What's New for 2013
The 2013 Mini Cooper Countryman gains a new trim level, the John Cooper Works. Like other JCW models, it comes with increased power, sharper handling and unique interior and exterior styling details. Bluetooth is now standard across the line as well.
Buyers considering a Mini Cooper have long understood that the iconic hatchback goes big on style and performance potential at the expense of utility. With two adult passengers, the Cooper leaves about enough room for some groceries or maybe a couple weekend bags. Forget about trying to put people you consider friends in the cramped backseat.
But as evidenced by Mini's long sales success, a vast Mini fan base is willing to make this trade. The 2013 Mini Countryman, however, offers an alternative. In recent years, Mini has broadened its audience with larger, more versatile models. The largest in the lineup is the Countryman, a wagonesque four-door hatchback that offers almost three times the cargo capacity of the Cooper hatchback along with a usable rear seat. The sliding rear seat provides enough comfortable legroom for adults, expanding or decreasing cargo space as it moves fore and aft. The rear seat also folds almost completely flat for enhanced cargo capacity.
The Countryman is larger than a standard Cooper, but it still feels pretty nimble when going around corners. Acceleration is rather pokey with the base engine, however, so we recommend opting for the turbocharged engine in the S or JCW models. Of course, just as with Mini's other models, the Countryman also offers the same dizzying array of customization options, everything from heated mirrors and a different color roof to hood stripes.
Being a Mini means the Countryman is still relatively petite, and therefore less spacious than other small wagons like the 2013 Kia Soul or crossover SUVs such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. There's also noticeable road noise to contend with, along with a fairly stiff-legged ride. Similar trade-offs are made for Nissan's Juke, though the Juke is less expensive. The forthcoming 2014 Fiat 500L should also be considered and, on the high end, the BMW X1. About the same length as the Countryman, the 500L offers similar passenger room, larger cargo capacity and a more powerful base engine.
Still, with its entertaining handling and vast potential to personalize, the 2013 Mini Cooper Countryman is simply more fun than most of those other models (though the Escape and CX-5 are more entertaining than you might think). It gets our nod for drivers who don't mind making a few sacrifices for the sake of pleasure.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Mini Cooper Countryman is a compact wagon available in base, S and John Cooper Works trim levels.
The base Countryman comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, adjustable steering and throttle settings, roof rails, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio and USB/iPod and auxiliary audio jacks.
The Countryman S adds a turbocharged engine, a rear spoiler, different exterior trim, an adjustable traction control system, foglamps and sport seats. The latter three items are also available on the base car. The John Cooper Works is similar but has a more powerful engine, 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and special interior styling details.
The Countryman offers a staggering number of options, both stand-alone and within packages. Some highlights include 18- or 19-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, adaptive xenon headlamps, keyless ignition/entry, heated mirrors, rear parking sensors, a dual-pane sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear bucket seats and a premium 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. The Countryman can be further customized with special body graphics and a range of different interior color schemes.
Also available is Mini Connected, which features a large display inside the central speedometer and a corresponding console-mounted controller that operates Bluetooth, iPod and smartphone integration. A navigation system can also be added to Mini Connected.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Mini Cooper Countryman uses a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. The engine powers the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic.
Mini estimates that the base Countryman accelerates from zero to 60 mp in 9.8 seconds (manual transmission) and 10.9 seconds (automatic) -- both subpar for a small wagon. EPA-estimated fuel economy is quite good though, at 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined with the manual and 25/30/27 with the automatic. Premium fuel is required.
The Countryman S uses a turbocharged version of the same 1.6-liter engine, which produces 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. This engine also powers the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, but the S offers optional all-wheel drive ("ALL4" in Mini parlance).
In Edmunds testing, a manual Countryman S ALL4 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. Expect slightly quicker acceleration on the front-wheel-drive model, while automatic-equipped versions will be a bit slower. EPA-estimated fuel economy ranges from 26/32/29 with front-wheel drive and the manual to 23/30/26 with ALL4 and the automatic.
The John Cooper Works features a revised version of the S model's turbocharged engine; here it generates 211 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The same transmissions are offered, and all-wheel drive is standard. Mini estimates the 0-60-mph sprint will take 7.1 seconds with the manual or 7.5 with the automatic. Fuel economy ratings are the same as for the Countryman S.
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 2013 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 and roof-strength crash tests, the Countryman earned the best possible rating of "Good."
Interior Design and Special Features
The Countryman's passenger compartment will surprise shoppers expecting the Cooper hatchback's traditionally cramped quarters. A rear bench seat that slides and reclines is standard, and two reclining bucket seats are a no-cost option. Either way, there's enough room to accommodate 6-foot passengers in both rows with the rear seats moved back.
That said, 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 larger than a Cooper Clubman's. Lowering the rear seats nets 41.3 cubic feet of maximum space -- approximately halfway between that of a Kia Sportage and a Nissan Juke.
Quirky styling flourishes like the oversized central speedometer are charming reminders that the Countryman is indeed a Mini. But the wagon also shares the regular Cooper's penchant for small and sometimes frustrating controls that value form over function. The adjustable center storage rail system is another example, as it looks neat in theory but actually offers little useful storage capacity. The Countryman at least has up-to-date electronics: The optional Mini Connected infotainment feature offers smartphone app integration using a 6.5-inch display located in the center of the car's speedometer.
If you've ever piloted the Cooper hatchback, the 2013 Mini Cooper Countryman will feel familiar. Though it's a bit slower and less nimble, the Countryman retains many of the hatch's best traits, including the sporty, precise steering, the S engines' distinctive turbo soundtrack and, yes, the sometimes too-firm ride. If you get the manual transmission, you'll likely enjoy the mechanical feel of changing gears in this car, though the clutch take-up is not as smooth as it could be.
While the base engine performs fine in the lighter Cooper, it's not up to the task of briskly motivating the Countryman's 500 additional pounds. The crossover wagon's nearly 11-second sprint to 60 mph lags behind even slowpoke competitors like the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Unless fuel economy is a primary concern, we recommend the S model, as it returns respectable mpg and multiple times the driving enjoyment.
Though we've yet to test the John Cooper Works, it should be similar to other Mini JCW models, which is to say it will offer even better performance and handling, though at the expense of an even stiffer ride quality.