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2011 Mini Cooper Countryman: Like a Mini, Only Bigger - New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader November 2010

Everyone knows the affordable-yet-funky, quick-but-fuel-sipping Mini Cooper. Even people who would never consider one. Mini is usually associated with youthful fun, right? People who have (or hope to have) a family won’t put Mini on their shopping list. But not so fast, check out the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman, a bigger, roomier model with four doors and the option of all-wheel drive.

Think about the blandness that defines compact crossovers and it’s easy to understand the Countryman’s SUV-ish appeal. Nissan’s new Juke is right in the same territory, so at least Mini isn’t the only marque wanting to give the segment a good jolt.

The Countryman’s audience has two clear groups: those who have a Mini but need more interior room, and those who want an SUV but don’t have a problem sacrificing a little space in exchange for a little sass. Although the Countryman has four doors, it has seating for just four people versus the five-passenger accommodation of nearly every other compact SUV.

A base model with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission is estimated to get 27 mpg city/35 highway/31 combined. The turbocharged Cooper S Countryman with the same transmission should get close to 26/32/28. Opt for the automatic transmission and the city EPA estimate drops by one mile per gallon. The thirstiest is 24/31/26 for the Cooper S Countryman All4 with all-wheel drive, although this version is estimated to get better fuel economy than both the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.

Familiar cabin, high technology

Like other Minis, the Countryman’s interior favors style and fun over practicality. The chrome aviation-style switches for the power windows look cool, but their low placement on the center console isn’t user friendly.

However, the large round speedometer placed right in the center of the dash is easy to read at a glance and the unassuming look hides some sophisticated tech. That’s where the optional navigation screen resides. Combined with the Visual Boost option, it turns the center of the dash into “information central.” A small joystick-type controller helps navigate some fairly deep menus. Considering how much is packed into the Visual Boost feature alone, it all works well and is easy to understand. A free Mini Connected App is available from Apple and it allows iPhone users even greater connectivity with features like internet radio and Google local search.

Because the Countryman sits a little higher off the ground than a regular Cooper hardtop or even the Clubman, getting in and out is much easier. The seats are a little firm at first, but the support allows hours of driving without needing a break. The rear seats are comfortable enough for an average-size adult; plenty of headroom means it doesn’t feel cramped. Side airbags and head curtain airbags for both the front and rear seats are standard.

Rural charm

The exterior styling is intentionally more masculine compared to other Minis. There are a few more hard angles, even the headlights are less round. From the side, the roof has sort of a helmet look. This is something of a trick to give the Countryman a tougher demeanor.

The Countryman is clearly from the Mini stable, but the designers have hidden the car’s size well. It’s longer, wider and taller than a Clubman, yet the proportions still look tidy.

Over a country mile

A base Cooper Countryman gets the standard 121-horsepower four-cylinder engine. This has been revised for all 2011 Minis and it makes a little more power than last year’s model while retaining its notable highway fuel economy.

Next up is the Cooper S Countryman. Just like the smaller Minis with a red S on the side, this one is good for 181 hp thanks to a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine. The Countryman now starts to exhibit the true Mini character – not frighteningly fast, but with brisk acceleration. The car feels alive and ready to tackle any freeway on-ramp or back road.It offers a dash more practicality than a typical compact car, but still has the ability to make a statement.

The Countryman might be expected to feel more like an SUV, since it is larger than the Clubman and higher than any other Mini. It leans more through the corners compared with a regular Cooper S, but retains some of the usual Mini spunk.

The Cooper S Countryman All4 adds the versatility of all-wheel drive. This is front-driven most of the time, but can send up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels if there’s any slippage – such as gravel roads, loose dirt or snow. This version isn’t meant for serious off-road duty, though. Even the 17-inch wheels with 205/55 tires are more street than trail (18-inch wheels are optional). Think of the Countryman as the Mini to take on a ski trip or to reach that “fire road access only” hiking trail.

How to buy a country(man)

The Countryman is priced reasonably. The base model starts at $22,350. The turbocharged Cooper S Countryman is $25,950 and the Cooper S Countryman All4 starts at $27,650. Add a few options like the Visual Boost radio and Navigation and we’re close to $30,000. It sounds like a lot of money for a small crossover SUV, but a nicely equipped Toyota RAV4 is in the same ballpark.

Some shoppers will find the Countryman unable to work for them, while others may find they can’t live without it. The deciding factor may be the company’s incredible attention to detail and attentiveness to customer needs – as evidenced in the Mini Connected app and entertainment display screen. It’s also worth noting that Minis typically hold their value quite well.

Country club 
Direct competitors are few. The 2011 Nissan Juke feels smaller inside, but both cars put driving dynamics, compact size and high fuel economy over all-out practicality. In terms of fun, the VW Tiguan is the only other small crossover that can really run with the Countryman. The BMW X1 might also be considered a competitor when it goes on sale in the United States in 2011, but since BMW also owns Mini, it will probably differentiate with price, power and equipment levels.

Part SUV, part sports wagon, the Countryman defies categorization. The interior is roomy enough to be useful, but the car’s overall size is sufficiently petite to be, well, a Mini. It offers a dash more practicality than a typical compact car, but still has the ability to make a statement. 

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Mini Cooper Countryman: Like a Mini, Only Bigger - New Car Review - Autotrader