Review: A Snowy Weekend In the Countryman All4

The following review comes to us from WhiteRoofRadio co-host and Detroit Tuned super wrench, Chad Miller.

We have all seen the new aggressive styling of the new MINI Countryman, but how is it day to day? Well I had the opportunity to test just that. The plans where set in to motion for a three day weekend to Northern Michigan (or as we call the U.P.) to the littlest big town up there, Marquette. So the first call I made to my local dealer Motor City MINI to ask for the use of a Countryman ALL4. Marquette is bound to get snow in February. It’s not even considered snow up there until it’s more than a foot. I really wanted to test out how the car did in snow of all kinds. So plans where set in motion and I picked up a white Countryman ALL 4, Harmond Kardon, automatic, leather, auto air, sun roof, & full center rail. We loaded up and hit the road. As we drove north from Detroit, I thought about all the things I wanted to test and feel out on the way. So I divided it into 5 sections: Ride, Exterior, Interior, Power, & Traction.

Ride

I could feel that the car had run flats on, but over the entire trip the ride was very good. The suspension was soft and could take up the bumps in the road with ease. It still had MINI-like handling but the ride was a lot softer than the standard hatch. It’s so much softer, in fact, that you can feel a bit of body lean in the corners.

Exterior

After years with some many MINI hatches, the four doors were a lot different. You really notice the size of the door — very easy to close because they are lighter, and having a full window frame would take a bit getting used too. But overall I liked the looks of the front end and the sides. The rear end is going to take a bit of getting used to.

Interior

Since we had a seven hour trip one way, this is where we got to spend most of the time thinking about what we liked and didn’t like. Looks are one thing, but the Interior is where people actually spend their time in any car. I think car companies should spend more time getting the design right. I found several good and bad things with the interior of the Countryman. The seats, while they look good, just weren’t the most comfortable seat after a few hours. They where very flat and didn’t hug me at all. The second flaw I noticed was the lack of real storage. We had three people in the car, each with a small amount of luggage, two sleeping bags, a few misc. bags, as well as some with gear like boots and gloves. We simply ran out of room in the boot. In the end, we had to use the floor and seat area behind the driver. This was only a three-day trip, yet we ran out of room.

Next, the center rail looks cool but overall was kind of useless and didn’t really allow the rear passenger to stretch out. Then there’s the hand brake, or parking brake. It works really well and had a great feel. It just wasn’t in the right spot. It made access to the center rail hard, and this car had the I-Pod hook with the USB port — which was right under the hand brake. It made the ports very difficult to access, especially with the very short cord that comes with it. Last but not least, was accessory power outlets. There didn’t seam to be enough. We were traveling with three people, all with cell phones, and everyone needed a charger at one point. When you think about having a GPS or other devices (think kids) that might be plugged in the whole time, you run out of plugs in a hurry. Duel ports front and back would be really nice, but the layout and function of the available plugs was great. It was easy as the driver to reach anything that I needed. MINI also did a very nice job with the interior lighting. The soft glow made everything look so much better and just put a smile on your face. However, the light in the door handle pull was at just the right angle to reflect in the chrome of the handle and catch my eye from time to time.

Power

This was the Cooper S Countryman so power was no problem and I always felt like I had extra power on demand. We had to pass several cars on a two-lane highway and after a quick signal, the car powered by the slower car with ease. My only complaint on the power side of things was the MPG. We filed up, entered the freeway and set the cruse control till almost empty. While we did have three regular size people in the car with luggage, the best we could get was 24 MPG under real-world conditions. I was thinking that we could get at least 30 MPG. There are several things that could affect this like alignment, tires, and gas quality, but overall I think the weight of the car loaded down, the ALL4, and the very flat front end of the car didn’t help MPG at all.

Traction

We could really feel the “all wheel drive” part kick in. Normally the Countryman is front wheel drive, but when you get it with the ALL4 option, you can get up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels when the car needs it. In the corners, you can feel a bit more pull thru the exit. We did get to feel almost every bad road condition possible on this trip. The funny thing was Michigan had a warm spell and most of the snow melted before we got up north, so that part of the trip was very uneventful. As we where on the way home, the lower peninsula (the mitten) was getting pounded with a small blizzard. While one of my passengers was a bit nervous, I was driving as fast as I safely could. Just after we crossed the bridge we started to see a few flakes. Within the mile it was complete white out. The weather reports on the radio were calling for 8-12 inches!

Traffic slowed to 25 mph, but we where able to keep it at a steady 55 mph in complete control. I attribute this to several things. The xenon lights, the ALL4, and the way the car was balanced. As good as it was, I think with a better tire selection (snow) would help even more, but the traction as-was kept us straight. But where the Countryman really shined was in the snow — any snow. Light snow, blowing snow, deep snow, really deep snow — it didn’t matter. We got home, after driving the whole way in many levels of snow, to a good 8 inches of snow on the ground. From light to light, the car would take off from a dead stop quickly and in a calm manner, even in 8+ inches of snow. This was the most impressive thing about the Countryman.

After dropping everyone off, I found a parking lot full of fresh snow to see just what it could do. We tested the Countryman All4 with the traction control on, partly off and fully off, and the car did everything we asked it too. It took off from a dead stop in deep snow with ease. It could take a corner in the snow no problem. You just point it in the direction you wanted it to go and give it some gas. I was very impressed. The car is balanced very well for snowy, low-grip conditions. I think this is why so many are excited to see the Countryman in the WRC. I’m excited for the day when I can get a Countryman ALL4 for on a great set of snow tires and tear through 12 inches of powder!

Conclusions

Overall I give the Countryman All4 a 7.5 out for 10. I feel it needs to improve the seats and the useable space for luggage. I also wish it had was an ALL4 light to tell you when the rear wheels where being activated. You get a light to tell you when the DSC kicks in, why not a light to tell you when the rear wheels are being activated? Also, the biggest thing I haven’t yet mentioned is the rear seating. For a family vehicle the four bucket seats work well, but with friends we needed that fifth seat. Once we arrived in Marquette and met up with some extra people, we couldn’t really use the Countryman because we always had five people. MINI needs to get the rear bench seat to market in the US as fast as possible.

Special thanks to Motor City MINI for the use of their Countryman All4!