Test Drive: 2011 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4

?MINI?s newest family member ? The Countryman?

The fourth and latest model to join the popular and ever-growing MINI family, is the all-new Countryman, which delivers maximum interior space within a minimum footprint, while managing to maintain MINI?s core values in an instantly recognizable and authentic design language, albeit it a larger form. It is both longer and taller than its sibling models. This newest family member, despite it?s subtle increase in size, still delivers both performance and efficiency with active and passive safety features in a genuine crossover vehicle.

The 2011 MINI Countryman still provides MINI?s iconic Go-kart driving sensation, but with additional space and functionality in MINI?s first four door configuration that is quieter and more comfortable, with available all-wheel drive. The MINI clan refers to the Countryman as their ?Biggest small idea yet?.

Power for the MINI Countryman comes in two forms of a 1.6-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine ? one naturally aspirated and one with twin-scroll turbocharging. There are actually six versions of the new Countryman available. There are two naturally aspirated Cooper levels of the MINI Countryman ? one with a 6-speed manual gearbox, and the other with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Next up are the Cooper S models with the same two transmission variants and turbocharging. The top model pairing consists of the MINI Cooper S ALL4, powered by the turbocharged four-banger and offering a choice between the two transmissions and providing MINI?s ALL4 full-time intelligent all-wheel drive system. Pricing for a MINI Cooper Countryman will begin at $21,650, with a well-equipped top-of-the-line MINI Cooper S Countryman with ALL4 will start at $26,950.

The naturally aspirated 1.6-liter motor generates 121 horsepower at 6,000 rpm along with 114 pound feet of torque at 4,250 rpm, while the turbocharged engine cranks out 181 horses at 5,500 rpm and 177 pound feet of torque in a range from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm.

The MINI Countryman faithfully re-interprets MINI?s classic features such as: the roofline; the hexagonal radiator grille element; the large headlights and turn signal indicators integrated into the engine lid; the prominent wheel arches; and the upright rear light clusters. The MINI Countryman crossover, measures 161.3 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 102.2 inches (up from 145.6 and 97.1 inches, respectively, for the MINI Hardtop), featuring an interior that provides a new dimension of space and function.

The vehicle?s front end provides a strong presence that is engineered to optimize pedestrian safety. Extra interior space is emphasized by extra-large windows, with a unique window design behind the C-pillar and the distinctive roofline shape. The noticeably wide frame around the lower body and the boldly-flared wheel arches highlight the car?s athletic character.

A newly functional diagonal line transitions from the front side panel to the front door distinguishing the MINI Countryman from other MINI vehicles within the range. This feature ? another re-interpretation of the body welding seam that was located on the classic Mini ? also houses the side direction indicator. Conceived and designed as a wide, robust-looking band, the diagonal function line continues the course of the A-pillar towards the front wheel. Like the C-pillar facing towards the rear axle, this special line again emphasizes the impression of a powerful body resting securely on its wheels.

The proportions and horizontal subdivision of the rear body structure, widening out in steps from top to bottom, and emphasizing the car?s stable stance, while the muscular shoulder line highlights its masculine character. The roof appears to almost hover above the glass of the cabin. The rear MINI logo provides a specific function: Pressing the inner circle on the logo allows the MINI owner to release the tail gate, which is hinged at the top. The rear license plate recess has the same shape as the air intake located in the front bumper, linking the front and rear ends through their design cues. The rear air dam functions as a diffuser, guiding the flow of air beneath the rear of the car and optimizing its aerodynamic properties. The most powerful model in the range also stands out through its special roof spoiler, a twin-chamber exhaust system and striking openings in the rear wheel arches.

Moving to the inside, there are innovative design and function elements throughout. The seating position is slightly elevated guaranteeing comfort and optimizing the driver?s all-round view. The most unique interior feature is its innovative Center Rail system, which extends from the front to the rear replacing a conventional center console. It opens up new, individual options for integrating various storage boxes, cupholders, external audio devices, mobile telephones and other comfort features. The rear seats move fore-and-aft 5.1 inches independently, and the backrests tilt for angle or fold flat, offering up to 41.3 cu ft of space in the boot… enough for two mountain bikes with their front wheels removed. For those who need more options to carry their lifestyle activity items, a standard low-profile roof rail system allows owners to add a full?line of MINI accessories. Sports seats are standard on the MINI Cooper S Countryman (optional on the Cooper), offering two different combinations of cloth/leather seating as well as various choices of all-leather upholstery as an option.

My test MINI Countryman was a Cooper S version with the six-speed manual gearbox and All-Wheel drive. The exterior of my Countryman was sprayed Royal Grey metallic, with Black bonnet stripe graphics. The interior was executed in Light Tobacco and Carbon Black tones. The base price was set at $ 26,950 with optional features and equipment elevating the final sticker to $35,400.

SUMMARY: Though seemingly on the pricey side for a MINI, a fully loaded 2011 Clubman Cooper S version with ALL4 delivers a hefty inventory of standard features and equipment as well as lengthy list of optional fare. Both active and passive safety technological features abound, such as: ABS, DSC, DTC, EBD, Hill Start Assist and more. Tires are of the runflat variety.

The MINI Cooper S version of the Countryman with ALL4 and manual shifter seems to be the MINI with the mostest, even though I have a personal affinity for open cars. It is by far the most comfortable MINI model available in terms of interior ambience and ride quality.

Acceleration is above brisk and the handling characteristics are truly ?go-Kart-like?. I like almost everything about this latest MINI model offering, from its looks to its performance delivery. I found only one thing to niggle about ? I?m not a big fan of the ?T?-handle parking brake, with its release positioned beneath the handle which feels awkward to manipulate ? a left-side thumb release button would be more intuitive and easier to operate.

The price point of a fully loaded, top-of-the-line Countryman may seem initially hefty, but the feature content and added size and resultant functionality and versatility certainly brings it into a worthwhile perspective. The MINI Countryman is a truly global vehicle, consisting of 35 percent German parts, 30 percent Austrian content, an engine originating in France and the transmission coming from Germany. Final assembly is in Graz, Austria. The MINI Countryman is genuinely ALL4 fun and fun for all.
















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