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!

  • Good review Chad! Wish I had one to thrash a bit. We had some snow at my house, but it was less than two inches and was gone the next morning….

    Oh the hardships here in California!

    matt

  • JonPD

    Good balanced review Chad, good job.

    I followed a R60 all4 a few days ago and almost got sea sick watching it wallow through the corners with the body roll. Not horrid but certainly much softer than what I expect something wearing a MINI badge. Still will take my R53 with winter tires over a all wheel R60 (especially with run flats) heh.

  • Mike

    Nice review. I had a feeling the center rail was not going to be very functional in real life, but I didn’t think you’d run out of room in a Countryman. That gas mileage is a real disappointment as well.

  • MINIme

    Nice writeup.

  • NashGuy

    Were the tires 17’s or 18’s? If they were 17’s, were they performance or sport tires? I realize that the 18’s are only available as sport tires.

  • Despite your write up, this car does nothing for me. Flash $$$ rapidly. Yay finance guys — we’ve hit the masses!!! Woo hoo. Ick.

  • Versus

    Was I the only person that read this in The Chad’s voice? Thanks for the insight.

  • that.guy

    7.5 out of 10. So, basically a C grade. Sounds about right.

  • Aurel

    Great real world writeup! I liked all the small bits you touched upon about the Interior and the Traction. Hope to read some more reviews from you.

  • alpinamike

    Snow tires make a huge difference even with the ALL4 system which is designed for snow tires in the winter, high performance summer tires for all other seasons.

  • KPH

    Disappointed the interior got so many dings for real world use after all the design hoopla. Not surprised the awd made a good impression. Ditto on snow tires. Allows awd to perform to it’s full potential.

  • Jarl I

    I think the review is accurate! I have an R60 All4 in Cooper S version myself, and I can certainly vouche for the seat critisism. Allthough they look sport-like hard, the filling is actually quite soft. The problem I think is confined to the fact that the cushion itself cannot be angled. This is to me a flaw! I would also have liked a better day running lights concept than having to make use of the Xenons, since many small travels with the car actually shortens the life span of these quite a lot.

    Having a “small car” like this one obviously is (for a crossover)will always be a compromise. Making it bigger to allow for more luggage would have compromised the driveability side – so I guess the current configuration is just about right.

    Internal compartements for luggage is not something I have been missing. The fact that you only have one USB port can of course be discussed; however with Mini Connect an IPod or IPhone can be interfaced via Bluetooth (provided you have the right version)- so that you can share the one USB plug for charging.

    The only other snag I have noticed is that the front screen washer nozzles seem to have too much distance to the window, providing an uneven spray under speed. Other than that – the car is just amazing.

    JI

  • woj

    The mileage is quite poor considering that my 2011 A4 routinely get 31-32.5 mpg…our MCS manages 34 mpg. Mini needs to fine tune the drivetrain if they wish to sell more othe All4. Even the Tiguan manages near 29-30 mpg.

  • rhawth99

    Great write up, Chad, thanks! Disappointing mpg and it seems like MINI has really tilted to style over function.

  • Aurel

    Chad, that 24mpg’s you were getting on average. Were those mostly hwy miles?

  • Evan

    The traction points were great. The potential snow-benefits of AWD with all-seasons are present it seems. Although we all know snow tires are always the best choice no matter which wheels are receiving power.

    On the interior space- the R60 has vastly more passenger room than the R56/R55. While you can get 4 people in the hatch, I need to move my seat forward a bit. In the R60, with the seat adjusted for my 6’3″ self, I could sit comfortably behind myself. And while all of your gear took over the car, the boot is much larger, especially with the removable floor out and the well exposed. MINIs are small, and moving tons of stuff is not expected. Even if we are talking about the MINI that is bigger to move more stuff in relation to the hatch. I moved Boston-Chicago twice with my R50 packed right up and have done ski weekends w/four people in it. I expect MINIs to make us think about what we actually need to bring with us and to pack those items efficiently.

    The point of the R60 is to bring a little more space to MINI so those of us who really can’t get by with the hatch have an option in the MINI stable. I am onboard with the R60 being the largest a MINI should be, but I am glad it is around and anxiously await the 3 passenger rear bench. The carseat for my daughter in the back with my and my wife’s heights was simply too uncomfotable so I looked to a used E90. When that bench is available, the E90 will be turned in and an R60 will join our R50.

    Thank you for the review!

  • jeff
    I expect MINIs to make us think about what we actually need to bring with us and to pack those items efficiently.

    well said.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    …Nice job Chad. What I’d like to see now is a roadtest of the countryman w/out All4 to see how it compares. I’m curious as to how much the All4 tends to rob the engine of power or if it does at all. You know going in it’s not a JCW hatchback so I would’nt expect that level of performance. I also would have expected a somewhat “firmer” suspension; not bone crushing mind you, but perhaps something that would’nt be described as soft…

  • otter

    I have a Nissan Rogue which if driven how it was designed to driven it will deliver about 30mpg on the highway; however, if one drives with even the slightest hint of alacrity the mileage falls in direct opposition to how much “fun” is being had. The Rogue is easily the most boring car I have ever owned. The bottom line is that the Mini Countryman S seems to be delivering similar millage to the Rouge; but, unlike the Rouge it has a little fun under its hood. My point is that having a hint of performance and style is going to cost a bit at the pump and one’s ability to haul cargo. My Rogue is quite possibly one of the world’s most practical vehicles and it is painfully dull. So, to me, cargo hauling and gas mileage are secondary concerns in my next vehicle, if they are primary concerns to a buyer there is a world of dull, stated, Fits, Rogues, Priuss, and the like to be had. Mini should, in my opinion be praised for trying to add some flavor to the malaise even when it cost a bit at the pump.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for sharing. Interesting write-up. I’m curious to hear more about the fuel consumption as well. Other than during acceleration weight shouldn’t affect mpg, so if you were seeing 24mpg during mostly highway driving that’s not good.

    PS – “Duel ports front and back” should read “Dual ports front and back”. 🙂

  • Thanks everyone. This car had the 17″ wheels on it with the Conti all seasons. And the MPG was all HWY. I myself was really expecting better also, and was a bit shocked. There are a lot of factors that could play into this. The alignment could have been off, even from the factory, and that can have a huge affect on mpg. Also the front of this car is really flat, so it could have a huge air drag. Also the speeds we where driving (80ish) will have a hit. If we had all the time in the world i could have set it at 55 and tried that, but where is the fun in that? lol While I personally would not like the MINI to be much bigger than it is, it would not have to grow much or just been re configured a bit to allow the room needed to put small weekend bags into it. I have always felt that is was designed to be more of a family car being 4 doors. So a family that packs in two large bags may not have any problems, but the room under the “trunk” floor was very small and really can not be part of the storage. It was only about 8 inched deep and would not fit any type of luggage. We used it for boots and stuffed a sleeping bag in there after we unrolled it. Even after that the lid still would not shut or lay flat.

    After spending the weekend with it i am one step closer to ordering my clubman that i have had my eye on since they have come out. I think this is still the car that works for me and my needs. But the contryman was a lot of fun in the snow! So if I could afford it, it would be my winter car.

  • Chad,

    Just wanted to give you some input with my wife’s All4 S w/ a slushbox. We have the cloth/leather seats and they are by far the most comfortable seats next to the lounge leather and much better than the leather in my R53. I wish MINI would add tilting seat bases since they refuse to offer power. BTW, we are consistently getting 24-25mpg around town..we live in the western suburbs of Philly (the Main Line) and we have plenty of hills. We are also getting 29mpg on the highway. So it is possible. You also mentioned in the podcast that the loaner had 18’s. Those are summer tires. Only the 17’s are all-seasons as long as the car was ordered with the all-seasons. Did you guys use the storage well in the boot and then put the floor down over it and put more bags on top? There are 3 outlets in the CM also…one in the boot.

  • alpinamike

    The runflats are heavy and a good pair of light wheels and light tires would improve the MPG.

    Driving perfectly get the epa numbers.

  • Bilbo Bagginjs

    Re: mpg

    I have a 2006 MCS, with manual, and make a trip to northern VT several times each year. Normally I have no problems making it up there on a single tank with plenty left over for a little motoring the next day. I normally set the cruise control at 74 mph.

    One time I took two bicycles along, on a roof rack, and was hurrying along about 80 mph. I averaged less than 18 mpg and had to stop for fuel about three quarters of the way there.

    Speed and extra drag will kill your mpg. If you were to take the same trip and set the CC to 65 mph you should see much improved numbers. OK, you will most likely be a moving speed-bump, but you will get better mpg.

  • john richards

    Just a word about mileage. I drive a 07/56s auto (I am 73 and have hip problems) On a cross country trip the mini averaged 29.9 mpg with run flates. Changes to michelin pilot sport+ 38psi same size. On the next round trip to atlanta two people and filled to the top at speeds 75 to 85 averaged 32.1. Both tires were all season. My next mini will be an R60 auto without run flates. Items that did not fit were shipped ups, there and back.

  • alpinamike

    For someone who changes tires every season, two sets. The Run-flats are heavy, the bigger the size the heavier they are, also the rims BMW makes from the factory are heavy due to the easy bending from regular alum. rims. These make huge diff. in MPG.

  • beembar51

    Wonder if this car had the Sport pkg with 18″ performance tires? All seasons are 17″ only.

  • ManMachine

    Gas mileage really depends on the driving style. When it’s someone else’s car, I expect the car to be driven very aggressively. Also, one needs to calculate the real mpg, not just from the onboard computer, and one needs more fill ups to know.

    Owners please sign up on fuelly.com and provide us some real world information.

    In the snow belt dealers will only order all seasons. This one obviously does not have the sport package. I do agree that if you do a review, list all the specs of the car.

  • Nick

    Griffin makes a dual USB port for car power outlets, so that can effectively double the number of outlets you have. Throw a couple of micro USB cables and an iPod cable in the glove box and you can charge almost any mobile device. Problem solved, rather elegantly in my opinion. Coefficient of Drag is listed as .36 for the CM (.35 for a hardtop I believe). So you’re going to see a larger disparity in fuel economy between slower and faster speeds. That 10mph difference between the EPA test (70mph) and your trip up I-75 at 80mph will have a larger effect on fuel economy than in a car with a slicker shape (many cars in the .3 range these days). I notice a 6mpg difference between 80mph and 65mph in my A4 Avant (CD of about .31). Bikes, ski boxes, roof racks, anything on the roof will compound the effect too. Slow down 5mph if you care about MPG and the difference will be noticeable. And put bikes on a hitch mount rack, you won’t notice much of hit that way. Lastly – seriously? A light to tell you the All4 is active? Why don’t you pay attention to your driving. Sheesh.

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