If any of you has any doubts that MINI is one of the most appreciated brands out there, not only for its small, cute and very appealing design, but also for the wild sensation the driver gets when jumping behind the wheel, you should try the following thing: ask any bystander you meet on the street what does the MINI designation mean to them. We did that and the results were surprising.
Most of the people we've asked started talking about Mr. Bean and his tiny companion who made the tour of the world thanks to the success Rowan Atkinson experienced with his comedy series. Others thought about small and fuel efficient cars, specially optimized to fight against the recession and help people save money usually spent on fuel. Either way, the common term remains tiny or small or, if you prefer, mini. None of them actually think at MINI as to a crossover SUV
But MINI is no longer a mini. The mini MINI that once made people feel like they're driving a kart is now a big boy and represents the most radical change in MINI's history (we're really not sure if we could say mini more often than we already did...). The big MINI, baptized by its parent company Countryman, is actually the first product in the carmaker's range that exceeds 4 meters in length (13 ft), which is probably the first sign that what we have here is more like a niche in a niche.
The first time when the British icon hinted that it was pondering such a model was at the 2010 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit when it presented the so-called Beachcomber Concept. With a more elevated seating position and a higher ground clearance, but still incorporating MINI's symbols and design cues, Beachcomber was, as the company said, a symbol of the brand values packaged in a new, radical style. It was actually the way MINI tried to pave the way for the Countryman, a risky experiment that brought the total number of products sold under the MINI badge to four.
A few days after the company unveiled the concept in Detroit, a couple of new, leaked photos reached the web. It was the Countryman, the first crossover-SUV in the company's history and the first attempt to make things in a different way.
Of course, we, as car nuts, wanted to feast our eyes with the new Countryman so we took a Cooper S, equipped with a 1.6-liter gasoline engine that produces 184 horsepower, for a drive. Read on to find out what the Countryman frenzy is all about.
Even it is bigger than its predecessors, the Countryman remains at least as beautiful as all of them. In fact, MINI's engineers managed to do a remarkable job, not only because the overall design looks great for a MINI, but also because they succeeded in a very difficult task: they combined the design cues of a crossover, or Sports Activity Vehicle if you prefer, with those of a classic MINI. The results are surprisingly good, and although some people think that it is just a hate it or love it design, it's more like a "how much do you like it?" matter.
The front side of the car has a pretty imposing look, although you wouldn't expect that from a MINI model. The large headlights are surrounded by chrome details while the hexagonal grille design in black (available exclusively on the Cooper S Countryman) also comprises an additional air intake plus ventilation inlets for the brakes.
Viewed from the side, the Countryman looks just like any other regular MINI but at a larger scale. The overall shape is almost the same, but the higher ride height continues the imposing appearance started by the front fascia, much more appropriate for a crossover. It retains classic MINI design elements, such as the shape of the mirrors, as well as the door handles' design, perfectly reminding onlookers about its roots.
The rear side follows the same MINI design language, but also comes with a number of unique features used for the first time on the Countryman. For example, the rear holds the biggest MINI badge ever used by the company (and this pretty much makes sense, since such a large logo would not make sense at all on a smaller model).
Overall, the Countryman is a bulky MINI and, regardless if we're talking about the front or the rear end, or about the optional lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels, all things seem to blend perfectly into the final design of the crossover. It is a head-turner after all and, to be honest, unless you're the only fan of the Chinese automotive industry, it's impossible to dislike the Countryman's design.
Countryman measures 4,097 millimeters (161.3") in length (MINI Cooper S Countryman: 4,110 mm/161.8"), 1,789 (70.4") in width and 1,561 millimeters (61.5") in height and has a ground clearance of 149 mm (5.86 inches), enough to get over speed limiters without the risk of breaking into pieces.
After a few days spent behind the wheel of the MINI Countryman, the only thing we could say about the interior is that it's perfectly balanced. It has the basic things to make you feel comfortable but, if you think you deserve more than the standard equipment, almost any feature you'd like is available on the options list.
But even so, the Countryman Cooper S we tested, although not in top-of-the-range configuration, made us feel like a bunch of white Persian kittens playing in fur. The model was equipped with an optional package actually, so we also received a couple of extras such as textile – leather upholstery, leather wrapped sport steering wheel, Antracit Dark center console, sport front seats and adjustable front passenger seat.
The interior is not at all luxurious, but it spoils you enough to make you criticize any other car models besides Bentleys, Rolls Royces or Ferraris. OK, not that much, but trust us, MINI managed to do on the Countryman the same great job it did on the other cars, offering a pleasant mix of original and traditional MINI features with new innovations and advanced technology.
Don't judge the car after the five minutes you step inside! It might seem unhandy, uncomfortable and totally opposed to the principles of ergonomics, but it's not. The old-school buttons, the power windows controls mounted on the center console and not on the doors, plus the big speedometer on the console are actually classic and modern at the same time. Add to this the three-color interior lighting and you'll get some sort of a retro disco facelifted for the year 2010.
It's a MINI, but interior space is not at all a problem. It's not a living room on wheels, but still. The interior however, can be customized depending on everyone's options. The Center Rail configuration depends on the type of rear seats: if the buyer chooses two individual seats then the rail starts at the center console and ends at the rear. In case a bench is fitted in the back, the rail stops between the two front seats. Either way, the system is pretty smart for a storage device, allowing easy manipulation and configuration.
In the end, the Countryman's interior can't be criticized too much, although there were people who said that the plastics used on the doors and on the dashboard have a very cheap and kitschy appearance.
Last but not least, this is the first MINI that lets you go shopping or leave on a longer journey without being forced to make a compromise between interior space and trunk volume. The boot has a volume of 350 liters (12.3 cu-ft) but, thanks to the implementation of the run-flat feature, you get an extra 20 liters (0.7 cu-ft) through the removal of the spare tire cover. Of course, with the rear seats folded the storage capacity goes way beyond what you'd expect from a MINI: 1170 liters (41.3 cu-ft).
Countryman isn't exactly a synonym for urban cruising but MINI's first-ever crossover could prove to be an exciting companion during the crowded morning when driving practically resumes to waiting 2 minutes for the green lights, moving forward a few meters and then waiting for the green light once again.
Fuel consumption is not a virtue. At least, not when talking about the Countryman, although figures are likely to step into the "decent to acceptable" region if you're capable of driving like an old man. Truth is, it's absolutely impossible to feather the pedal and treat the car like a lady. Because it's not. The 1.6-liter turbo engine generates 184 horsepower, more than you'll ever need in urban traffic, and helps the car sprint from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just 7.6 seconds. It weighs 2889 lbs (1310 kg) after all, but this is almost unnoticeable once you press the throttle pedal and you hear the aggressive engine roar.
The Countryman remains as agile as a rabbit and, although it looks a bit massive from the outside, you can squeeze through the other cars or park in a tight place pretty easy.
The 6-speed manual transmission isn't bad either and, even if we must admit that we would always go for an automatic configuration, manual shifting was piece of cake. Plus, it allows drivers to control the car however they want, thus supporting both economic or sporty driving styles.
Fuel consumption is said to be around 31.4 mpg (7.5 l/100km) in city conditions but, as always, facing reality proves that our paradise is different from theirs. We couldn't go lower than 11 l/100km (21.3 mpg), but we couldn't stay away from the forbidden fruit and pushed the throttle pedal every time the traffic light turned to green.
Not exactly a kart, the Countryman remains the same extremely-easy-to-handle vehicle like its predecessors, so moving around city streets shouldn't be a problem at all. Sure, we missed the adaptive headlights that could increase visibility on dark alleys a little bit, but such a feature was only available as an option.
And speaking of visibility, both the windshield and the rear window provide a great view on the road, while the high seating position, typical to crossovers, also has a major contribution. The exterior mirrors on the other hand seem to be a bit too small and the view angle is kind of inconvenient, especially when driving on city roads, especially if taking into account the overall dimensions of the car.
Parking shouldn't take more than a few seconds, as the car was equipped with rear parking sensors with audio notification. However, we missed the front parking sensors and/or a rear-view camera that could prove to be more useful than the basic sensors.
This is actually the first MINI that can be considered a real outdoor vehicle, mostly thanks to its interior space and to the large trunk it comes with. And although we had doubts that the Countryman would prove a decent ride outside the city, we were impressed.
Not only because the Countryman manages to rise to the expectations and behave like a real Sports Activity Model. Cruising on the highway is not at all a problem although there are a number of issues to be discussed here.
The engine sounds great and the 184 horsepower output hidden underneath the hood are really useful, mostly outside the city where drivers tend to become a bit more aggressive. As in the way they drive, that is. Basically, you have enough power to overtake any other car on the road as long as they travel with the maximum allowed legal speed and the whole move shouldn’t take more than a few seconds as the torque is available starting from 1600 rpm.
Probably the best thing about the Country on country roads is that it makes the ride so exciting that you won’t even feel when you arrive at the your destination. The comfort behind the wheel is impressive and we’re pretty much sure that these were the best seats ever used by BMW. OK, maybe close to the ones used on the BMW 7 Series, but they are still good enough to relax your back and your tooshie just like Thai masseur (insert naughty face here).
Fuel consumption isn’t quite great, but if you’re ready to pay the 35,000 Euros price tag to buy such a car, efficiency should actually be one of your last concerns. In fact, neither the Countryman nor its predecessors were exclusively about fuel consumption, but about the feeling you get when getting behind the wheel. The Countryman remains impressive, although its dimensions aren’t quite appropriate for on-road adventures. You’ll still feel like in a kart, with great stability and excellent control and the only way to test its abilities is to go on a police free curvy road and free the little Michael Schumacher in you.
Official figures are hinting that the car’s fuel consumption outside the city shouldn’t exceed 43.6 mpg (5.4 l/100km), but our results are so different that we initially believed we were testing a different car. At a speed of around 140 km/h (86.9 mph) on the highway (OK, we know we broke the speed limit but it was such a sunny day and we couldn’t really resist the temptation to press the throttle harder), the ECU
indicated around 10 l/100km (23.5 mpg), with figures obviously a bit lower if driven with the legal speed.
Driven on country roads on the other hand, where speed varies between 70 km/h (43.5 mph) and 110 km/h (68.3 mph), fuel consumption drops to between 7.0 – 8.0 l/100km (33.6 – 29.4 mpg).
A thing worth mentioning is the behaviour of the all-wheel drive system in non-urban environments. Not sure why this is happening (maybe for fuel efficiency reasons), but the all-wheel traction control is automatically turned off when speed exceeds 140 km/h (87 mph). And, to be honest, we really noticed it, as the car tends to become unstable at around 160 km/h (99 mph), so advanced driving skills are a must have (we’re modest enough to avoid mentioning that we managed to control the beast even at higher speeds, so we won’t tell you that...).
Apart from all of these, the car has all the things you’ll ever need to make a trip relaxing, including cruise control, ESP
, a decent audio system, automatic air conditioning, sport seats and configurable ambient lighting. The trunk has a capacity of 350 liters in standard setup so, if you intend to leave on a journey with your sweetheart (you shouldn’t do that with a MINI Countryman if you’re an agile driver and your girlfriend’s voice is too squeaky), you shouldn’t have too many problems carrying her entire wardrobe.