What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Mini Countryman's already lengthy options list adds a mirror-mounted digital compass, plus premium items such as a two-tone leather steering wheel and unique wheels and upholstery. Also, a rear bench seat is available as a no-cost option.
In the past the Mini Cooper has been high on style and performance but low on utility; you won't fit much more than two passengers and a grocery bag within its pocket-sized footprint (forget that cramped backseat). But in recent years, Mini has sought to broaden its audience by adding larger models that promise greater versatility. The largest in the lineup is the 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman, a wagon that offers almost three times as much cargo capacity as the Cooper hatchback, along with a usable rear seat.
That rear seat slides back to provide enough comfortable legroom for adults, and you can slide the seat forward or fold it almost completely flat to further enhance cargo capacity. And while the Countryman is bigger than the standard Cooper, its larger size doesn't significantly affect handling; this Mini is almost as nimble as its hatchback sibling. It also features an equally generous list of customization options.
One downside is that the Countryman is less spacious than the models against which it is likely to be compared. Choices like the Kia Soul, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson offer greater cargo capacity. There's also noticeable road noise to contend with, along with a fairly stiff-legged ride and a price tag that gets steep once you add a few options.
Still, while choices like the CR-V, Equinox, Soul and Tucson are more practical and better suited for most shoppers, the Countryman is simply more fun, thanks to its customization options and entertaining handling. As such, the 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman earns our recommendation for drivers who don't mind making a few sacrifices for the sake of pleasure.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman is a wagon available in two trim levels: base and S. The latter can be equipped with all-wheel drive (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, an adjustable traction control system, 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. Highlights include 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a variety of headlamp 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. A rear bench seat is available as a no-cost option. As with other Minis, the Countryman can be further customized with special body graphics and a range of different interior color schemes.
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 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 that produces 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. This engine is only available with front-wheel drive. 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 small wagon. Estimated fuel economy is very good, though, at 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined with the manual, and 25/30/27 with the automatic. Premium fuel is required.
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. Adjustable traction control is standard on the S and optional on the base 2012 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 small wagon. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset, side-impact, rear and roof-protection crash tests, the Countryman earned the best possible rating of "Good."
Interior Design and Special Features
If you're used to the Cooper hatchback's cramped quarters, the Countryman's generous passenger compartment will surprise. Two reclining bucket seats in the rear slide back far enough for the Countryman to accommodate 6-footers in both rows. If you've always yearned for a Mini but couldn't live without a usable backseat, the Countryman is your answer.
Keep in mind, though, that the Countryman forces 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 much more commodious than that of a Cooper Clubman's. Things change when you slide the seats forward, with capacity expanding 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 that of a Nissan Juke and a Kia Sportage.
If you've ever piloted the Cooper hatchback, driving the 2012 Mini Countryman will leave you with a feeling of déjà vu. Though it's a bit slower and less nimble, many of the Countryman's traits feel as if they were lifted unchanged from its little brother, including the hefty steering, the mechanical clack of every manual transmission gearchange, the distinctive turbo buzz of the S engine and, yes, the sometimes too-firm ride.
While the base engine does just fine in the lighter Cooper, it's not up to the task of briskly motivating the Countryman's 500 pounds of additional curb weight. The wagon lags behind competitors in the sprint to 60 mph; its time of nearly 11 seconds places it behind slowpokes like the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. As such, we recommend opting for the S model.