The 2014 MINI Cooper Countryman is essentially a MINI Cooper to the max. What you make of it depends largely on whether you consider it a bite-sized crossover SUV with great fuel economy or simply a MINI Cooper that's not so small. Is it a ploy by MINI to capitalize on the crossover/SUV craze? Or is it a genuinely enjoyable vehicle with real advantages over other MINI products? In reality, it's all of that.
Like the smaller Coopers, the Countryman offers turbocharged 4-cylinder engines. Unlike the little guys, it is available with all-wheel drive, further lending credibility to its crossover designation. Also unique to the Countryman is its choice of two adult-friendly sliding individual rear seats or a rear bench seat, which makes the Countryman the first MINI in history with seating for five.
With the seating position of a crossover, handling similar to a go-kart, a little versatility and a lot of personality, the Countryman fits in no particular car category. Whatever it is, the Countryman does the MINI brand proud. Because let's face it, as charming as the Cooper is, it's not so charming after a visit to IKEA or when you have to take three adult friends to dinner.
What's New for 2014?
The MINI Cooper Countryman receives minor changes for the 2014 model year. Heated mirrors and washer jets are now standard on all models, while John Cooper Works interior and exterior packages are newly available for the standard Cooper and mid-level Cooper S.
What We Like
Great turbocharged engine; solid fuel economy; capable handling; choice of backseat styles; available all-wheel drive; better crash-test scores than a regular MINI Cooper
What We Don't
Weak base engine; pricey options; limited cargo space
The MINI Cooper Countryman offers three engines. Base models use a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter 4-cylinder rated at 27 miles per gallon city/35 mpg hwy with a manual or 25 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with an optional automatic.
Step up to the Cooper S Countryman and you get a turbocharged 181-hp version of that engine. In 2-wheel-drive guise, it returns 26 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with a manual or 25 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with an automatic. Opt for all-wheel drive and those numbers fall to 25 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with the stick or 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with the automatic.
Topping the range is the sporty 208-hp John Cooper Works trim, which comes standard with all-wheel drive. It returns 25 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with a stick shift or 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with an automatic.
Standard Features & Options
Like all MINI models, the Countryman comes in three trim levels. Base models are called simply the Countryman (or, technically, the Cooper Countryman). If you want more performance, you can step up to the Cooper S Countryman. At the top of the range is the John Cooper Works trim.
The base-level MINI Cooper Countryman ($23,100) offers 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air conditioning, keyless entry, vinyl upholstery, HD radio, Bluetooth, vinyl upholstery and an AM/FM stereo with a CD player, a USB port and an auxiliary jack. It also comes with the car's 121-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive.
Step up to the Cooper S Countryman ($26,700) and you get a turbocharged version of the base model's engine that's good for 181 hp. You also get fog lights, a rear spoiler, sport seats and an upgraded exterior trim. All-wheel drive is optional on the Cooper S Countryman.
At the top of the MINI Cooper Countryman lineup is the sporty John Cooper Works trim ($36,000), which boosts power to 208 hp. It also includes 18-in wheels and a sport-tuned suspension.
The Cooper Countryman lineup is full of optional extras, as MINI is famous for letting drivers customize their cars any way they want. Options include adaptive headlights, heated seats, automatic climate control, a navigation system, a dual-pane sunroof, park assist, a keyless starting system, satellite radio and a 10-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system. Drivers can also choose from dozens of wheel combinations, paint colors and interior schemes.
The 2014 MINI Cooper Countryman comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side and full-length side curtain). The government had not yet crash-tested the Countryman at this time, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Countryman its top Good rating in every testing category.
Behind the Wheel
While the Countryman is the MINI with the most mass, it's still not huge. Therefore, it drives like a sport compact car. Compared to other MINIs, the Countryman feels bigger from behind the wheel due to its increased ride height and width, and that dilutes some of MINI's trademark glued-to-the-road driving character (though not much). The Countryman is still extraordinarily surefooted, and you also get a more compliant ride than the MINI norm as a result of the extra suspension travel. If you want to be more glued to the road, the stiffer sport suspension is your ticket to ride, especially with the optional 18-in wheels. If you want a more compliant, family-friendly ride, stick with the standard suspension and 17-in wheels.
As with MINI's other models, Bluetooth connectivity is now standard on the Countryman. Satellite radio is optional, as is the nifty MINI Connected suite that adds an attractive information and entertainment display in the center of that massive speedometer. MINI Connected gives iPhone users access to an app that can integrate Facebook, Twitter, Internet radio and a variety of other services.
Other Cars to Consider
Kia Sportage -- The stylish Sportage lacks the Countryman's cool interior vibe, but it compensates with an available 260-hp turbocharged inline 4-cylinder that'll blow even the Cooper S Countryman into the weeds.
Subaru Impreza -- The Impreza hatchback has standard all-wheel drive, good cargo space and a loyal following. It lacks the Countryman's customizability and cool factor, though.
Volkswagen Tiguan -- With strong performance and a more capacious interior with a similarly premium feel, the Tiguan is an intriguing alternative from the conventional crossover ranks.
If you're going to buy a Countryman instead of the smaller Clubman, we say go all out and get the S ALL4 model. As the only MINI model with all-wheel drive, the S ALL4 could be a stretch worth making.