Auto Review: Mini heads for the Country

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jun. 7, 2012
Contributed
- Contributed Photo

One of the fun things about watching the car business is that, from time to time, companies will do things that really surprise you. For example, when rumors surfaced years ago that Porsche was going to build an SUV, it was certainly easy to be skeptical. I mean, come on – why would one of the world’s leading purveyors of high-performance sports cars build a machine better suited to mud than tarmac? But sure enough, in 2002 the company delivered the Cayenne, and while this was indeed a sport-utility made by the legendary German company, somehow the earth remained safely on its axis.

Given this fact, with rumors surfacing a few years ago that Mini – the reborn, BMW-owned subcompact car company still proudly made in the U.K. (where the original was as common as fish and chips) – was working on an SUV version of its popular Mini Cooper, you might think twice before dismissing the notion. This is after the company had already created a really interesting wagon version, the Clubman, back in 2007. As it turns out, the rumors were true, the SUV is now here, and it’s called the Countryman.

The Countryman is indeed bigger than the regular Mini Cooper, but still retains relatively modest external dimensions and wheel-at-every-corner architecture. The wheelbase is stretched to 102.2 inches compared with 97.1; width is 70.4 over 66.3. The tight 35-foot turning radius on the original two-door grows to 38.1 feet, but it’s still easy to whip the vehicle through traffic, around big rocks and into tight parking spaces.

Available in several versions, our Countryman tester was a Cooper S ALL4 model, which means it was armed with a Turbocharged, Direct-Injected 1.6-liter Inline Four with 181 horsepower. This, in turn, was mated to an optional six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission and further enhanced by Mini’s ALL4 Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system. Power is adequate and the light chassis is balanced by the AWD system’s ability to react quickly to make use of all available traction, making this model enjoyable in any weather. This doesn’t have the go-kart handling persona to the extent of the regular Mini Cooper, but it’s still a wonderfully responsive package.

The expanded size of the Countryman means decent room for all occupants, with comfortable, supportive front buckets and a bench seat that folds in three sections in back. There’s 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, with 41.3 available with the seatbacks folded. The controls and displays on the Countryman are typical Mini, in that they are quirky to say the least, but you eventually get used to them (and the option Navigation display in the Frisbee-sized central speedometer is unusually sharp and attractive). In pretty much every aspect of the vehicle, Mini does things its own way, and if you want a car with a distinctive personality, this is an ideal choice.

The 2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 is EPA-rated 23 mpg city/30 highway, and we experienced a fine 28.4 mpg in a week of mixed driving. With options, our sticker came to $36,350. www.miniusa.com


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