2011 MINI COUNTRYMAN REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small Wagon/Hatch, four doors, four/five seats
Fuel Economy (claimed): 6.6 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 6.9 l/100km
The MINI Countryman S Chilli is something of an enigma: a maxi MINI with five doors, five seats, raised suspension, an AWD option, and carrying an SUV label.
But despite its contradictions, in the metal - somehow - it actually works. This is a real compact SUV alternative.
Quality: Since its revival almost a decade ago, MINI has ticked the box in the quality department with every model, contributing to its high resale.
Double stitching, organic soft surfaces, the cockpit-inspired switchgear and attention to detail such as the ‘disco’ lights - switchable mood lighting for the gear shift illuminator, door handles and footwell with colours varying from pink to green to purple - all reek of class.
Comfort: Like its siblings, the Countryman has four individual seats that are bolstered and very adjustable. The rear seats can also be reclined just like the fronts.
And the really neat feature: you can get a three-seat rear bench, like our test car – at no extra cost – to turn it into a five-seater.
The second-row doors open wide and the ride height of the vehicle makes getting in and out a painless affair, even for the tall and lanky.
(This is in comparison to the Clubman, with its single right-side sliding door that spits second-row passengers out into the traffic.)
Equipment: Of the different levels of spec on offer, the Chilli is the higher; it comes with leather seats, cruise control, a kicker stereo (Harmon Kardon) with multimedia and Bluetooth, the latter easy to use and clear as a bell.
However, our test car’s lower sports suspension ($570), bonnet-stripes ($260), piano-black and chrome highlights ($325 and $260), moon-roof with vent and first-row retraction ($2590) and the centre-mounted navigation ($2470) boosted the dollars well above the $53,150 list price (to $59,625 plus on-roads no less).
Storage: The cargo area stretches from 350 litres to 1170 litres, and split-folding rear seats and a ski chute, and run-flat tyres (no spare), make for a deep boot. Standard running roof rails also allow for racks, for additional storage or bikes.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The turbocharged PSA/BMW 1.6-litre engine is supremely flexile and pliant. Torque is available from very low revs and with no real lag - cruising around in a school zone in third gear is no issue; you may as well be in an automatic.
But the six-speed manual is one of the sharpest in the business, with a snickety click-clack through the pattern, and delightfully ergonomic. Reverse is awkward to engage though.
The Countryman is bigger and heavier, so the response and corresponding sprint figures (7.6sec from 0 - 100km/h) are duller than the standard Cooper S Chilli.
Refinement: The run-flat tyres, while better than they used to be, are still inflexible over corrugations and bumps.
The rear suspension can be crashy, with damping-compression filtering through the side arches and into the cabin, marring the driving experience (for both driver and passengers).
Suspension: Our test car had the 10mm lowered spring kit. In 2WD this certainly assists dynamic response and handling, which was planted without yaw or pitch – surprising, given the height of the car and clearance of the wheel arches.
Throw it into a corner, and there’s a surprising amount of grip without the expected front-end push (thanks to some electronic trickery – see Braking).
The downside? Those 18-inch rims offer little absorption on Sydney’s horrid roads, and mid-corner bump steer over 40-50km/h speeds is pretty bad - enough to kick the car sideways.
Braking: The brakes are excellent, and combined with electronically-controlled corner braking system which directs power to the wheel that grips and less to the one without, the car is easy to control.
ANCAP rating: five stars
Safety features: Front, side and curtain airbags, front load limiter/pretensioner seatbelts, Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Corner Brake Control, Traction Control, Hill Hold, reverse parking sensors and proximity display screen
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three year unlimited km, roadside assist
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 ($43,900) - The cheapest of the X1 family, the 110kW 2.0-litre is uninspiring next to the turbo 1.6 Cooper S engine, and while the Countryman has the nose of Barbra Streisand, the X1 has the beak of a duck. (See X1 reviews)
MINI Clubman S Chilli ($44,800) - In 2WD form, the Cooper Clubman S is an obvious competitor. Massive boot space accessed through van-style swing out doors, but only the one access door for the second row (and not on the kerb side; that’s a serious debit).
(See Clubman reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
When we first heard about the Countryman, the reaction was simple - why? But after a week with the car, the answer is clear.
This variant follows the trend of the compact SUV market, offering flexibility, practicality and space without bloating out to 4WD size.
Pricey when you start to option it up, the strong plus for this bigger, longer, taller MINI is a beautiful build and engaging driving dynamics and performance.