. The S has the same transmission choices. In Edmunds testing, a Countryman ALL4 with the manual went from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. Front-wheel drive should be a bit quicker, but Mini says the automatic adds about 0.4 second to the time. Estimated fuel economy ranges from 26/32/29 with front-wheel drive and the manual to 23/30/26 with ALL4 and the automatic.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. Traction control is standard on the S and optional on the base 2011 Mini Countryman. Rear parking sensors are optional.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Countryman S stopped from 60 mph in 117 feet -- an excellent distance for a compact SUV.
Interior Design and Special Features
It might be called Mini, but the Countryman's passenger compartment is surprisingly generous. Its two rear bucket seats recline and slide, and in their most rearward position, there is room for 6-footers front and back. If you've always yearned for a Mini but couldn't live without a usable backseat, the Countryman is your answer.
At the same time, the Countryman essentially asks you to choose between rear-seat passenger space and cargo capacity. With the backseat all the way back and the clever flip-up trunk partition in place, the Countryman's cargo area isn't that much more commodious than a Cooper Clubman's. Slide the seats forward, however, and space expands from 12.2 cubic feet to 16.5. Lowering the seats and the partition gets you 41.3 cubic feet of maximum space -- approximately halfway between a Nissan Juke and a Kia Sportage.
With its huge central speedometer and other quirky styling flourishes, the Countryman's cabin is instantly recognizable as a Mini. That means it also shares the regular Cooper's penchant for curious and sometimes frustrating controls that value form over function. At least certain aspects have been improved in the Countryman, including a volume control now located with the rest of the stereo buttons, and climate controls that no longer look and operate as if they were designed by Fisher-Price.
If someone were to disguise the 2011 Mini Countryman's unmistakable exterior and interior styling, you would still be able to instantly know you were driving a Mini. The Countryman may be a bit slower and less nimble than the Cooper hatchback, but every control feels as if it were lifted unchanged from its little brother: the quick turn-in and hefty weighting of its Sport mode steering, the mechanical clack of every gearchange, the distinctive turbo buzz of the S engine and, yes, the (sometimes too) firm ride.
While the base engine is adequate for the lighter Cooper, it's woefully inadequate for the task of moving around the extra 500 pounds of the Countryman. A 0-60 time of nearly 11 seconds makes it one of the slowest SUVs around, trailing such slugs as the Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Unlike with the regular Mini, opting for the S model is highly recommended.