By on March 25, 2011

MINI (all caps required): the name itself inherently limits the brand. A large MINI would be oxymoronic. It would not be seen as a MINI. But most car buyers need something larger and more functional than the Cooper.  And, while MINI might be less intent on world domination than VW, it would still like to grow. What to do, what to do? When word leaked that MINI was working on a crossover, the brand’s fans feared for the worst.

Apparently also fearful, MINI has moved very cautiously. First it dipped a toe in the water with the three-door half-measure known as the Cooper Clubman. Essentially a Cooper with three inches added to the wheelbase and five added to the rear overhang, the Clubman didn’t threaten to undermine the authenticity of the brand. But it also wasn’t much more functional than the regular Cooper. Even with a couple more inches of legroom the rear seat still only warranted a single half-sized rear-hinged door. Cargo volume expanded by about a third, but a third more than very little still isn’t much.

To significantly expand its reach, MINI needed a vehicle in which four adults could travel comfortably. One implication: four real doors. How large could this vehicle be, and still remain authentically a MINI? The trick, lifted straight from the mind of  Navin Johnson: don’t just make it 16 inches longer (for a total of 161.7) and four inches wider (for a total of 70.4); also make it a half-foot taller while keeping the styling as close as possible to the original. This both fools the eye by maintaining the Cooper’s iconic proportions and enlarges the interior. A 61.5-inch height puts the resulting Cooper Countryman into crossover territory, in which case you might as well also offer all-wheel-drive. All three dimensions are within an inch of the Nissan JUKE’s. So while the Countryman might be considerably larger than a Cooper, and it might be a crossover, it’s still dwarfed by even the average “compact” ute. A BMW X3, not exactly known for its size, is 21 inches longer, four inches wider, and four inches taller.

A digression on nameplates: it’s time to drop the “Cooper” from all models save the two-door. It was confusing when Chrysler tagged everything a “LeBaron.” It was confusing when Oldsmobile tagged everything a “Cutlass.” And it’s confusing when MINI does the same with “Cooper.” (It’s also confusing when the same basic car is given many different names, as VW is wont to do, but that’s for another review.) The Clubman was little more than an additional body style, so “Cooper Clubman” was okay, but the Countryman is an entirely different car. People are going to call it a “Countryman” anyway, so why not make it official? When I say “Cooper” in this review, I mean the two-door.

Back to the car. The Countryman loses some cuteness and gains some ruggedness, but the differences are a matter of degree and the car won’t be mistaken for anything but a MINI. Same goes for the interior, which strongly resembles that in the Cooper, just larger.

In keeping with the brand, the center console includes a speedometer so ridiculously oversized that it can’t be read at a glance (best rely on the digital speedometer tucked into the conventionally located tach) and a low-mounted row of toggle switches that similarly prioritizes form over function. Also the same prevalence of hard plastic trim that looks a bit cheap given the prices MINI charges. Would premium materials be un-MINI?

The driving position is different. The Countryman being a crossover, you perch considerably higher than in the other Coopers. Though the windshield is, in the MINI fashion, distant and upright and the beltline is fairly high, visibility is good in all directions. The sport seats standard on the S are firm but comfortable. Their sizable bolsters aren’t just there to look sporty; they fit snugly and don’t give ground in turns. With no power seat adjustments and just a single manual height adjustment, the tilt of the cushion is not adjustable. A dual adjustment used to be standard in cars as lowly as the Hyundai Accent, but it can’t be found in a crossover costing three times as much today.

The Countryman’s back seat is split in two by a pair of rails, to which an optional armrest can be affixed (and which otherwise serves no obvious purpose). This means there’s no spot for a third person, but the cabin is too narrow for three across anyway. The specs suggest that there’s hardly more legroom than in a Clubman (up 1.5 inches in back, but down an inch in front), and so still 3-4 inches short of the typical compact crossover. Subjectively, though, the rear seat in the Countryman is much more comfortable than that in the Clubman and roomier than that in the JUKE. The higher seating position, which provides much better thigh support, helps a lot. Additional perks: the Countryman’s second row slides and reclines.

Cargo volume behind the second row, 12.2 cubic feet, is more than double that in the Cooper. Folding the second row increases the volume to 41.3 cubic feet, vs. 24.0 in the Cooper and 32.8 in the Clubman. Though still well short of the typical compact crossover (X3: 19.4, 56.5), the Countryman easily outdoes the JUKE (8.9, 29.3). Runs to CostCo shouldn’t pose a problem unless one finally falls for that 65-inch LCD.

The Countryman is about 200 pounds heavier than the Clubman and about 400 heavier than the Cooper. In base form it nudges under the 3,000 mark. Add a turbocharger, an automatic, and all-wheel-drive, as in the tested Cooper S Countryman ALL4, and curb weight increases to a not-so-MINI 3,252 pounds—about 200 more than the similarly dimensioned JUKE. To motivate these extra pounds the Countryman employs…the exact same engines as the other MINIs. So the 121-horsepower naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four has its work cut out for it, especially if teamed with the six-speed manually-shiftable automatic. The sixty horsepower added by the S’s turbo are most certainly welcome. Even with them the Countryman isn’t a rocket, but acceleration is easily adequate. For best results, get the manual transmission. Turbo lag is minimal and, perhaps thanks to the all-wheel-drive, torque steer is absent.

Fuel economy, according to the EPA: 23 city, 30 highway. Though not exactly stellar, the lighter JUKE does only a bit better (25/30) and the slower Suzuki SX4 doesn’t do quite as well (23/29). If you want much better numbers you’re going to have to give up all-wheel-drive.

All-wheel-drive can deaden a car’s handling, but not this time. Instead, the system adds one entertaining feature that’s new to the brand: throttle-induced oversteer. Not much of it, but enough to have some fun, especially on slick surfaces, and it’s easily controllable. The interior bits might not all be the hardiest, but the body itself feels rock solid when chucking the car through tight turns. Especially with the standard suspension there’s more body lean than in the lower Cooper, but not too much, and certainly no slop. The steering is quick (if still far from go kart quick—banish that analogy) and, if not chatty, much more direct than the system in the JUKE. Hitting a “sport” button bumps up the steering effort, but the resulting feel is more artificial.

Put it all together, and this small crossover has the taut but lively character of a MINI, just with a higher seating position and a little less agility. The Countryman is one of those cars that can be precisely positioned with a minimum of thought. You point, it goes. The brand’s character hasn’t been sacrificed in pursuit of a livable back seat.

Also surprisingly livable, given the brand’s past: the Countryman’s ride quality (at least with the standard suspension). The taller body likely permits more suspension travel. Though still no Lexus, the Countryman generally opts to absorb bumps rather than pound them (and you) into submission.

So, what’s not to like? This being a European car, it would be the price. To its credit, MINI has priced the Countryman only $550 higher than the Clubman, all of which can be accounted for in extra features such as power rear windows and reclining rear seats. The starting price of $22,350 seems reasonable, but the options are plentiful and quickly add up. The tested vehicle checked in at $33,500 despite being modestly optioned (heated leatherette seats, panoramic sunroof, xenons, H/K audio, Bluetooth). Checking all of the boxes would add another $5,000, and you still wouldn’t have a power driver’s seat or an upscale interior. You can save $1,250 by opting for a clutch, but there’s not a lot of fat otherwise in the tested vehicle’s $33,500 sticker.

Check the same boxes on a Nissan JUKE, and the total comes to only $25,300. And this number includes leather, nav, and keyless ignition. Add these features to the MINI, and the sticker swells to $35,650. In its defense, the MINI does include many features not even available on the Nissan, most notably a two-panel panoramic sunroof. Adjust for these using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the difference shrinks to a mere $7,700.

Compared to European alternatives, the Countryman’s price seems much more reasonable. Similarly configure a larger but much less stylish Volkwagen Tiguan, then adjust for remaining feature differences, and it can run up to a grand higher than the MINI. Any other Euro ute costs far more.

Also quite possibly not to like: reliability, or a lack thereof. MINIs don’t have a good reputation here…but they might be getting better. Based on responses to TrueDelta’s  Car Reliability Survey,  the current Cooper is worse than average with its first model year (2008) but not too far from the average with newer cars. How will the Countryman, an all-new model, fare? Time will tell.

The Countryman is no MINI Cayenne. With it, the look and feel of a MINI has been successfully transferred to a four-door, four-passenger, optionally all-wheel-drive vehicle. If you want a MINI, but need to fit four reasonably-sized adults and a couple of bags into it, this is your car. Just be aware that it is a European car, with a sticker to match.

Brad Paris of Motor City MINI provided the car. He can be reached at 248-997-7700. TTAC HQ  declined the expenses for a car wash. Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.


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104 Comments on “Review: MINI Countryman...”


  • avatar
    ChesterChi

    Since MINI must be written in all caps, I wonder if it’s mandatory to shout the word when talking about the brand ?

    • 0 avatar

      Sure. Walk into a dealership and ask to drive a MINI!!! Cooper S Countryman.
       
      Saturn did the same with their model names. I started refusing to use all caps with the OUTLOOK.  Too many letters for all caps.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      Actually, it’s an acronym: Motoring Is Not Inexpensive.
      Damn, 35 grand is scary – and lower depreciation means that I might be able to afford one in… 5 years?  :-(

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Judging from the MINI John Cooper WORKS badging on the other recently reviewed here, there’s a lot of shouting to be done with these cars. You probably shouldn’t mention them in church or the public library… folks might get annoyed… At least it’s not Jeep(R) (I forgot how to make a registered trademark in Windows 7)… What do you drive these days? A Jeep Registered Trademark…

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Nice review.  Spot on about the naming scheme fiasco, some refer to the smallest Mini as the “hardtop”, but that’s never worked very well for me.  Makes more sense to just drop the Cooper moniker from the rest of the lineup, especially with the coupe due to roll out soon.

    • 0 avatar
      CC_Stadt

      “Cooper” makes more sense in markets where the “One” models with base gas engine (75 or 98 HP, depending) or diesel are also available, the “Cooper” moniker being reserved for the more powerful engines.

    • 0 avatar

      As discussed in my response to Jack below, I don’t have an issue with Cooper per se, but with its placement where a model name should be. They’re welcome to call this the MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4, I suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      On the original Mini the Cooper versions were mechanically up-gunned and were often used as the basis for a rally car or track racer.
       
      To now just bung “Cooper” on to the back of any and/or all MINIs is yet another in a long and sad history of craptastic badge engineering in the automotive world.
       
      This particular effort is an insult to John Cooper, though maybe he is still getting royalties so maybe he is cool with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      “This particular effort is an insult to John Cooper, though maybe he is still getting royalties so maybe he is cool with it.”
       
      Mr. Cooper is now cool with everything, but apparently his family has been taken care of:
       
      From Wikipedia:
       
      John Cooper (1923 – 2000) was a co-founder, with his father Charles Cooper, of the Cooper Car Company. Born in the UK, he became an auto racing legend with his rear-engined chassis design that would eventually change the face of the sport at its highest levels, from Formula One to the Indianapolis 500.

      * * *

      Cooper’s development of the … the Mini Cooper — was adored by both rally racers and ordinary road drivers. Before John Cooper’s death, the Cooper name was licensed to BMW for the higher performance versions of the cars, inspired by the original Mini, sold as the MINI. John, along with his son Mike Cooper, served in an advisory role to BMW and Rover’s New MINI design team.

       

    • 0 avatar
      blau

      “Mr. Cooper is now cool with everything.”
      I think I have a new favorite euphemism for ‘dead.’

  • avatar
    anchke

    My missus has said I can buy a MNI if I want, but then I go for a ride and get cold feet, because of cost, ride and the experiences of True Delta members.

    I’m thinking I’ll wait until the next iteration of the CR-V comes out and buy one with racing stripes and the checkered flag design on the mirrors.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re going to offer those appearance options on the next CR-V?
       
      While a few owners have had bad experiences with MINIs, many others have not. As noted in the review recent model years aren’t far from the average.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      You need to hope that Honda has gotten the ugly out of their system, by the time the next CRV appears.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      A lady I met from Cincinnati told me that she has to have (unspecified) suspension parts replaced on her ’05 Mini convertible.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      @Robert

      “You need to hope that Honda has gotten the ugly out of their system…”

      And puts the Accord on a low calorie diet with some toning exercises around the mid-section?

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      beans – The Accord, a large car in the EPA’s view, weighs 3,200 pounds.  Please explain your comment.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      parts –

      Visually it looks very bulky. I am not a design student, and do not pretend to be, but this looks a little slab-sided. Perhaps I’m wrong, and would take any thoughts about this design-wise from those more versed in aesthetics than I am. As of right now the only Accord I would drive is the current Accord Coupe, as this car looks more aesthetically pleasing.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      beans –

      Fair enough.  I will never argue aesthetics, because I think it is entirely a personal preference.  If someone with a “design degree” starts bloviating about the design of the new 6000 SUX, my eyes glaze over.  Basically, if it looks good or bad to you, enough said.
      I own a 2010 Accord sedan in Dishwater Gray, and the best I can say about its looks is that it has a pleasing angle or two.

      I thought you were repeating the oft-heard “Accord bloat” refrain in regards to its perceived middle-aged weight gain.  It just isn’t true.  In 4cyl/5 speed manual guise, it is still an enjoyable, fine handling car relative to its competitors.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      not to get too far off track, but is it me or are current generation Accord Coupes not nearly as popular as previous generation? I think I’ve seen 4 out on the road since 2008.

      parts - 
       
      I understand about not arguing on the basis of style, I generally don’t. I continue to be astonished the 4-cylinder engines can motivate such large vehicles. When I was younger I thought anything above mid-sized and above (I was younger in the mid to late 90s, and I’m still not old) required at least a 6 cylinder to even manage to get out of its own way.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      The 4cyl Accord won’t win any stoplight races, but with 177hp motivating only 3,200 pounds through a manual trans, the 4cyl does well for itself and will rev all day long.  The V6 Accord is much faster, but I don’t miss the extra power and I’d rather have a 5 speed stick anyway.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    not-so-MINI 3,252 pounds
    at this weight u think is going to fly off the shelf?
    or deja vu, just like the old days of 240z-> 260Z-> 280z-> 300z -> 350z
    will ve see a 500z or  600z/
    i guess as long as people with less brain than money will buy them, i saw a few of these 4 doors driving around in vancouver now.
    3250 lbs is kind of as heavy as a merc 190e!
    why people dont just buy a 135 or 325 if they need more room, or rent a van on wknd to take car of their moving needs.

    • 0 avatar

      The 3,250 is with AWD. Have you checked the curb weight of a 3-Series with xDrive? Or the price, for that matter?

    • 0 avatar

      What the hell does weight have to do with anything?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      3252 is not bad for a small AWD crossover, and this is roomier (in terms of people space) than the 1-Series (which weighs more).  It’s a smart move, considering it doesn’t a) defile the brand, and b) doesn’t (yet) compete with anything else BMW and Mini sell.
       
      It’s very much right atop the Nissan Juke in most respects.  The Juke is bigger, and has a little less front-seat space but more all-around.  I’d be interested to drive this and the Nissan back-to-back.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Last I looked, 3200 lbs was the weight of a VW Golf. We might not like it, but these days anything near 3000 lbs is light. A Miata approaches 2700 pounds and a base Cooper, one of the smallest cars you can buy in North America, is 2600. Comparing to a 25 year-old Benz has no relevance whatsoever to the current market. Much as I like them, cars from the 80′s and early 90′s wouldn’t have a chance in hell of passing modern safety standards, my ~2300 lbs ’92 Jetta (with enough room to comfortably seat 4 and all their luggage for a week) included.

    • 0 avatar

      @blowfish: the weight of the 190E was between 1080–1340 kg (2381-2950 lbs), depending on engine and options. As this car was designed to be safe without airbags you might even by today’s standards have good chances in a crash.
      BTW: I’d also rather have a 135 or 325, just to avoid this dorky pizza speedometer.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      As this car was designed to be safe without airbags you might even by today’s standards have good chances in a crash

      No, you wouldn’t.  It was designed to be safe by the standards of the day, which are a far cry from the standards of today.  Compared to a Dodge Aries, sure.  Compared to this Mini?  Probably not.

      It’s not like, in modern cars, the presence of airbags encourages them to slack off elsewhere because, god knows, the crash structure of a modern is heavy.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      It weighs almost as much as a Mazda5, but the Mazda has 3 rows of seating and 20 more inches in length (height and width are almost identical)…..

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not fair to compare the curb weight of an AWD Countryman with a FWD Mazda5.
       
      Also, Mazda tends to go a little light on the metal. It takes next to nothing to ding my Protege5.

      Oh, and a Mazda5 weighs over 3,400 pounds.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      An AWD Hyundai Tucson weighs 100lbs more – but it’s measurably larger in every dimension – makes me wonder if it’s stamped with thinner steel, or just uses more high-strength steel (unlikely, but possible due to somewhat lower labor costs).

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Michael, the WRX is 3200lb and AWD. The STI version is just another 100 lbs more.

  • avatar

    What a huge lack of hang. BMW, BMW.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Considering the poor reliablity and sky high resale value, leasing might be the best option.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This car had great step-in accessibility and driver space, even moreso than the “normal” Coopers, which are already pretty good.  The seat cushions are also nice and long, which is uncommon in a small car. If you’re tall, this is an amazing ride.
     
    The ergonomics are terrible, though.

    • 0 avatar

      Would you really rather have decent ergonomics than a huge, funky-looking speedometer? Everything can’t be located at the top of the center stack, choices must be made…

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Psar,   you do   realize that ergonomics includes “step-in accessibility and driver space”?  Or are  you channeling Jack Burgess?
       
      I assume you’re referring to Mini’s funky controls, which can take some getting used to, and the ridiculous speedometer, which really isn’t a big deal.  The digital speedo in the tach actually works very well,  I’d make it standard in every car if I were king.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Sorry, I should clarify what I meant by ergonomics.  I like a centre-mount speedo—I wish it was higher, as it is in the Yaris—but the climate and audio controls are very poorly laid out, and the MINI take on iDrive is slower and more difficult to control than it’s parent.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I don’t have iDrive, but I’m with you regarding the audio and climate controls.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      What gets me is how many ICE/Climate control systems are incredibly slow to respond.  You turn a dial or clock a button and you have to waaaaaaaaaaait for the system to catch up, so much so that you overcompensate and end up having to scroll back.
       
      Its bad enough in cars with easy-to-use buttons and dials.  In the Mini, where the controls are tiny, weird and indistinct it’s even worse.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    A brief note on “Cooper”:

    In non-USian markets, the standard MINI two-door hatch is sold in several variants. They include

    MINI One
    MINI Cooper
    MINI Cooper S
    MINI Cooper S JCW

    “Cooper”, therefore, is the equivalent of the word “Sport”, and it refers to John Cooper, the MINI tuner/racer. 

    Since “MINI Cooper” is the base car here in the US, we tend to think of it like being “Cutlass Ciera”, but it’s more appropriate to think of it as “Panamera S”, where “S” is equivalent to “Cooper”. There’s a plain Panamera, and there’s a plain MINI, and there’s a Cayenne S, and there is a Clubman Cooper. 

    Dig? 

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, Jack, not buying it. I understand that this is the official logic, but it leaves the “MINI Cooper” with no model name at all. What’s the “Cooper” modifying in this case?

      Also, why have the modifying precede the model name, as in Cooper S Countryman? I gather that we’re supposed to read this as “Countryman Cooper S,” but that be some convoluted grammer, starting at the end, then returning to the beginning and finishing in the middle. Like German. Maybe that’s the connection…

    • 0 avatar

      Also, it looks like John Cooper Works actually gets substituted for the “Cooper S” rather than attached to the end. So we have the “John Cooper Works Clubman.”
       
      And if Cooper means “Sport,” then what’s “S?” Yes, I know, it’s like a “super sport.”
       
      As someone else noted it seems that the official name for the two-door hatch is “Hardtop,” while the convertible is the “Convertible.” Except I doubt any owner, when asked what they own, says simply “a Hardtop.” And what happened to “hardtop” referring to a coupe (not a hatch) without a B-pillar?
       
      There’s just too much that doesn’t make sense in how MINI names their cars, and I suspect the influence of people for whom English wasn’t a first language. After all, the company with the most ridiculous model names these days is…BMW, purveyors of the X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “And what happened to “hardtop” referring to a coupe (not a hatch) without a B-pillar?”

      @Michael: Ha ha ha! I’ve been asking THAT question since the 1973 models made their debut! Which reminds me when I tried to convince my dad to get a “vinyl top” on his next car, and he just could not understand that the steel pillarless hardtop was merely covered with vinyl, he thought the top was just plain vinyl, no matter how hard I tried to explain otherwise! The more I hang out here, the more old memories come to mind.

    • 0 avatar

      Michael,
      When the MINI was reintroduced in North America ten years ago, the Models were MINI, MINI Cooper, and MINI Cooper S. Full tilt models came with the JCW (John Cooper Works) kit which I believe included a turbo or supercharger (I’ll have to check) though that might have been a dealer item.
      Part of the problem is that even before BMW bought and revived the brand, people in North America were likely to call any Mini-type vehicle a “Mini Cooper”, whether or not it came from the factory in Cooper or Cooper S trim, or for the matter, whether it was branded as an Austin or a Morris.
      I don’t mind if they give Clubman, Countryman, Coupe and Roadster models a Cooper designation as long as the nomenclature makes some logical sense.

    • 0 avatar

      But when will they introduce the Suburbanwoman?

      The JCW starts with the factory turbo (supercharger earlier) and bumps the boost. Perhaps a few other tweaks as well. For which they charge a ridiculous amount of money.

    • 0 avatar

      I think, Jack is right.
      BTW: They had Mini Coopers, and Mini Coopers S in the sixties, already, even the Clubman (although w/o “Cooper”). I think, BMC had to pay license fees to John Cooper for every Mini Cooper sold.
      The “Cooper” or “Cooper S” badge always was reserved to the more powerful versions to distinguish them from the housewife (a.k.a Suburbanwoman) versions. JCW is the bad-ass version, with 211 hp (you can have them as Clubmans, as well).
      In Europe, you will have to add the Diesel versions, too. So, you also have the Mini One D (90 hp), Mini Cooper D (124 hp) , Mini Cooper SD (143 hp)  (in two-door, convertible, Clubman, Countryman versions)
       

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      “Since “MINI Cooper” is the base car here in the US, we tend to think of it like being “Cutlass Ciera”, ”

      Whaaaaaa? There’s a MINI Ciera now? Talk about model proliferation! I can’t wait for the MINI Ciera International Edition. Or the Countryman Vista Cruiser? How about the MINI Bravada? Or a John Cooper WORKS Toronado Trofeo? How about a MINI 98 Regency?

      Thanks, I’ll be here all week. Tip your waitress. Or a cow. Whichever you prefer…

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    I like these, though that pie plate speedo is a bit much.  The options will eat you alive.  I configured a base 6 speed manual online with cold weather package, center armrest, traction control and a few other small options for $23,800.  Much better value if you can live without AWD (and most of us can) and a lot of the foofaraw you can ladle onto this thing.

    Long live the Opti-Grab.

  • avatar
    jimble

    “Cooper” is a trim/equipment level. All MINIs in the US are Coopers (or Cooper S) but the same isn’t true in some other markets like the UK, where the range also includes the MINI First and the MINI One.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I’ve test-driven the Countryman and the Juke now, and I enjoyed the Juke at least as much as the Countryman. The Countryman may have a little more prestige (for which you pay in full), but the Juke was just as much fun, if not more so.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Philosophil: Have you checked out a Nissan Cube? For some reason I’m kinda drawn to that one as it appears to offer the best visibility, and the quirkiness I find interesting from a design standpoint. Someone here at work has one, but haven’t had time to really look it over other than walk around it and peek inside.

    • 0 avatar

      The cube is much more softly suspended and not intended as a driver’s car. Much roomier as well, despite the smaller footprint. It’s a little living room on wheels.
       
      I much preferred the Countryman, but my JUKE drive was limited to a FWD CVT. Either the AWD with its active rear differential or the manual is likely more fun.  Though neither will fix what I found to be dead steering.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I’m a bit surprised to find out that the Countryman is even considered to be a driver’s car! I suppose that’s what supposed to qualify the high price, though. EDIT: At what point does a “Driver’s car” cease to be and becomes just another “cute ute”, albeit a high-priced one?

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I should note that my own comparison between the Countryman and Juke is based more on ‘feel’ than anything else. I simply don’t have the knowledge or the experience to make the kinds of detailed, precise assessments of a vehicle’s characteristics that Michael can (and others here as well), so take my words with the grain of salt suited to a layman’s knowledge of vehicles.
       
      Zackman: We did in fact test drive the Cube when it first came out. I didn’t like it much myself. As Michael pointed out, it’s very roomy with good visibility, but I found it too spongy and very noisy–and the styling is just not for me. My wife, however, loved it and she may well have bought it if we didn’t get a great deal on a Grand Caravan instead.

    • 0 avatar

      Philosophil,
       
      I prioritize how a car feels as well, and everyone’s personal evaluation is the most valid for themselves. Different cars will feel “right” to different people. I connected with the MINI better than I did the JUKE, but hope to have more seat time in the latter soon. Maybe I just need the right road?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    That oversized speedometer is about as obnoxious as Flo’s oversized name tag on those awful Progressive commercials! Sooo…if the speedo is in the middle, and they know you can’t read it, so they put a digital one right in front of you that you can read…why am I sitting here thinking “Huh”?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      They put it there because that’s where it was in the original Minis for a few decades, it’s a tradition, icon, fetish, call it what you will.  There’s no logic to it.  Own one for a while and you don’t even notice it.  I’d prefer they integrate a full set of gauges into it, but then that would be one less option to sell.

    • 0 avatar

      @Russcycle: “…it’s a tradition, icon, fetish, call it what you will.  There’s no logic to it. ”
      There was a logic behind. It was cost saving. It simply was cheaper to produce both RHD and LHD cars with such a design. No need to change the interior. One interior for all.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Just make it readable!

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I test drove a Countryman and Countryman S, in both 6AT and 6MT trims.  They drove well, but those interiors are awful.  The upgrade climate control was a joke with it’s tiny pixelated screen and it was a slap in the face for the price.  Manual seats and the overall cheap interior were a slap in the face for $32k+…
    Nissan Juke, Mazda3 hatch, or the ’12 Focus hatch would be a MUCH better buy IMO.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I drove a friend’s MINI a few years ago – what a rattletrap.  All those cheap plastic pieces squeaked against each other most annoyingly.  The build quality seemed far below the xB1 I was used to, disappointing since I had once considered the MINI to be a follow-on vehicle for me after the xB.
     
    I personally very much like the center-mount speedometer of the xB1, since it offers full visibility for me as a tall driver (who’s used to seeing only 0-40 and 80-120 on conventional speedometers, since 40-80 are blocked by the steering wheel).  However, the MINI’s speedo was annoyingingly large and inconveniently placed.  It seemed silly/redundant to have both the center-mounted speedo and a readout behind the steering wheel.
     
    I think price is a big issue in this segment.  Only MINI-KoolAid-drinkers are going to pop for $33-36k for one of these, given the worthy competition in that price range and below.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      I had the same experience when I was shopping… the used Minis I looked at just seemed to be falling apart and rattly.  I like the idea of the Mini, but not so crazy about the execution.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “The Countryman’s back seat is split in two by a pair of rails, to which an optional armrest can be affixed (and which otherwise serves no obvious purpose).” Garnish for the driveshaft hump? But yeah, it is pretty silly.

    The Countryman seems to be an early entrant in the wave of jacked-up European B/C wagons, and probably isn’t a bad vehicle per se. It just has the wrong brand name.

  • avatar

    The Hard Plastic Meme crawls out from its grave like the zombie animated by the best automotive journalism.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    I sat in one at the Auto show and loved the size and interior room, but didn’t like that rail that runs between the seats, and HATED the huge speedo with the trim that connects with the vent trim. Every time i looked at it it made me think of Mickey Mouse. I couldn’t look at that every day.

  • avatar

    >>>A digression on nameplates: it’s time to drop the “Cooper” from all models save the two-door. It was confusing when Chrysler tagged everything a “LeBaron.” It was confusing when Oldsmobile tagged everything a “Cutlass.” And it’s confusing when MINI does the same with “Cooper.”
    It’s confusing when people tag everything a crossover. Define crossover, and see how many different “crossovers” fall out of the definition, no matter how you define it, unless you define it as all things to all people except for sedans and coupes.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    The Fiat 500 was designed by Hello Kitty!
    This car was designed by a flatulent purple Tinky Winky from the Teletubbies.

    The MINI won’t become a I Carly Disney assessory because of it’s practicality. While overcute and nausiatingly so, it has a degree of function missing from other adorable cars. Just don’t get one in hot pink or I’ll have to take a baseball bat to it so it looks like it fits into the real world.

    The speedometer? What a complete embarrassment! It looks like it belongs under a Royal Dalton tea cup.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Good points, there. Teletubbies? My son couldn’t figure them out, but I actually liked watching them. I told my son to read George Orwell’s “1984″ then he would understand the show. He read the book and told me that he understood perfectly and that it made sense! Go figure…

  • avatar
    spyked

    I too actually see the Juke as being a potential spoiler.  However, the MNI interiors don’t use terribly bad materials.  They just don’t present well considering the ridiculous style.  Have you seen a Juke interior, esp HVAC area?  All of the sudden the MINI interior seems positively European (flawless).

    The A3/GTI 4 door, as old as it is, makes the Juke and Countryman seem a bit pointless though.  Just go with the original recipe and get style, safety, utility, performance, and reliability with money to spare.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

     
    Maybe it needs a cuter name like MINI MAXI or something.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe it needs a cuter name like MINI MAXI or something.
       
      The MINI is already in danger of being tagged a chick car. I’d suggest that BMW not use any other terms associated with feminine hygiene products.
       
      WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘MINI’ AND ‘MAXI’ PADS?
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      The Austin Maxi was the Mini’s big brother during the 1970′s.
       
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_Maxi
       
      BMW would be better served by investing in a larger platform than building all these low-volume variants of the current car.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I really think this big MINI is a dumb idea.  Why cant car brands owned by big multi-brand corporations be specialized??  People who want a bigger MINI are going to buy a BMW.  People who want a luxurious VW will buy an Audi.  Why do they think they all need to be full line manufacturers??

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps, it’s the customer. Sales and marketing people call it brand loyalty. Nothing technical. If my requirements are changing and I’m satisfied with my experience so far, perhaps I’m more inclined to change from a Mini Cooper to a Mini Cooper Clubman than looking for a BMW 1.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      herb, they thought so, until they had to cut Oldsmobile, Saturn, Pontiac to go back to “core” brands.

  • avatar

    I’ve never really been interested in a Mini (ahem, MINI), but I like the fact that they’re out there as a quirky European brand. I’m beginning to wonder if they’re spreading themselves too thin, though– I simply can’t see the appeal of the Roadster that’s supposedly coming soon.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Would premium materials be un-MINI?”

    The original MINI was built really cheap. Like plastic fold down side windows, not glass roll downs. It was an interesting exercise in engineering to a price/performance target. I am surprised that no third world OEM has yet produced a respectful copy.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Actually, it wasn’t. The original mini was the very personal work of ONE man, Alec Issigonis, who was given essentially free reign to design a small car by BMC. It certainly was not engineered to a cost target, rather it was an exercise in seeing how small a car could be and still seat four full size (for the 50′s) people. It was way ahead of it’s time. The original was VERY expensive to produce, and they lost money on every one for many, many years.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I love looking at MINIs and seeing them on the road.  Whenever I see one it makes me smile.  As long as I am looking at the exterior.

    I’ve owned a Miata for 15 years and I still love a lot of things about it, but as I get older it gets a little harder every year to get in and out of it, and to raise and zip the soft top from the driver’s seat.  I’ve started thinking that the Mini convertible looks like a viable replacement, and comments on here about them being easily accessible for tall drivers is encouraging.  Then I see the interior of one and say, oh, right.  Never mind.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Couple observations particularly related to the comments on here:
    1) My experience is that things breaking is directly related to how you care for the car.  The MINI does not like to be abused the way you can beat on a Subaru, for example. Our 6 year old model is starting to develop some rattles now, but it has only had 1 unscheduled visit to the dealer (and that was for a stuck seat recline lever).  It is a robust feeling car, in general, but the tight suspension will send those bumps and thumps right into the car.  Failed hydraulic motor mounts and mushroomed strut towers are common on the first get models. That is the sort of issue that results from hard driving.

    2) The upper IP parts are used commonly on RHD and LHD models.  Same goes for the center stack.  Toyota gets accused of this with the center mounting gauges on the Yaris and other models, but they can’t actually use the same parts for LHD and RHD.  It takes a bit to get used to the controls, but once you do, it is no big deal.  The MINI would make a terrible rental car, but after you own it, it is no problem acclimating.

    3) We bought our MINI and we probably wouldn’t have ever bought another (unless ours was totaled or stolen) because once we have kids, we’ll actually need to be able to fit children.  So, our only option was to keep the MINI as a weekend car and buy something else for the family (certainly not a BMW… $38k for a decently optioned 3 series wagon?!)  The Countryman gives us the chance to keep the MINI fun but still fit our needs.

    4) Why are people so jaded about a car that just wants to be quirky and fun?  I don’t know that there is another brand on the market that you can completely purchase for emotional, right brain reasons.  6 years later, people still ask my wife about her car.  It is a car that just makes you feel good.  For as much as people complain about Toyotas being bland, there is a surprisingly large amount of complaints about this car being designed to appeal to the emotions.  Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I really like the Countryman myself. I think it’s a great vehicle, especially for the purposes and preferences you outline here.  The only beef I have with it is the price (and uncertain long-term ownership costs).

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      It certainly is pricey.  My wife’s MCS was $22k in 2005 when we bought it new.  It was decently optioned with moonroof, stereo upgrade, bonnet stripes, LSD, driving lights, fogs, and a few other things.  Building a similar Countryman S w/ AWD is very close to $30k!  I’m personally pushing for getting a CT200h and keeping her MINI instead of buying a new Countryman.  The CT is a hell of a lot more efficient and nice inside than the Countryman for the same money but I fear it will lack that “fun” factor.

    • 0 avatar
      beken

      I’m being jaded by non-MINI owners criticizing MINIs so I seldom comment on any blogs that review a MINI of any model.
      As for MINI the brand, I still love driving my relatively reliable 2005 MINI Cooper S and can’t think of any other car I would trade it in for at the moment.  Value for money based on my list of priorities in what I want in a car, can’t be beat.    I’m not sure about the MINI hate from some of the “best and brightest”, but my personal experience certainly isn’t anywhere as bad as they’ve made it to be.
      As for MINI the normal hatchback, maybe they should have given it a separate model name if they were going to do that to every other variant.  But too many variants just dilutes the brand.
      Having looked briefly at a Countryman and sat in one, I have Wife Acceptance Factor to trade for one when I retire and have trouble getting in and out of my current MINI.  Subject to testdrive, of course.
       

    • 0 avatar
      beken

      I’m being jaded by non-MINI owners criticizing MINIs so I seldom comment on any blogs that review a MINI of any model. As for MINI the brand, I still love driving my relatively reliable 2005 MINI Cooper S and can’t think of any other car I would trade it in for at the moment.  Value for money based on my list of priorities in what I want in a car, can’t be beat.    I’m not sure about the MINI hate from some of the “best and brightest”, but my personal experience certainly isn’t anywhere as bad as they’ve made it to be. As for MINI the normal hatchback, maybe they should have given it a separate model name if they were going to do that to every other variant.  But too many variants just dilutes the brand. Having looked briefly at a Countryman and sat in one, I have Wife Acceptance Factor to trade for one when I retire and have trouble getting in and out of my current MINI.  Subject to testdrive, of course. 

  • avatar
    obruni

    the price tags of these things make me cringe, especially the AWD models. i’m not exactly sold on the styling either, but then again a larger Mini was never going to look right.

    another competitor to this is the Toyota Matrix; I have a number of friends in the NY-metro area that fit the target customer for this car (yuppies with kids and/or multiple dogs), and they all have Matrixes.

    One Mini-only couple is probably trading it in for a Juke in search of more space. They want to like the countryman, but the price scared them away.

    • 0 avatar

      A Matrix feels much flimsier (just shut the door on one, and you’ll hear what I mean), has an awkward driving position, and its performance is vastly inferior in every way. It’s quite simply the worst-driving car Toyota makes.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Michael, I have never been inside a Matrix or a Countryman. But I was inside Fit/Civic and Cooper, just for the sake of comparison. The Cooper was far flimsier than Fit/Civic.

  • avatar
    zznalg

    So, Michael, how many stars?

  • avatar
    zznalg

    Also, I wonder about the impact on build quality of the Countryman being built by Magna-Steyr in Austria versus in the British plant? Magna has produced some very nice vehicles for European marks.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    I just checked Canadian prices and wow! Very basic MINI Cooper Classic (that is positioned below MINI Cooper and not even offered in USA) is more expensive that Cooper S in America! And that’s with Canadian dollar being 2.5% higher then US greenback.
     
    And Countryman is over $5,500 more expensive!

  • avatar
    Quentin

    I test drove a Countryman, 6MT, All4 this weekend.  I disagree with Michael on the visibility and turbo lag.  Visibility out of the front was fine, but tiny mirrors combined with a small rear window and obstructing B pillars left me very uncomfortable during lane changes.  As far as lag, compared to the MKV GTI I had, it felt pretty laggy/unresponsive below 3000RPM.  Above that it was a joy, though.  My wife’s first gen MCS has great visibility with the lower beltline and unobtrusive pillars and the supercharged plant feels much more lively at the low end and midrange (nature of SC versus TC, though).  Space in the 2nd row is very comfortable for a 5’8″ adult with loads of headroom compared to the Lexus CT that we looked at later in the day.  The reclining rear seats will likely help those that are stuffing a rear facing child seat in the back, too.  The biggest thing I noticed, from a we’re-planning-on-a-kid-next-year perspective is that the higher ride height will be great for getting infants and toddlers in and out compared to the low to the ground Cooper or Clubman.  The driving experience was just as I’d expect out of a MINI without the abuse of the short wheelbase Cooper.  It really does ride great over expansion joints versus the short wheel base models.  The 6MT is really quite smooth but the friction point on the clutch is somewhat difficult to find initially as both my wife and I made lurching starts at first. 

    Seeing as we’re probably the target market for this car (happy MINI owners looking to start a family), here’s our verdict:  If we didn’t already have a MINI, this is the one we’d go for.  Since we already have one (and have the means to keep it as a recreational car) we’re more than likely going to end up with something else.  We’re too attached the to our MINI to get rid of it and the Countryman doesn’t blow us away to the point that we feel like we would really be trading up.  Considering the price and options, we’ll likely keep Pepper and buy something with a little less spice & price for the family hauler.  I think it will do great in our target market, though, because most people don’t want to deal with 3 cars in the family. 

    • 0 avatar

      Good point about the small mirrors. I made a note, but forgot to mention them in the review.

      The lag is a matter of expectations and perhaps a lack of precision on my part. I still have old-style turbos in my memory bank, so lag in this one felt “minimal” to me. At the same time, “minimal” isn’t the same as absent. I also expect to have to rev a 1.6-liter engine to get decent power out of it, so when pushing the car didn’t spend much time below 3k. The VW engine has a significant size advantage.

    • 0 avatar
      faster Tobias

      With respect, Quentin, I don’t know what it was you experienced in the Countryman test drive, but it was not turbo lag. Here’s why; the 1.6L engine in the MINI you drove gets it’s boost from a twin-scroll turbo. Simply put, one skinny tube is fed by the exhaust gases off of two pistons spinning one scroll, and a bigger tube, fed by the other two pistons, spins the second scroll at higher exhaust volume. Because the exhaust is moving so much faster down the skinny tube, it spins up the turbo at low RPM even with limited exhaust, resulting in that 1.6L developing it’s peak torque at 1600RPM. The torque output is completely linear up to 5500RPM before it starts to fall off. With peak torque essentially when the clutch is released, it can’t be lag. I agree that the clutch takes a little getting used to compared to the grab point on the hatchback.

  • avatar
    Seth L

    In the Cube, Juke, Fit, Element, xB, whatever mashup segment, which one would you recommend for it’s isolation from the road, and general plushiness?  I’ve already got a cooper S for fun.
    I was interested in the Cube, but complaints about the noisy interior are warning me off.

  • avatar
    jceaves

    Like this car a lot except for two things.

    First, no power seat adjustments – as mentioned above, this is unexpected in a 30K plus car.   I would seriously consider this car, but uncomfortable seats are always a deal breaker for me.  I’m 6’3″ and thin and the seats bottom doesn’t cant back enough with the manual adjustment – my butt is on the seat, my legs above it.  The seats are hard and flat (much harder than my 335i coupe) and I expect my sit bones would hurt quickly. Perhaps the it was omitted due to weight, but the option would have been nice.

    Second (already commented on by reviewers) the parking brake makes the front rail system nearly useless.  The rail looks potentially useful when more attachments become available. The brake lever should be re-designed.

    Other than that, the Countryman is a very appealing car.

    Is it true that Mini’s get squeaky and rattly with age?

  • avatar
    jrny

    I’ve had a Cooper since 2005 and love it, feel like I got a high performance sports car for not much money, get excited each time I get behind the wheel and have a hard time thinking about my next car purchase that would be as fun and provide as much satisfaction for my money. As someone stated above, I get questions to this day about my car. People are interested in it. I’m still interested in it.

    One problem has been not so great in snow, esp. with recent winters. Cue the AWD and bigger interior of the Countryman. I thought great, just what I needed and at the right time too, I don’t like keeping cars longer than five or six years. I don’t want to buy a first year model, however, and any review I’ve read fails to mention handling in snow. Would appreciate hearing user experience in that regard.

    A bit surprised about all the negatives about Mini, may not be the most expensive interiors, who really cares about naming conventions, and it sounds like people’s entire buying decision is based upon speedometers and power seats. You buy a Mini for agility, pep and motoring fun. It’s also great how far one can drive between visits to gas stations.

  • avatar
    JRJenks

    Test drove one. Opinions/views as follows:

    I’m big. It’s a MINI. A bigger MINI, but a MINI. Plenty of room, front and back, but just for four, not five. Need to haul five? Fine, look elsewhere.

    Interior was sorta gimmicky and the materials used and overall presentation were anywhere from adequate to outright cheap. Plastic ring around central speedo is tacky to the extreme. My 1988 Daihatsu Charade was just as good.

    Speed and handling were quite nice, and if one considers the elevated ride height and AWD, enjoyable. Tossable, responsive, fun.

    One problem was the clutch (I drove the 6-speed, one of the few on the lot). As noted by others elsewhere, odd take-up (too quick? too slow? too much travel before? dunno, but odd and difficult – or maladjusted).

    I have driven over 1.3 million miles so far, virtually all using manuals, and this MINI’s clutch was just plain strange. Salesperson was clever enough to say “Sir, didn’t you say you’ve driven a stick before?” Why, yes I did, and yes I have, and yes, the clutch on this car bites, (and you just lost a sale).

    Also might add: This unit had no Nav, and when I inquired, the salesperson said “With nav, I figure you can get a MINI like this for $36-37,000.” OK. Cue mental wheels turning … $37K? For a MINI Countryman AWD? Even with negotiating a lower price (on a car that is a new model for MINI and pretty hot in the market), it just doesn’t make sense for me. Moving on to other options.


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