The Countryman tacks another $100 onto the price this year but throws in heated mirrors and washer jets as standard. The Countryman drops its individual rear seats option in favor of a split bench with two cupholders. It also adds padding to the door armrests...more
A Mini that's not quite so mini, the Countryman isn't just a stretched hatchback standing on its tiptoes. This is a completely different body -- longer, taller, wider, and featuring four doors. The Countryman is also the first Mini (now joined by the Paceman) to offer four-wheel drive. The Countryman is effectively a Mini SUV, although you could also consider it the Mini of SUVs. It's still a small, nimble machine, and while it's less small and less nimble than it stablemates, it is more akin to other Minis than it is to most SUVs.
The Countryman has proven to be a wildly popular addition to the Mini lineup, and no wonder. With four doors and a real back seat, it has the usability that other Minis can only dream about. The Countryman is cleverly packaged. Although it's still much smaller than most crossovers, it manages to deliver very good space for four passengers -- adults will be fine in back. Originally fitted with a metal rail that bisected the two individual rear seats, the Countryman has dropped that arrangement in favor of a traditional, split-folding bench. With the rear seats in use, there's not a whole lot of luggage space, but fold them down and the situation changes dramatically. Storage for odds and ends in the passenger compartment, however, is minimal.
The other thing that separates the Countryman from most other Minis (save the Paceman) is the availability of all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional on the Cooper S ($1700) and standard on the John Cooper Works; it's not available on the base Cooper. All-wheel drive -- or All4, in Mini-speak -- can be had with either the six-speed manual or the six-speed automatic transmission. In its favor, All4 only drops the fuel economy rating of the Cooper S by 1 mpg with the manual or 2 mpg with the automatic. Unfortunately, those figures aren't stellar to begin with. Those who are fine with front-wheel drive might be tempted by the price-leader Cooper, but its 121-hp 1.6-liter is marginal here. We strongly recommend the Cooper S and its much more powerful turbocharged 1.6-liter, with 181 hp. Or the John Cooper Works, which wrings an additional 27 hp out of that same engine.
Although the Countryman is taller and heavier than a standard Mini, it still possesses the brand's sharp reflexes, steering and handling more like a Mini than an SUV. At the same time, it's also plagued by the harsh ride that characterizes other Minis. Avoid the optional sport suspension and the eighteen-inch wheels unless the roads are glass-smooth where you live. Another knock against the Mini has been that its funhouse-styled dash and switchgear are hard to use and that a lot of the interior materials are cheap. The Countryman has taken a few steps to address this, moving the window and mirror switches to the door panels, for instance, and adding some much-needed padding to the rear armrest, which were formerly just molded hard plastic.
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