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.
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.