Read the introduction of the 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 to our long-term fleet.
See all of the blog posts on this vehicle.
An all-wheel-drive, four-door Mini? Yeah, we were skeptical, too. Then again, Mini had already dusted off the Cooper S and Clubman names from its heyday, so breathing life back into the 1960s-era Austin Mini Countryman was a logical response to the crossover SUV trend of the 2010s.
Forty years ago, the Countryman was a two-door wagon. That format was not appropriate for today's market. So BMW adjusted to the changing times by designing the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman with four doors, a historical first for Mini. The character changes didn't stop there. This Countryman further stretched the Mini template to offer all-wheel drive (All4). Previous Minis were front-wheel drive only.
The all-new 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman, like all BMW-guided Minis, was mechanically unrelated to the original Minis. Yet our full test showed that it retained enough signature elements of fun and agility to justify the badge. We still had questions. One year and 20,000 miles hoped to answer them.
Let the Test Begin
We wanted it all. So when the time came to order, we chose the longest name possible: 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4. The "S" meant it had the direct-injected 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which produces 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. And the All4 was company-speak for the optional, permanent all-wheel-drive system. We stuck with the standard six-speed manual transmission. These choices yielded a $27,650 MSRP.
In the spirit of testing it all, we added optional equipment and inflated the price to $35,400. Crystal Silver paint and Carbon Black leather interior cost us $1,500. A dual-pane panoramic sunroof was another $1,750. The Sport package upgraded to 18-inch run-flat performance tires for another $1,000 premium. Our overall prices added up quickly as the Cold Weather and Convenience packages together tacked on $2,000 more. When the dust settled, the as-tested MSRP was $35,400.
Features Editor Mike Magrath explained in the Mini Countryman introduction, "The height is the first thing you notice. It's tall; taller than a Mini should be. And there's some bulk to the whole thing.... Then you see the rear doors and say, 'Whoa, that's a big Mini.' And at that point you're trapped in one of those jumbo shrimp oxymora face-palm phrases from which there's no escape."
Inside the cabin one thing was clear right away. It had great seats. The leather and fabric seat combination was attractive, built of quality materials and surprisingly comfortable. Road Test Editor Mike Monticello remarked, "I need a hug. And the Countryman's sport seats prove just the ticket. The significant bolstering does a great job of holding your body in place through turns. The seat cushion and seatback, while on the firm side, are still plenty comfy for long stints in the saddle. More cars should have seats like these."
Mini design has often favored form over function. No exceptions here. It had the same oversize, centralized speedometer. The nondescript, BMW-styled radio buttons required practice to use. And in the case of our 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman, its central rail storage system offered no apparent benefit. Features Editor Carroll Lachnit blogged, "It's nearly useless...at least with the clip-on elements we have in our car. The cupholder isn't quite wide enough for my water bottle. It has no compartment that could hold my phone, iPod, parking card and tiny wallet. The armrest is the default storage. But it's shallow. What makes the rail superior to more traditional storage systems?"
Further, the rail bisected the front and rear seats, ensuring only two passengers could ride in back. Its existence was questionable.
Driving the Countryman
Behind the wheel this Countryman drove like a Mini. Acceleration from zero to 60 mph took 7.3 seconds and showed that 181 hp was enough to keep it fun. Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans wrote, "Yeah, it's good for some grins.... It's perfectly happy to be on a curvy two-lane road...and since our car has all-wheel drive, you can nail the throttle coming out of corners without getting a vector to a different ZIP code due to torque steer. Handling through turns is pretty stable even with the Countryman's elevated ride height."
But "driving like a Mini" wasn't only a compliment. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton compared the ride quality of our Countryman to a base model. "Our car rode slightly harsher due to its $1,000 Sport package that includes 18-inch wheels with performance run-flat tires. Yet we found the ride and handling trade-off was often very good. In fact, compared to the smaller Minis with their shorter wheelbases and squarer footprints, we prefer the less frenetic ride and lack of nervousness in the Countryman's steering. We attribute this to, among other things, the Countryman's 102.2-inch wheelbase and suspension travel."
Ghosts in the Machine
As the mileage accumulated, our early impressions wavered somewhat. We agreed that the 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman maintained the Mini driving spirit. But mechanical doubts crept in from time to time.
Just 2,000 miles into our test the rear hatch warning light first illuminated. Senior Editor Erin Riches said, "Oh, what have we here? It looks like the hatch is firmly closed. In fact, it's so firmly closed that no combination of unlocking the car, hitting the hatch release button on the remote or pushing the VW-style Mini-badge release latch will open the hatch. It's stuck shut. But the Countryman doesn't know anything about that. The rear hatch warning icon is on. Warranty issue? You betcha."
The only trouble was re-creating the issue. This hatch warning was so intermittent and temperamental, the dealer could not fix it. So we lived with the intermittent alert throughout our test.
A trickle of minor mechanical and electronic complaints arose as our test progressed. At 4,000 miles the Mini requested a half-quart of oil. Near the 5,000-mile mark a suspicious bulge emerged from the sidewall, requiring us to replace the 18-inch Goodyear Efficient Grip run-flat at a cost of $290. We split the blame between pothole-ridden Los Angeles streets and thin sidewalls.
Bulge No. 2 surfaced at 12,000 miles in another tire, with the same impact on our wallets. We encountered random issues (rear seatbelt squeaks, rear sunshade rattles, iPod input jack connection) that were infrequent enough that the dealer could not help. So we learned to adjust our sensitivities and live with them. One such issue was the cold start check engine light.
Features Editor Mike Magrath relayed in a blog, "Last week I reported that our Mini had fixed itself following the 'Check Engine' light. No light. No codes. I took it to Nick Alexander Mini for a checkup anyway. Our advisor asked, 'Is it an S? Did it take awhile to start up right before it threw the code? Was it about 24 hours from the time the light went on to the time it went off?' We answered 'yes' to all of his questions. At this point he pretty much gave me the professional version of 'Yeah, it'll do that.' Apparently some S models have been having cold start issues that register a code for a misfire; after about 24 hours the car rechecks itself, discovers the misfire is gone and clears the code."
The Mini otherwise requested routine upkeep at 13,000 and 19,000 miles. Both visits were covered under the three-year or 36,000-mile Mini free maintenance program. Regular maintenance was a breeze. And it should be said that no matter how skeptical its sporadic warning lights made us, the Countryman never once broke down or left us stranded.
Time Is Up
After almost 20,000 miles our long-term test of the Countryman was over. We learned a lot about the CUV. And as with Minis before it, there was a steady tug of war between utility and style.
We would argue that no competitive CUV is as fun to drive as the Countryman. Still, within that same field, the Mini ranks toward the bottom in terms of utility. Pick your preference. If style is your thing, the Mini will not disappoint. But if fashion is less important than useful cargo space, you may want to look elsewhere.
On the shiny side, the 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman was fun to drive. It had decent power, good handling and lived up to our expectations. Maintenance was free. And our Mini depreciated a respectable 19 percent of its original MSRP according to the Edmunds TMV® Calculator (based on a private-party sale). To top it off, fuel economy was impressive. Our lifetime average on the required 91 octane was 25 mpg, with a single best tank of nearly 34 mpg. EPA estimations are 25 city and 31 highway mpg. In other words, drive it nicely and it will return the favor. That's the general feeling we got from the Countryman overall as well. If you're good with its size and layout, you'll be good with the way it feels on the road.
|Total Body Repair Costs:||None|
|Total Routine Maintenance Costs:||None (over 12 months)|
|Additional Maintenance Costs:||$610.47|
|Non-Warranty Repairs:||Replace two tires|
|Scheduled Dealer Visits:||2|
|Unscheduled Dealer Visits:||3|
|Days Out of Service:||2|
|Breakdowns Stranding Driver:||None|
|Best Fuel Economy:||33.6 mpg|
|Worst Fuel Economy:||16.9 mpg|
|Average Fuel Economy:||25.1 mpg|
|True Market Value at service end:||$28,820 (private party sale)|
|Depreciation:||$6,580 (or 19% of original MSRP)|
|Final Odometer Reading:||19,591 miles|
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.