Mini Cooper Countryman 2011 Review
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From the masters of niche vehicles comes the latest Mini model in new territory for the little Brit - the Countryman. Parent company BMW knows how to carve a new niche and the Countryman is the SUV for those who want to get a little bit dirty without abandoning the Mini brand.
The first genuine four-door Mini is being presented as the beginning of a new era for the brand as more than a one-model make. Two or four-wheel drive, four-seater (or a no-cost option five if preferred), the mini-SUV is looking to squat in some territory not yet claimed by the hordes of small SUVs on offer in the new vehicle market.
This is no bargain-basement soft-roader (although it has already sold out in the UK) - the Countryman starts from $37,700 for the entry-level Cooper; the Cooper S Countryman jumps up to a starting price of $47,500 if you only want the front wheels driven.
Standard fare range-wide includes alloy wheels (ranging from 16 to 18in), multi-function sports steering wheel, trip computer, roof rails, with the S models adding Bluetooth, sports seats, the Sport mode, rain sensing wipers and automatic headlights.
Any buyers looking for more spice can opt for the Chilli variants, which kick off at $43,100 for the Cooper or $53,150 for the Cooper S Chilli.
The four-wheel drive model Cooper S ALL4 will start at $50,400.
The Cooper D Countryman will be available from mid-year and will start at $40,950 for the front-drive model, or $43,850 for the all-wheel drive model; diesel Chilli Countryman buyers will be handing over at least $46,350 or $49,250 for all-wheel drive.
The highlight for the Mini tech-heads is the all-wheel drive system, which goes against the front-drive bias industry trend to push only 58 per cent of drive to the front wheels and the remainder to the rear. The Mini folks say it is uses sensors within the stability control system and is constantly variable, with almost 100 per cent able to go front or rear, but there's no lock-in mode to fix it for off-road duties.
The engine line-up mirrors the hatch range, with the Cooper getting the naturally-aspirated 90kW/160Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder that uses 6.5 litres per 100km; the Cooper S has the twin-scroll turbo 1.6 offering 135kW and 240Nm of torque (or 260Nm on overboost) while claiming 6.6 litres per 100km.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel will deliver 82kW and 270Nm, with claimed combined fuel consumption of 4.4 litres per 100km.
While retaining design cues likes the floating roof and the wheel at each corner, the Countryman is almost 400mm longer (at 4.1m thanks largely to an increase in wheelbase) and 154mm taller, with muscular bulges and a broad stance, but it is still unquestionably part of the Mini family - perhaps just the less attractive sibling.
The air intake for the turbo models has moved from the bonnet to the front bumper, giving the nose an almost Mustang-like look. Luggage capacity with the adjustable rear seats in the rear-most position is 350 litres but can rise to a maximum of 1170 litres, regardless of which rear seat configuration - a two or three-seat rear set-up - is chosen.
The safety features list has standard dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes, six airbags and three-point inertia-reel seat belts, with the front pews getting tensioners and load limiters.
Big, broader (in the hips for sure) and taller, the Countryman has presence - that is certain - but it's no oil painting for looks. Out on the road, it's a little more sedate in a straight line than the hot hatches for which the brand is renowned, being swift rather than scorching for outright pace.
The steering is still sharp for response, if not super-informative for the driver, but the rest of the car sometimes feels as though it has to catch up to the helm, with a touch more body roll than expected.
The ride quality is not exceptional, partly due to the optional fitment of runflat tyres, and coarse-chip road surfaces generate some noise in conjunction with the tyres. Pushing harder on a windy back-road or unsealed section and the suspension feels more at home, fidgeting less than it seemed to on the metropolitan sections pockmarked by a lack of maintenance.
Some crashing through dirt road potholes was dealt with - albeit with a wince from the occupants and a check of the wheels. The interior feels airy thanks to the taller glass portions but the feel of the plastics is a let-down and the seats weren't as comfortable as appearances would suggest.
The six-speed auto - a $2350 option - is a clever transmission and largely makes the wheel-mounted shift buttons redundant.
VERDICT: not bad for its first SUV effort.
Mini Cooper Countryman
Price: from $37,700.
Engine: 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol, turbocharged petrol and turbodiesel four-cylinder.
Transmission: six-speed manual or automatic, front or all-wheel drive.
Thirst: 4.4 (Cooper D) - 8.1 (Cooper S ALL4) l/100km.
Range and Specs
|Cooper||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$9,700 – 14,630||2011 Mini Countryman 2011 Cooper Pricing and Specs|
|Cooper Chilli||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$12,200 – 17,600||2011 Mini Countryman 2011 Cooper Chilli Pricing and Specs|
|Cooper D||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$11,500 – 16,830||2011 Mini Countryman 2011 Cooper D Pricing and Specs|
|Cooper D All4||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$14,500 – 20,460||2011 Mini Countryman 2011 Cooper D All4 Pricing and Specs|