2011 Mini Cooper Countryman: Style over substance, or generation gap?

Wheels' Peter Bleakney says the Mini Countryman is his teen daughter’s cup of tea but the S ALL4 is his kind of car.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Clearly, the base 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman is not targeting my demographic. This pricey Mini with glandular issues just made me kinda grumpy.

Conversely, my 13 year-old daughter and her two friends, whom I drive to school every day, were over the moon for this Surf Blue box of whimsy.

?It?s soooo cute!?

?Every thing in here is, like, oh my gawd, round!?

?Look at the speedometer. It?s huge!?

?The cup holders, they slide!?

And so it went.

The Countryman inspired them to roll down the windows and wave to strangers. They were so, like, happy.

So why am I so, like, grumpy?

Maybe because I?m quite fond of the regular Mini Cooper hatchback, and admire BMW for capturing the spirit of the original (one of which I owned as a youth) in a thoroughly modern car.

Maybe because this four-seat not-so-mini Mini crossover is a bit too style over substance for my tastes.

First and foremost, Minis should be fun to drive. In base Cooper trim with six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed auto with paddles costs $1,490), and carrying a not insubstantial MSRP of $27,850 ($32,150 as tested), the Countryman falls flat.

Coopers across the 2011 Mini lineup see a bump in output from the sweet running and economical 1.6L four, going from 118 to 122 hp, and 114 to 118 lb-ft. This mill is perky in the 1150 kg Cooper hatchback, but throw another 190 kg into the mix and it loses its sparkle.

The engine labours under acceleration and with four adults aboard, the poor Cooper Countryman is more impedance than conveyance.

While the ride is considerably smoother than that of the hatch, handling suffers due to the extra weight and higher centre of gravity. Granted, the steering is classic Mini, sharp and well weighted, but the rest of the car just doesn?t want to play along. It tips and understeers, if driven with any vigor. So un-Mini-like.

Inside, visual treats abound. Those hip to Mini-ness will feel right at home here ? the frisbee-sized central speedo and row of funky toggle switches are all cues taken from the original car, blown up here to Fisher Price proportions.

Running the full length of the cabin between the seats is a funky track on which things like cup holders, arm rests and sunglass cases can slide.

Cool or cartoonish? Your call.

Build quality is pretty good, although some of the plastic trim bits feel hard and cheap, and a persistent rattle from somewhere in the headliner made me . . . grumpy.

In the plus ledger, the four ?leatherette? bucket seats are comfortable and there is plenty of headroom, elbowroom and legroom for all. I loved the optional double sunroof. Cargo space behind the rears seats is limited, although the seats easily fold down, opening up 1170 litres.

Ah yes . . . option packages. They are the name of the game in Mini-land. Heated seats come bundled with the sunroof and Bluetooth (Media Connect) for $1,900. The Style Package, Tech Package and Convenience Package pushed the price up further.

Official fuel consumption for the six-speed manual Countryman is 7.3 L/100km city and 5.6 L/100 km highway. I saw 7.6 L/100 km for my week, and premium fuel is required.

A cynic (who me?) might look at the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman as an over-priced, over-styled, poorly-packaged, dull-driving push to expand the Mini brand into crossover territory. And go spend his 32 large on the sublime VW GTI.

So I don?t get this car ? and I guess I?m not supposed to. Just ask my daughter.

Maybe the full-blown Countryman Cooper S ALL4 will put me in a better mood. With a corresponding price jump to $34,400 (a hefty $44,660 as tested), we see a turbocharged version of the 1.6L four pushing 181 hp and 177 lb.-ft. mostly through the front wheels, although up to 50 per cent of the torque will be directed to the rear wheels if conditions or driving style demand it.

There is a front drive Cooper S Countryman with a MSRP of $32,650.

This ALL4 was fitted with the $990 Sport package that adds sports suspension, 18-inch ?Turbo Fan? alloys and a Sport button that calls up a more aggressive transmission map and firmer steering feel.

After hitting the first on ramp, my faith was restored. The Cooper S Countryman ALL4 drives like a different car. It?s alert, takes a set, grips and calls out for more. In short, classic Mini fun in a bigger package.

The 1.6L four in pressurized form gives this crossover wings, and the six-speed auto works well, kicking down and hanging onto gears like a performance-tuned tranny should.

Now, to flick the paddle shifters. Bloody hell. It?s fitted with those silly push-me-pull-you devices that make no sense in my books.

Even arrogant Porsche is abandoning these for the universal left-paddle-for-downshift, right-paddle-for-upshift variety.

That said, you can get used to anything ? even that ridiculous speedometer. Luckily there is a digital speed readout within the tachometer.

In conclusion, the Mini Countryman comes in two distinct flavours. For those not too concerned with spirited driving dynamics, the base Cooper delivers the extra space and cheeky persona that this four-door Mini is really all about.

The Cooper S ALL4 brings performance and security of all-wheel-drive into the equation.

Peter Bleakney reviews cars for Wheels. Reach him at:

  • 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman: Style over substance, or generation gap? CHARGES MAY APPLY 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman_left to right Leanna Bleakney_Naomi Sanders_Holly Monks_Subject: 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman pics 1,2 Bleakney On 2011-05-30, at 6:51 PM, Peter Bleakney wrote: Peter Bleakney h 905-465-2047 c 416-268-7906 Mini Cooper Countryman 1.JPG Mini Cooper Countryman 2.JPG

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