There is little that could be characterized as miniature about the Countryman. However, the exterior is readily identifiable as a MINI, and the extra size pays dividends in terms of cargo room: a full 41.3 cubic feet of space is available with the rear seats folded down. Pull the rear seats back up, and there's 12.2 to 16.5 cubes depending on whether they are slid all the way backwards (to maximize legroom) or forwards (to increase cargo room).
The cabin is marked by MINI's quirky control layout, which is highlighted by a speedometer mounted in the center of the dashboard. Secondary controls are arranged in a whimsical but not always logical fashion, including window switches located not on the doors but at the bottom of the center stack. On the plus side, the sightline are superb, affording an excellent view of the road ahead.
MINI upgraded the Countryman with a new seating arrangement. While a pair of rear bucket seats was the previous configuration, the Countryman can now be had only with a rear bench seat that accommodates one extra passenger, for a total of five. With either setup, there's room enough for average-sized adults to be comfortable during around-town trips.
Out on the road, the Countryman possesses nearly the same nimble, eager driving dynamics as MINI's smaller models, albeit with more body roll and lower overall limits - the price paid for the larger interior.
Cooper and Cooper S
The Cooper is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 121 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque; purists will appreciate the standard six-speed manual transmission, while a six-speed automatic is available for those unwilling to exercise their left leg. Burdened with about 3200 pounds of MINI, the little engine propels the Countryman from zero-to-60 mph in a semi-rivaling 10 seconds with either transmission. However, fuel economy is an impressive 35 mpg highway and 28 mpg in the city with the manual, though those figures fall to 30 and 25 with the auto.
The Cooper S Countryman is powered by a turbocharged version of the Cooper's engine that produces 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, a figure that rises to 192 lb-ft for short bursts in "overboost" mode. The mill helps the crossover to achieve 60 mph from a standstill in about seven seconds with the manual; the automatic is about a half-second slower. Mileage is rated at 32 mpg highway for both transmissions and 26 or 25 mpg in the city for the manual and automatic transmissions, respectively.
Optional on the Cooper S is MINI's ALL4 all-wheel drive system, which provides sure footing in the event of inclement weather. It instantaneously splits power as needed between the two axles based on a number of factors including speed, steering angle and rate of acceleration. The system adds about 150 lbs. to the car and sends power to the front wheels under normal conditions.
John Cooper Works
After pioneering the superior-handling mid-engined layout and enjoying great success in the prestigious Formula One racing series, British racing driver and designer John Cooper turned his attention to transforming the original Mini into a performance machine. The resulting car, known as the Mini Cooper S, enjoyed a string of dominant performances at the Monte Carlo Rally in the mid-1960s, cementing Cooper's status as a racing legend.
Today MINI pays homage to Cooper with the MINI John Cooper Works models, which are the high-performance range-topping vehicles in the automaker's lineup.
True to its heritage, the JCW Countryman is a pure-bred performance machine. It features an aerodynamic body kit, upgraded Brembo brakes and a version of the Cooper S' turbocharged 1.6-liter four that's tuned for 208 horsepower. The twin-scroll turbocharger helps the 1.6-liter engine churn out 207 pound-feet of torque under normal driving. An overboost function allows the JCW to eke out an additional 14 lb-ft for a total of 221.
While a six-speed manual was once the only transmission option, MINI recently added a six-speed automatic to the options list to appeal to clutch-averse buyers. All JCW Countryman models come standard with a sport-tuned version of MINI's ALL4 all-wheel-drive system that uses an electromagnetic center differential to apportion power fore or aft as conditions require.
MINI also recently reworked the JCW's engine to achieve improved fuel economy; the result is an impressive 25 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway for the stick-shifted model, while opting for the automatic reduces mileage to 23/30 mpg.
The interior is spiced up with sports seats upholstered in "Diagonal Track Carbon Black" cloth, "Chili Red" accents, "Piano Black" trim, a sports steering wheel with red contrast stitching and John Cooper Works logo, a dark speedometer and rev counter dials, anthracite-colored roof liner, gearshift lever with red shift pattern lettering, red contrast stitching for the gearshift lever gaiter and floor mats with red stitching.
Standard and Optional Features
The Countryman's standard features include power windows and locks, A/C, leatherette seats, a trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/HD radio stereo system with an auxiliary audio jack, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Highlights from the option list include a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, a USB/iPod adaptor, navigation system with 6.5-inch high definition display, leather seats with power adjustability and a Harmon/Kardon sound system.
Buyers can also choose from several option packages. Highlights includes the Cold Weather Package, which bundles heated front seats and heated, power-folding door mirrors. The Premium Package includes a panoramic sunroof, a Harman Kardon sound system, keyless entry, and a storage package. Finally, the Fully Loaded Package bundles parking sensors, navigation, white turn signals, keyless entry, a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, specific wheels, and white stripes on the hood.
In case the standard options aren't enough for you, MINI has added something entirely new known as MINI Yours, which allows further customization. The options include: an instrument panel covered in a smooth two-tone, soft-touch leather with exposed stitching, a two-tone steering wheel, a new MINI Yours 17-inch wheel, special pattern "Soda" mirror caps with a three-dimensional effect and MINI Yours Soda pattern Lounge Leather with unique Soda pattern on the sides of the backrests and headrests, as well as a contrasting black leather stripe that runs down the middle of the seats and is offset with premium piping.
Those prone to driving a bit too enthusiastically can take heart in the Countryman's long list of safety features. Actively working to prevent collisions are the Dynamic Stability Control system, Dynamic Traction Control, ABS, a Cornering Brake Control system (working to keep the car stable under braking when the car is turning) and an Electronic Brakeforce Distribution system (which adjusts braking force based on the load in the car). In the event of a crash, the Countryman is fortified with dual front, side and ceiling airbags and one additional knee airbag on the passenger side.
The MINI Countryman Cooper is a four-door blend of hatchback and crossover - up against a mix of competitors including the Ford Focus Hatchback, Mazda Mazda3, Nissan Juke and possibly some CUVs such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Escape or Honda CR-V.
The performance-focused Countryman Cooper S and John Cooper Works models count the Subaru Impreza WRX and the Ford Focus ST as their rivals.