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2011 MINI Cooper Countryman: What's It Like to Live With?

Read the latest updates in our long-term road test of the 2011 MINI Cooper Countryman All4 as our editors live with this car for a year.

MINI Cooper Countryman 2011


When you walk up to the 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4, 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. Compared to a traditional Mini, which has a sculpted, baked-in-a-pan look, the Cooper Countryman ALL4 has a lumpy, fat look, sort of like a loaf of hand-formed artisanal bread. 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 that there's no escaping from.

But like jumbo shrimp, the Mini Cooper Countryman is just a really big Mini. Sure, scientists would try to rename and re-classify such a find — more doors, more size and a new all-wheel-drive system — but now is not the time to talk to a scientist.

The ringing question then is: How big can a Mini get and still be called a Mini? We took delivery of a long-term 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 to find out.

What We Got
The Cooper S Countryman ALL4 starts out sounding like a perfectly reasonable Mini with a 181-horsepower turbocharged, direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission. Following the power from there is where things start to get different.

From the transmission, power has to go to all four wheels through the ALL4 full-time intelligent all-wheel-drive system. This system uses a direct-drive center differential and an electromechanical clutch pack in the rear diff to send power to the rear wheels when things start to get fun. To get this, you need to add $1,700 to the price of a Countryman S, which is already $3,600 more than the base Countryman. For your $3,600 you get the good motor with the 181 hp and turbocharger, different exterior trim, traction control, foglamps and sport seats.

The 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman comes standard with electric power steering, ABS, sport alloy wheels, manual six-way adjustable seats, tilt-and-telescoping wheels, sport button, Sirius Satellite Radio, power windows and remote keyless entry for $26,950.

But then there are options. Crystal Silver metallic paint is $500. A light tobacco/carbon black interior is $1,000. The Convenience package, which includes a universal garage door opener, comfort access keyless entry, auto-dimming mirrors and Bluetooth with USB adapter is $1,200. The Cold Weather package (for Donna) gets you heated seats and power-folding mirrors for $750. There's also a Premium package with a cool dual-pane panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control and Harman Kardon sound system for $1,750. Oh, just for kicks, this vehicle has the Sport package that "includes" 18-inch wheels in anthracite for an additional $500, black hood stripes and xenon headlights. There's also a cargo net ($250), center armrest ($250), park distance controller ($500) and a $700 destination charge.

Total: $35,400

But that wasn't our $35,400 on the line. Mini provided us this vehicle for our long-term road test. It's way easier to ask for $250 armrests that way.

Why We Got It
The Mini brand is linked with small, fun cars. The idea of a jacked-up (0.7 inch), four-door all-wheel-drive Mini is like an all-wheel-drive hatchback Ferrari. Oh, wait. Like it or not, the world is an ever-changing place. The things that mattered 10 years ago or even 10 days ago don't hold the same weight as they used to. There's little more you need to know about the current automotive climate than that. Well, that and the shooting-brake Ferrari.

We're living in a world where people want to eat their cake and have it send text messages at the same time. A Mini is desirable to a subset of people who can deal with a small front-drive hatchback. A larger, almost wagonish, all-wheel-drive vehicle with Mini styling, turbo power and quirky interior appeals to yet another subset of people with stuff who have to deal with weather. Picture the customer who used to buy a Saab or a Subaru. The Countryman is for that guy.

We've got 12 months to put 20,000 miles on our brand-new 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 to see if the execution is as good as the idea. We love the idea of a big, AWD Mini, but will the reality match the dream? Follow along to see if this is the best-of-all-worlds vehicle we've been hoping for.

Current Odometer: 1,214
Best Fuel Economy: 29.8
Worst Fuel Economy: 11.7
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 25.7

This vehicle was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of this evaluation.

The Hatch Is Closed. Oh, Wait, Maybe Not

February 03, 2011

Oh, what have we here? The back of our long-term 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman, and it looks like the hatch is firmly closed. In fact, it's so firmly closed that no combination of unlocking the car (via the remote or the universal switch on the center stack), hitting the hatch release button on the remote and pushing on the VW-style Mini-badge release latch, will open the hatch. It's stuck shut.

But the Countryman doesn't know anything about that.

Yep, as soon as the car starts moving, the hatch-open warning light illuminates accompanied by a "ding!". Fortunately, there's only one "ding!" and then you just see the warning. However, if you are driving in town, and stopping at lights and 4-way stops, you get a "ding!" every time you start moving again. (The warning icon only illuminates while the Mini is in motion.)

Warranty issue? You betcha. We'll give you a report after the Countryman pays a visit to the dealer.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

Go Kart Handling

February 18, 2011

The striking thing about the Countryman is that it feels like a genuine Mini to drive. It may be less nimble and a bit slower 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 steering; the mechanical clack of every gear change; the distinctive clutch action that takes some acclimation; the distinctive turbo snap of the S engine; and, yes, the firm ride. When people drive the Countryman, I guarantee a good chunk of them will use that trite cliche: "go kart handling."

This is why the Countryman will be a success.

Yes, it's a lot smaller than the way cheaper Kia Sportage or entry-level luxury SUVs that start at our particular tester's elevated price, but as I essentially said in regards to Cruze (yet never before in any other situation), "Size isn't everything."

See, I've known four people who bought Minis and didn't even consider something else. Regardless of whatever logical reasons there were to buy a cheaper, bigger compact car, it just didn't matter. The Mini character appealed to them in a way that only a Mini could, and that was it. It's the same reason I lust after an Aston Martin instead of a 911 Turbo.

Now, imagine how many people were kept from getting that beloved Mini (or were forced to sell it) because they needed to carry a child seat or child, period? They don't need something as big as Sportage, just something with four doors and a good-size back seat. The Countryman now provides that with the styling, character and "go kart handling" that makes a Mini.

Sorry, I think the Countryman makes a lot of a sense and it's indeed worth more than your average compact SUV. Is it worth that much, though? Well no, but then the Cooper shows people will happily pay for Mini's particular brand of character. I know at least four people who'd agree.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

You Think It's Expensive ...

March 04, 2011

So the Mini Countryman is really quite expensive. Our long termer is $35,400, which seems pretty hefty given its lack of leather, power seats and navigation.

But then I got to thinking: Just as the Cooper S generally nets a premium over a similarly equipped GTI, how does the Tiguan compare to the Countryman? They're both small European SUVs with turbocharged engines — seems like an apt comparison.

Well, a fully loaded Tiguan SEL with leather and navi hits the register at $37,390(!) A Countryman would be $36,400, albeit without power seats (why not Mini?). Interesting.

Now, for comparison, a loaded Kia Sportage Turbo goes for $31,990. Hmm, is that Mini character and superior handling worth an extra 5 grand? For further comparison, a comparably equipped Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic would cost $46,370.

I'm not sure what conclusions I can draw from this. Perhaps just that SUVs are getting really freakin' expensive.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

You're Only as Old as You Look

March 08, 2011

This morning I was waiting at an intersection near the office when a 60-something-year-old man turned in front of me driving an orange Kia Soul.

"Man, that guy looks ridiculous," I thought. "He's way too old for that Kia."

Then I realized I was driving our long-term Mini Countryman. And I'm 42.

Is there an age limit for some cars? Should there be?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 3,401 miles

Gotta Push The Sport Button

April 04, 2011

When you drive our long-term 2011 Mini Countryman, you gotta push the Sport button. Or atleast I do. This is nothing new. Our old long-term 2007 Mini Cooper S was the same way.

Pushing the Sport button does three things according to the Countryman's owner's manual:

1) The engine responds more spontaneously to movements of the accelerator.

2) Steering response is more direct.

3) The engine sounds more sporty in coasting mode.

And the owner's manual is correct. All of these things happen, but only one matters: the improvement in throttle response. Without the Sport button pushed the Countryman has the worst throttle response of any car I've ever driven. Or atleast any car I can think of after an 11 hour work day.

In Sport mode, the Countryman's throttle response isn't exactly awesome either, but it's better. Better enough that the Countryman feels like a more powerful car. The slight (very slight) improvement in steering response and the mild exhaust burble during decel are also nice extras, but the throttle response is the pay off.

Of course I wish you can just set it in Sport and forget it, but you can't, so I've made a habit of reaching down to that Sport button each and every time I fire up our Countryman just to liven up its throttle.

For me, the improvement in drivability is worth the extra step.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Help, Need Shade

April 04, 2011

I just spent a very sunny southern California weekend cooking in our long-term 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4.

As you can see in the photo above, the Mini's sunroof does not have a retractable solid shade. Instead it's retractable shade is perforated fabric. Many cars have this and it usually isn't a problem, but the Mini's shade is too porous.

Too many holes. Or the holes are too big. Whatever. I had the Countryman's air conditioning working overtime to battle the incoming solar rays.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 3,303 miles

Not Mini, Really?

April 13, 2011

There's a lot of hate being fired at the Countryman. I heard one blow-hardy writer call it the stupidest car he's ever driven. Really? Folks apparently think that because Mini had the audacity to expand its product portfolio with a vehicle more people can use, they've somehow tarnished their brand. Hogwash, I say. The Countryman may be big for a Mini, but it's still properly mini amongst even compact SUVs.

Want proof? Check it out parked behind my wife's Mazda 3. That's a 15-inch difference in length right there. Now, the 3 is actually longer than quite a few compact SUVs — the Outlander Sport (7 inches), Kia Sportage (2), VW Tiguan (2). Only the Nissan Juke comes close to the Mini with a difference of 14.4 inches, but the fact remains that amongst little crossovers, the Mini is still the miniest.

I'll buy criticisms that it's overpriced and less practical than those aformentioned SUVs (let alone Mazda 3s). But the exact same criticisms could be leveled at the regular Cooper relative compact hatches. I say Mini was quite true to its brand with the Countryman — in look, in driving demeanor and relative size.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 5,730 miles

Cram it in the Boot!

May 18, 2011

Another day, another trip to the new place with some boxes. But taking yet another minivan would be a cop-out (I'm also sick of them), so this time, I thought I'd see how much I could cram into our Mini Countryman's boot.

The answer is that much, which I think is pretty impressive given its size. The Countryman's boxy shape is definitely helpful when moving boxes and with more Tetrising, I could've fit more. Unfortunately, the back seats don't fold entirely fold flat and as Al mentioned, you stupidly have to pull an inboard tab to commence folding.

Either way, if you really want a Mini but need extra room for stuff (say, loads of boxes), then the Countryman indeed delivers. I should note, however, that I did not try to cram a six-foot sub into the boot. You're welcome to try.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,095 miles

I Said I Want Sport!

May 19, 2011

Scott has already told you that you gotta press the Countryman's Sport button. And I'd like to reiterate that you have to press that Sport button every damn time you get into the car. The same goes for our long-term BMW 5 Series and the rest of Munich's finest with these silly multi drive settings.

I don't know why BMW defaults to normal/lame/annoying mode every time you start the car. I think it has something to do with fuel economy. But if I want Sport disengaged, I'll do the disengaging thank you. Besides, this is a freakin' "Ultimate Driving Machine," or rather the tiny British version of one. Why the hell is defaulting to suck mode?

The flip side of this is Audi. I drove the new A7 last weekend and the thing stayed in Dynamic mode every time I started the car. Apparently, Audi trusts that I really do want to continuously be dynamic with my driving and prefer to keep "Comfort" or normal to the little old ladies who apparently demand it.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,095 miles

Out to the Countryside

May 23, 2011

Over the weekend I took my family (wife, three-year-old, newborn) out of town to relax a bit and have a picnic at local farm that has fun things for kids to do. It seemed like a good test of the Countryman to, well, head out to the country.

I was a bit skeptical at first that the Countryman would work out as we now have the newborn to cart around, and that requires a bulky reverse-facing safety seat. To my surprise, though, the seat fit without much of a problem at all. It was a snug fit when I put it behind the driver seat, but I was pretty much able to keep my ideal driver position (I'm 5-foot, 10-inches). My wife and three-year-old were happy, and the luggage area was perfectly suited for holding our picnic cooler and other assorted items.

For family (of four) day trips like this one, our Countryman is quite suitable.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 7,571 miles

Interior Fail

May 25, 2011

In prior years with the regular Mini Cooper, I think I was willing to let a lot of Mini's interior design flourishes slide. After all, it's a sporty little coupe (or convertible), so why not have a little fun? But I'm finding myself growing weary of "quirky" in our Countryman.

I think it's because I'm expecting more out of the Countryman. This is supposed to be the Mini for people who need a real back seat (i.e., car enthusiasts with small families, like me), and that in turn puts a greater emphasis on usability. But there are so many little interior design gaffes that they really reduce my appreciation of the car as a whole.

I've made a list of 10 of them.

1- The oversized and useless speedometer. I'm sure you saw this coming. But what was useful for brand identity back in 2002 just seems like a complete waste of dashboard real estate to me now. If you get the Mini Connect and navigation it's not a complete loss. But the Countryman would be much more appealing if instead of the Mickey Mouse speedo it had a real display screen for the audio and climate controls.

2- Sun visors that don't telescope. This is car design 101, right?

3-The sunshades for the sunroofs that let in too much light.

4- Hard-to-reach secondary controls. It takes a bit of a stretch to reach the lowest controls on the center stack, which includes the door lock switch and the window switches. They'd be a lot easier to use if they were just on the doors.

5- Touchy window switches. Too often the windows act as one-touch up or down when all I want is a couple inches.

6- No off button for the automatic climate control. Hasn't BMW learned by now?

7- The lack of storage space. The rail system is supposed to be versatile. Instead it's more of a nuisance. As such, there's just not many places to put your stuff.

8- Armrest and parking brake interference. If you order the optional armrest and leave it in its lowered position, it gets in the way of pulling the parking brake.

9- Exposed iPod interface. The Countryman isn't the only car to have this issue. Even so, it's annoying to have to disconnect your MP3 player every time you exit the vehicle if you don't want it to be visible to thieves. (Though in my case I've just pushed my iPod off to the side of the rail system, so it's mostly hidden.)

10-The sport button that doesn't stay on.

Now, I'm not saying that Mini should anesthetize Countryman's interior. It just needs to be better thought out. And most of the stuff I listed above could be easily solved.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Can I Get a Canadian Flag?

June 06, 2011

I'm Canadian. I could see myself buying a Mini. Therefore, it seems only logical that I'd want a Canadian flag atop my Mini.

But, can I get a Canadian flag graphic on the Mini Countryman?

Nope, wouldn't seem so. Actually, doesn't seem like you can get any of flag graphics for the Countryman's roof, other than the greyscale Union Jack that can be fitted atop the sunroof. What a bunch of crap. What if I wanted to honor my two Scottish grandmothers in the best, most logical way I can think of: a St. Andrew's Cross on the roof of my car.

I also noted that Mini got rid of the Puerto Rican flag decal for the Cooper. Not enough takers? People complained that an unincorporated U.S. territory gets a flag graphic while real states don't? They'd have a point. I'd certainly like to see this on a Mini.

But any way, I think it's pretty obvious: No Canadian flag, no Mini Countryman. I mean, we all have to have priorities, right?

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 8,105 miles

Seatbelt Chime Is All in the Family

June 07, 2011

This borders on being a gimmick, but if you're geeked up on Minis (as I have been since, oh, about late 2001), the way Mini has done the seatbelt chimes for its model line also borders on being cool. See, they all play the same song, same number of beats — da-duh, da-duh, or something like that.

But the regular-size Mini Cooper hatch and convertible have a tenor version of the chime to tell you to buckle up; the bigger Mini Clubman has a baritone version of the same song; and the biggest-of-all Mini Countryman has the deepest version of all. 'Round about now, I'm kicking myself for not making videos of the seatbelt warnings in the Cooper and Countryman because I couldn't find any samples on YouTube.

So you'll have to take my word for it if you haven't been in these cars (or maybe you'll have to make fun of me), and enjoy the following sample of our 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman's bassy seatbelt chime.

Why does my opinion of the seatbelt chime matter on the Long-Term Road Test blog? Because each time I hear it, it reminds me that some Mini product planner in Munich has a sense of humor — and I feel a little bit happier to be in the Countryman and don't mind so much that it's bigger and less entertaining than the Cooper hatch.

Our Favorite Caption

July 22, 2011

Thanks to stpawyfrmdonut for this week's favorite caption. Here are the others that made us laugh:

How The West Was Fun (ergsum)
High Plains Drifter (ergsum)
New Countryman for Old Men. (biggbrother)
No Countryman for Oldham (noburgers)
The Good, the Bad and the Pugly (ergsum)
Well, Pilgrim, you don't look like any country man I ever seen. (ed124c)
High Noon, starring Mini Cooper (kain77)
How the Apex Was Won (kain77)
Cooper Cogburn (kain77)
Little Big Man (stpawyfrmdonut)
Yeah, we lost All4 races. (eidolways)
It can make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs! (gxp_mike)
Ask not what your Countryman can do for you... (noburgers)
But the road's not moving! (vt8919)
The Willow Springs Job (teampenske3)
Mini Weeps at Willow (teampenske3)

What was your favorite?

To the winner:
You can select one of these three prizes.

- Top Gear Season 14 (Blu-ray only)
- Top Gear USA Sean 1 (DVD only)
- set of mini cones

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

July 22, 2011

Editor in Chief Scott Oldham send me this photo of our 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman showing off at Willow Springs Raceway.

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Why Is It So Expensive?

August 31, 2011

Why is the Mini Countryman so expensive? Well, for one, it can be because people are willing to pay a premium for the Mini name and image. However, there's more to it than that. Drive the Countryman or even just close its door, and it immediately feels like a more solidly engineered and sophisticated machine than other compact SUV-ish things. That costs more money to create.

There's another reason as well. The other night I was watching "How It's Made" on Science Channel. In between pretzels and nautical toilets was a segment about car seats. Although they didn't call out the manufacturer, the factory in question was clearly making Mini seats. It was immediately apparent why placing your butt in a Mini may be a tad pricier than something else: the immense variety.

There are more than 400 seat variations in total, starting with two different seat designs in the Cooper, plus a presumably different seat for the Countryman. They can be heated and non-heated. They can be covered in leatherette vinyl, cloth, cloth and leather, leather or upgraded "Lounge" leather. There are various different colors and patterns, which vary by model as well. All of it must also be coordinated to a very specific car. Going beyond seats, think of all the various factory-installed trim pieces and options a customer can order. That's an immense amount of complexity, and that costs more money.

By contrast, in a Honda CR-V you have cloth or leather, heated or non-heated, and a choice of grey, black or tan. Each is coordinated to a specific trim level or even exterior color. You want a grey interior with a green exterior? Too bad.

So I think that sums up at least part of a reason a Mini is so expensive: You have to pay for customization.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Manual Transmission Infographic

September 27, 2011

Mini isn't letting up with this whole Manual Up thing, the earlier ads (Manual Up, Stick Happens, Get Your Shift Together, Buy Two Pedals, Get One Free) have now given way to a new Mini sponsored infographic posted on Hunch.

Would you guess that manual drivers are more likely to prefer grapes, raspberries and bananas while automatic drivers are prone to strawberry, cherry and pineapple? Or that manual drivers prefer Richard Pryor while automatic drivers like Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais? Or that manual drivers like the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Face the Nation and NBC Nightly News while automatic drivers like Anderson Cooper 360, Today and The Situation Room?

Or that automatic drivers are 25% more likely to play FarmVille, 38% more likely to not have had access to a car in high school and 12% more likely to be introverts?

Click here to see a lot more random and pointless facts about statistical differences between those who can and those who cannot drive a manual transmission.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

Another Turbo to the Rescue

October 07, 2011

It was just yesterday that I was blabbering on about the new turbocharged four-cylinder in our new Ford Explorer. In that case, the extra juice gives the 2.0-liter engine just enough kick to make it feel perfectly adequate in the big crossover.

Last night, it was a different story, sort of. The tiny 1.6-liter engine in our Countryman S also benefits from a turbocharger, but it has far less mass to move around.

The result? It gives the Countryman S strength beyond its size. I'm not talking about a little spurt that makes it feel zippy, but a wave of torque that allows you to slice through traffic in fifth gear without even thinking. I checked several times too. Third gear? Nope, fifth. Now that's some nice power. Makes the "S" version seem worth it in my book.

Ed Hellwig, Editor,

Reliably Rolling Along

October 21, 2011

While I was running some errands, the Mini's odo rolled by 15,000 miles. I was on the freeway at the time hence the slight overage. Thus far, the Countryman has been dead reliable and low maintenance, requiring nothing more than a single routine oil change. Yes, we replaced two tires, but that was not the car's fault — both had developed a mysterious sidewall bulge without any evidence of tire/wheel trauma having occurred.

At 25 MPG, our maximum Mini's average fuel economy is the same as the EPA's city estimate. The EPA estimates the average at 28 MPG. But considering our lead-footed, Sport-mode-only staff and L.A.'s horrendous stop-and-go commuter traffic, that's not bad at all.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 15,008 miles

Rally Improves Your Image

November 11, 2011

Whenever I see photos or video of the Mini Countryman WRC car, I get more enthusiastic about driving our long-term 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman. Same thing happened yesterday when I came across this X-Raid Mini Countryman.

A German team, X-Raid will enter five Minis at 2012 Dakar.

And sure enough when the clipboard came around yesterday afternoon, I picked out our civilian-spec Countryman for the weekend. We'll see if it can live up to my imagination en route to Target today.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 16,156 miles

What Part of "Stop" Don't You Get?

November 15, 2011

I hate when people blare their music out their cars. I hate it even more when they park their car in my peaceful neighborhood and play some vile J-Lo top 40 song that sounds like a car alarm. Why would you do this? Also, get off my lawn!

But the Countryman turns me into "that guy."

You see, when I park and hit the start/stop button, the stereo stays on. That bugs me. In other cars, once you pull on the door handle the music stops. Okay, that's not so bad. But in our Countryman, it keeps playing until you lock it. Arrrrgh!

When I hit the stop button, I think everything should shut down. Thankfully, if you hit the button one more time with your foot off the clutch, it will shut off. But I saw no mention of this in the manual, nor is there a menu to change this setting to your preference. Sure, it's a small inconvenience, but if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a grumpy old man today.

What do you think? Would this bug you, or should I just get back on my meds?

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

Rubber Shifter

November 18, 2011

"Nice car!" That's what my young, bright classmate yelled to me as I waved and called out to her the other night. Yes, our long-term 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman All4 is a nice car. And like Anna, I too love the styling.

But the shifter isn't great. After driving it again for a few days to the LA Auto show I can confirm that it's very rubbery, and also hesistant to engage each slot. Additionally, I don't find the clutch engagement to be smooth, especially when starting from stopped.

These three things combine to make our Countryman difficult to drive smoothly.

Too bad. Otherwise, it's a nice car.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 16,500 miles

16.5 Cubic Feet

November 21, 2011

This weekend included, as usual, a trip to the grocery store. I've not been entirely convinced of the Countryman's utility in the past, but with 16.5 cubic-feet of grocery-bag space (instead of the standard Mini Cooper's 5.7 cu-ft) it really does haul the groceries. With the exception of the rear bucket seats, I'm starting to come around on this one.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 16,665 miles


November 21, 2011

I refueled the Mini Cooper Countryman All4 and found one thing I liked and one thing I didn't. Liked: Fuel door with a handy place to insert the tethered cap (remember when we used to leave caps on top of the gas pump?). Didn't like: the fuel log crammed into the also-mini glove box. The thing is, the map pocket is absolutely ginormous and easily accommodates the steno-pad fuel log, so I'm not entirely clear why it needed to be mangled.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 16,755 miles

Jumping the Berm

December 01, 2011

Early yesterday afternoon (yes, high noon pics are sooo crappy) I drove our Mini Countryman down to the beach to check out the berm that had recently been constructed. Every year the city of Seal Beach pushes up this 10-12-foot sand wall to protect its residents from finding the Pacific Ocean in their living rooms during the winter.

At first glance, I felt an overwhelming urge to storm the boardwalk and see if the Countryman could make it over the crest.

I fought off the urge. But since the berm is so close to my house, I probably shouldn't be allowed to drive the Countryman again until spring.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor

An Angry Letter to BMW

December 21, 2011


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.

Visual Impressions
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 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
Warranty Repairs: None
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.