Test Drive: Mini Cooper S Countryman

In our own unofficial and unscientific study of Mini Cooper owners it appears most Mini Cooper drivers are young (or at least young-at-heart), single and enthusiastic about their cars.

We make these assumptions based on the people we normally see behind the wheel and the fact that Mini Coopers are not the typical small economy car.? They tend to be premium (more expensive), more fun to drive and not overly practical for a family than many competitors.

At least that was our assumption until we spent a week driving the Mini Cooper S Countryman recently.? This is a different kind of Mini ? it has four doors providing comfortable and more easily accessible rear seats.? It might even be a good car for a small close family, that doesn?t need to carry a lot of stuff.? It does have 12.1 cubic feet of cargo space with all the rear seat backs in place, or it can be expanded to 41.0 cubic feet when the rear seat backs are folded.? We?re told two mountain bikes will fit in the cargo are with when the front wheel is removed.? Not having mountain bikes ourselves, we have to take Mini?s word for it.

The Countryman is also the first Mini to be offered with a permanent all-wheel drive, which they call MINI ALL4.? The system uses an electro-hydraulic differential, which is mounted alongside the transmission.? The smart system switches the power distribution from front to rear, depending on which wheels have the best traction.? Under normal conditions, up to 50 percent of the power goes to the rear wheels.? Under extreme conditions the full power can be directed to the front or rear wheels as needed.

Front MacPherson spring struts and forged lower control arm and a rear multi-link suspension work with the Servotronic electric power steering to provide the trademark Mini go-cart-like handling.

The base Countryman has a naturally-aspired 1.6-liter (121-hp) four-cylinder engine.? The ?S? model has the same engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger, direct fuel injection and a fully-variable valve management system based on the parent company?s (BMW) Valvetronic technology which combines to produce 50 percent more horsepower (181-hp).? The Cooper S accelerates from? 0 to 60 mph is just 7.6 seconds and has a top speed track speed of 128 mph.? The EPA fuel economy on the turbocharged version is 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway (the naturally aspired version is 28/35 mpg).? We averaged 29.5 mpg on a quick weekend trip to the Oregon coast.

With its larger size (a foot longer and six-inches wider than the Mini Cooper hardtop), four doors and higher ground clearance, the Countryman loses the racy cuteness of the other Mini Coopers.? Rather the Countryman has a more rugged masculine persona we expect from an SUV or crossover, but without the slick styling that some of the new models are offering.

The four-door Mini is available in three trim levels: ?front wheel drive Countryman and Countryman S and the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4.? Prices start at $23,050, including the destination charge for the Countryman and go to $27,650 for the S ALL4.? Mini proudly claims 10 million variations, but that means options.? Put an ?X? in most of the option boxes, and there are hundreds of them, you get a very distinctive Countryman, but the price tag can easily climb to and pass $40,000, which put this little car into the price range of some very impressive competitive vehicles.

The Countryman works for some mild off-road driving, but it?s not suited for much more than a rough dirt road, or a run in the snow, sand or mud.? Countryman is fun car with much of the distinction that sets it apart from the crowd, however, like the other Mini?s it has a limited appeal when compared to many of the less expensive competitors. ?But for shoppers looking to make their own statement and wanting a little more Mini, this is the car.

Barbara & Bill Schaffer


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