I picked up our new Mini Countryman and delivered it to the test track earlier this week, and frankly came away not quite ready to give up the keys. The largest Mini yet seems a little more grown up than previous Minis on the inside too, and not just in terms of size. Revised audio and climate controls are a little less quirky than previous models, and the ride feels slightly more compliant. But fear not, Mini faithful. The Countryman remains true to the Mini DNA, with familiar styling and an enjoyable driving experience.
The Countryman has real room for four adults, unlike any previous modern Mini. I found plenty of room all around for all 6'2" of my bad self at the helm, and with the driver's seat slid all the way back, there'd be room for my twin brother in back--if I had one.
Our ALL4 model has all-wheel drive, which along with its larger dimensions adds 500 pounds and change to the load the 181-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine shared with the Cooper S hatchback has to haul around. Even with our car's optional automatic transmission, the Countryman doesn't feel at all sluggish. We'll have to wait for the engineers at the track to begin formal testing to see how much of a penalty the extra pounds cost in acceleration and fuel economy. So far we've been observing around 25 mpg in commuting mileage.
Finding a Mini at a dealership that's light on options is an uphill battle. Our Countryman has a cold-weather package, premium package (panoramic sunroof, Harman/Kardon stereo), xenon headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, and iPod control. It stickered for $32,500. That seems like a lot--especially when our Nissan Juke seems very similar in concept and our tester cost only $23,300. (Read: "Nissan Juke: Chariot of the oddballs?")
Mini faithful with growing families or changing tastes and needs may well have a vehicle to move up to with the Countryman. Once we ring up the required 2,000 break-in miles and put it into our testing regimen, we'll find out how it stacks up. Judging by how popular previous Minis have been with our staff, that shouldn't take long.