"You take care of your life & family and we'll take care of your car."
The Mini Countryman is an all-new model for the brand, larger than any Mini before, with four doors and available all-wheel drive. Everything outside looks new, but many of the basic bones of the car are identical to or derived from other Mini Cooper models, including the engines. It's as much a car for new buyers as for Mini owners with new friends, a larger dog, or another offspring.
The rear seats are a bit more spacious in the Countryman than they are in the regular Mini Coopers. All Mini Coopers have four seats, but the Countryman is a realistic four-adult car.
The Countryman has also four conventional doors, so it's easier to get in or load kids, and can handle 41 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats or a third of that in the deep trunk.
Both the standard 121-hp four-cylinder and the 181-hp turbocharged engine of the S model are proven in Coopers. The 2011 engines are slightly more powerful than the 2010 versions. The turbo's primary advantage isn't so much the 60-hp bump as is the additional torque available over a much broader engine speed range, which makes the car more responsive in everyday driving.
Both the 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatics work well and are offered with either engine; all-wheel drive comes only with the turbo.
Fuel economy ratings range from an EPA-estimated 27/35 mpg City/Highway for a front-wheel-drive Countryman with the manual gearbox to 24/31 mpg for a Countryman ALL4 automatic.
Agility has always been a Mini hallmark, one frequently likened to kart-like handling. Perhaps that's why they designed to roof to resemble a helmet. The Countryman is no different, with crisp handling and response to driver direction that is the envy of most other crossovers. Indeed, we found the Countryman jolly good fun to drive, though it hasn't the razor-sharp reactions of a Cooper hardtop or Clubman.
Any Mini driver will find the cabin familiar, with a few additions and revisions. Recurring styling themes with unusual controls and instruments highlight the space and it remains functional and quite useful. With some options, the electronic interaction with an iPhone will send tweets automatically and offer a soundtrack to suit the conditions and your driving style.
There isn't a lot in the way of competition to the Countryman, although Nissan's Juke, some Scion products, and Kia's Soul do have similar traits and quirkiness. BMW's upcoming X1 may be similar in size and some dynamics, but it is a completely different vehicle and shares nothing but corporate ownership with the Countryman.
In years past, the wagon version of the Mini was called Countryman and built by Austin, among others. Was it just coincidence the 2011 Countryman was introduced to the U.S. in Austin, Texas?