Rewind back to 2000 when the Mini Cooper was introduced. With its cheerful and cheeky styling and unbeatable agility, not to mention its BMW sourced drive train, it was a success. Over the years, the Mini lineup has evolved into the Clubman, then the Coupe and the Roadster. The Countryman is one of the two latest additions to the lineup. Mini’s parent company, BMW, felt that there was a market for a Mini SUV. With five seats, four doors, and relatively high ground clearance, the Countryman is classified as a compact SUV. This version is the turbocharged S version with all wheel drive and a six speed manual transmission.
The styling is unmistakeably Mini. The trademark grille is present in the front as is the familiar circular headlights. Overall, the front is aggressive in terms of appearance while still looking like a Mini. The Countryman carries over the black trim lining the bottom of the car, similar to a two tone paint job. The lines are modern and trendy.The hood vent/trim is a nod to the original Mini. The side profile is similar to the Mini Cooper but in an enlarged size. The rear is nicely done. Chrome lining the taillights help give it a premium appearance. The bumper is intricate as are the exhaust outlets. The interior is carried over from the Mini Cooper. The speedometer is placed in the middle with the tachometer in front of the driver. The interior is dark but the controls and switches give off a high tech feel.
The best part about this Mini is the way it drives. The steering has excellent weighting to it, and its steering feel is superb. I can literally place the car on the road just from feeling it through the steering wheel. There is a go kart feeling to it, although I suspect it is diluted in comparison to the Mini Cooper. However, its compact dimensions mean it feels very light, and it is a delight to hustle around corners. It remains stable in fast turn changes. This comes with Mini’s all wheel drive system, ALL4, and it ensures the Mini stays planted to the ground. Understeer is virtually nonexistent. The ride quality is a bit choppy. Constant pavement kicks rattle the cabin but it settles on the highway.
The base Countryman has a 121 horsepower 1.6 liter four cylinder. For those who want more power, there are the S and JCW versions. This S comes with a turbocharged version of the 1.6 liter four cylinder, and a six speed manual is standard. It is peppy and willing. At 181 horsepower, it does not have outright power as 0-60 happens in around 7.5 seconds for the manual version (automatic models are slightly slower). There is a bit of turbo lag at low revs but you never really need to downshift for more power until you absolutely have to. The six speed manual has well spaced gears, and it utilizes the turbo four’s power really well. I was amazed at how easy it was to drive. The clutch is decently weighted, and it exhibits good feel. On hills, it has a hill function so it does not roll back when you let off the brake. Fuel economy is decent at 31 highway/25 city/27 overall.
Refinement could be better. Road noise and wind noise make their way into the cabin, and the engine is somewhat buzzy at low revs. But the engine is full of character. At high revs, it emits a muscular growl or a bark if you will.
Fit and finish is a mixed suit. There are some nice touches like the soft touch dash and nicely knitted leather seats but the plastics are hard to the touch and there are some misalignment with some of the surfaces. The added height pays dividends. Headroom is generous, and it is easy to get comfortable. The lack of a center armrest is a glaring omission.Visibility is decent in the front but it is severely hampered by the thick rear pillars. The seats are excellent in terms of support and comfort. They hold you in place when the drive turns twisty, and they are comfortable enough for long trips. The rear seat is average in terms of room. Access to the rear is impeded by the narrow opening. Storage space is limited. This Mini comes with a center storage rail system where you can slide attachments from the rear seats to the front. They feel flimsy, and it is easy to misplace items underneath the attachments. Other than that, cabin storage is modest. The controls take some time to get used to. The controls are too similar to distinguish from one another, and they are tiny and illegible. The climate controls are located right in front of the gear shifter, making it hard to access. The speedometer located in the middle of the dash may look cool but it forces you to take your eyes off the road. A digital speedometer placed in the tachometer in front of the driver helps with this problem. Cargo space is adequate.
As far as SUVs go, I cannot think of any that will put a smile on your face as much as the Mini Cooper Countryman does. It may not be a true SUV but it still manages to drive like a Mini. Nowadays, SUVs are produced to serve one purpose: to be family friendly. But this Mini represents a refreshing change from the norm, even if it is not that significantly bigger than a regular cooper. If you’re looking for an SUV with an emphasis on driving enjoyment and one that can be offered with a manual, the Mini Cooper Countryman is the one to go for.