2011 MINI COUNTRYMAN REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Fuel Economy (claimed): 7.6 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 9.2 l/100km
The MINI Cooper Countryman is the type of car that defies convention and polarises opinion.
It’s bigger than the MINI hatch, but not much bigger than the average small hatchback. It’s also quite sparsely equipped in front-wheel-drive base form – the model we had under test - but commands a hefty price tag.
There are other idiosyncrasies but the Countryman is easy to enjoy and has that Mini badge and footloose charm.
Quality: From the leather-rimmed steering wheel to the high-grade dash plastics, the quality is there. However, the logic behind some of the Countryman’s interior features is less apparent.
The aircraft throttle-style handbrake might save room, but when lowered blocks access to the thin centre console tray (which also carries the Countryman’s customisable 'rail' system).
The window switches are inconveniently placed at the bottom of the centre stack, and the huge - yet difficult to read - analogue speedometer takes up an inordinate amount of dashboard real estate.
It’s a nicely-built interior, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Comfort: The standard cloth-trimmed front seats give great support in the lumbar region, but may be a bit short in the squab for tall drivers.
The range of movement on the manually-adjustable seats is generous though, and getting settled in is aided by the tilt-reach adjustable steering.
The A-pillars are a little on the thick side, but otherwise all-round visibility is excellent.
The back seats aren’t the most spacious in the compact SUV segment, but they’re not uncomfortable either.
In standard form the rear seats are bisected by a multi-function storage rail, however our car was fitted with the optional central rear seat. The Countryman is a narrow car though, so it’s best to leave the middle seat empty.
The generous headroom and reclinable backrest however make the back seats more than accommodating.
Equipment: Standard features on the Countryman include air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, foglamps, trip-computer and a single-disc CD audio system with USB and 3.5mm auxilliary inputs.
Our test car was also equipped with dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth phone integration, reverse parking sensors and 17-inch alloys.
Storage: Behind the back seats lies 350 litres of storage space - about the same as a small hatchback. Folding the rear seats forwards frees up a total of 1170 litres, enabling larger items like bicycles to be carried.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: There’s only 90kW and 160Nm on tap from the base Countryman’s naturally-aspirated 1.6 litre petrol four-cylinder.
Those are reasonable numbers for an engine of such small swept capacity, but the Countryman’s 1300kg-odd kerb weight takes the edge off its straight-line performance.
The six-speed automatic though is an easy transmission to live with. Quick, smooth shifts and a wide range of ratios keep the engine in its sweet spot, while a manual shift mode (with wheel-mounted paddles) can be handy.
Refinement: The engine can be buzzy when asked to work hard, and the 17-inch run-flat tyres transmit a fair degree of road noise.
Suspension: It might be bigger than other models in the MINI stable, but the Countryman, even in base form, is more than competent around a corner.
The base Countryman is available only in front-wheel-drive but has good cornering grip, good stability and no noticeable torque steer. There’s plenty of body roll, but it doesn’t compromise traction.
The ride isn’t too firm around town, and the Countryman’s suspension is versatile enough to tackle both gravel tracks and twisting roads with ease.
Braking: All-disc brakes make short work of stopping the Countryman, although they do start to fade quickly during spirited downhill runs with some weight aboard.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety features: Six airbags, ESP, EBD, brake assist, stability control, corner braking control, load-limiting pretensioners on the front belts and adjustable head restraints for all seats.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Two years, unlimited kilometre warranty for the entire vehicle with three years paintwork warranty and 12 years body corrosion warranty.
Service costs: There are no set service intervals, and maintenance costs vary according to vehicle usage.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW X1 sDrive18i ($46,100) - BMW’s entry-level SUV feels a bit underdone, with a small interior and material quality that isn’t up to BMW’s usually high standard.
It drives well but steering weight is almost excessively heavy. Power from its 110kW 2.0 litre four-cylinder easily eclipses that of the MINI. (seeX1 reviews)
Volkswagen Tiguan 147TSI ($42,990) - VW’s Tiguan is a popular choice in the upper end of the compact SUV market, and this, the GTI-engined 147TSI variant, is the flagship.
For a little over $2000 more than the MINI, you get more equipment, more power (147kW), more torque (280Nm) and, importantly, more space.
The MINI may turn more heads, but the Tiguan makes more sense as a family vehicle. (see Tiguan reviews)
Subaru Forester XT automatic ($41,990) - Subaru’s evergreen Forester XT is spacious, has a powerful (169kW, 320Nm) turbocharged engine and a highly competitive price, but is hobbled by an old-tech four-speed automatic.
It also lacks brand cachet in this line-up, but is practical solid buying. (see Forester reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Countryman’s biggest appeal lies in its distinctively ‘MINI’ shape. It turns heads, looks like no other compact SUV on the market and there’s no mistaking it for another brand.
You’ll buy this car because it’s a MINI. Not because it’s cheap (it isn’t), fast (it isn’t), or practical (it’s more usable than other MINI models, definitely, but it’s still quite small).
But it handles very well and the quality of build and materials is very high. It's in a niche of its own making, and comes at a premium price. The Countryman is one you'll need to try on for size.