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MF Garage: 10,000 Miles of the Countryman

When the Countryman was first announced, pretty much everyone on MF hoped the earth would crack open and swallow it whole the moment it arrived. A MINI “SUV” needed to be sent back to whatever vile hell it came from. But a funny thing happened as we got to know the four door MINI: we started to like it. When I say we, naturally that’s a few of us at MF (not all), and some of you. So while opinions are still split on the largest MINI ever made, sales have been going quite well. The R60 now accounts for a third of all MINI sales this year worldwide.

That left us with questions. To better understand this car that’s created so much debate, we thought a long term review was in order. So did MINI USA, and we ordered our Countryman Cooper S All4 in the spring of 2011 for a mid-summer delivery. 10,000 miles later we have some answers.

Size

The Countryman is not a big car. It’s a big MINI. That’s an odd thing to get your head around at first but something that slowly sinks in as you use it day after day. With four seats (the only configuration available for 2011) the Countryman can hold four adults in reasonable comfort. MINI could have shortened up the rear passenger space but they clearly wanted to make this a comfortable four door first, and a cargo hauler second.

That focus on passenger room over cargo space has been a disappointments for a few MF staffers. A family of three heading out for a long weekend can fill up a Countryman pretty easily. A family of four (which I personally tested late last year) becomes an exercise in extreme light packing. As the primary family car, the Countryman’s sweet spot will likely be either a family of two or three and no more – at least in the US.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ever haul a big load of cargo. In fact, you can pack and stow like a champ when you’re not on the school run. With the seats folded down and the optional flat load floor in place (a definite nice to have), the R60 swallows more than 41 cubic ft of cargo. Add to it the (somewhat) secret compartment below the rear floor and you have yourself a decent small cargo vehicle.

Drive

It’s easy to compare the Countryman to the rest of the MINI range and come away less than impressed. It has slower turn-in, sits up higher and feels less eager to change direction. However when you compare it to other small crossovers on the market, the Countryman feels light-years ahead. Instantly those traits that make it feel slow compared to the standard MINIs give the Countryman almost a go-kart feel compared to its four door competition.

In the end, three things keep the Countryman from feeling as “MINI” as the rest of the range: weight, steering ratio and overall length. Of those three, the thing most in the way of “MINI” feel has to be weight. Yet relative to the competition, the Countryman is one of the smallest and lightest cars in that segment. For a car of this size, it’s as MINI a it’s going to get.

Yes the extra weight and length of the Countryman has taken some of the typical MINI feel away. However it’s better to think of that weight as layer of solid substance placed over the top of a typical MINI. It may dull responsiveness slightly but the feel of stability and assurance defines this MINI more than any before it and better aligns the character of what a crossover should be.

All4

We’ve written about the All4 system previously this winter with glowing marks. It’s a system that feels at once transparent and in control.

Interestingly, All4 defaults to AWD from the get go, not FWD. Similar to BMW’s Xdrive system, which defaults to a 70/30 split rear to front and is able to divert 100% of power to the rear wheels, All4 starts at 50/50 and is able to re-allocate up to 100% of power back to the front wheels. It’s a subtle difference, but has pretty profound ramifications on our understanding of the system and its reality on the road.

As an All4 equipped MINI reaches highway speeds, the multi-plate wet clutch that sends power to the rear wheels starts to disengage progressively, sending less and less power to the rear wheels as you go faster. At approximately 80 mph, the rear wheels are disengaged entirely for the sake of efficiency.

It’s also a bit over-engineered. The rear drive mechanisms have been designed to be able to send nearly 300 foot pounds of torque to the rear wheels. Put another way, the clutch mechanism, sending unit, rear differential and axles are engineered strong enough to work with an engine output of up to 600 foot pounds! While I doubt any factory MINI engine will ever see that kind of output, knowing that the system is that strong and that over-engineered speaks well to what we might be able to expect from the system’s longevity.

While traction aid is how MINI USA talks about the All4 system, All4 is much more than just an assistant to DSC. All4 helps to create the most neutral MINI ever with 50% of the power to the back from start. And while it’s still not a dry-surface performance system, it does allow you to bring a large portion of spirited driving back to road surfaces compromised by snow, grit or wet. In that respect, it’s a system designed for safety and driving excitement.

Yet it also has a few downsides. The promise that all wheel drive can solve all of our problems (safety and performance) is somewhat pervasive in the auto industry these days.

The AWD craze in North America began when Audi made people believe they needed four wheels turning all year around to feel that magical sense or security. In reality it was a smart, marketing savvy way to separate Audi and VW products. What AWD was really doing (in almost all situations) was creating a heavier, slower, more expensive car with worse fuel economy.

As smart as MINI engineers are and the All4 system is, it’s hard to argue with physics. The Countryman ALL4 is both heavier and less efficient than the FWD Cooper S Countryman – both core traits of all MINI products. Meanwhile the FWD Countryman Cooper S with snow tires would prove to be more than capable in snow. All while being all around more “MINI.”

Quality

By 10,000 miles, all three MINI’s I’ve owned had to be taken to the dealer at least three times for some sort of unexpected service issue. Out in the community, some of the early MINIs were probably been in for service three or four times that often by 10k miles. This Countryman, however, was a very different story. Put plainly it’s been entirely boring from a service standpoint. For 10,000 miles the Countryman has started, stopped and done everything it does in perfect fashion. While that doesn’t mean things will be perfect forever, it does show that MINI has upped the anty significantly in quality.

Conclusions at 10,000 miles?

We still have a ways to go in our Countryman and a full long-term report to deliver. But with 10,000 miles under our belts we can safely say the Countryman Cooper S All4 has been a supremely impressive commuter, hauler and family car all while still being a MINI. In foul weather it’s confident and (dare we say it) incredibly fun.

While it loses some of what makes the R5X models so much fun to drive in perfect weather conditions, it gives you the space and utility that many times is required. In short this is the MINI that you don’t have to apologize for with friends and family.

Would we buy one with our own money? We’ll answer that in our final few months.

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Written By: Gabe

  • Anonymous

    Gabe, what ever happened to the MINI rear-bumper bike rack you were going to review?

    • http://BimmerFile.com Gabriel Bridger

      Unfortunately it fell through in trying to get the rack from MINI. 

      • Anonymous

        Gabe, that’s too bad. Thanks for the update though.

        • veggivet

          I just saw one on the Countryman at the Albany Auto Show this past weekend. It looked and felt very solid and secure, and with the mounting points on the bumper the bikes were in no danger of scratching the boot.

        • Anonymous

          I saw a similar bike rack at the BMW dealer for the X-series. Same rediculous price $6 bills, but couldn’t try it out to see how well it worked.

    • Vasst

      I’ve used it 5-6 times as of today and I can say that it’s a great accessory in terms of practicality and built quality. Pricey, but it gives you confidence even when carrying two bikes at once. It takes a bit of time to properly fit both bikes though, but once you get the adjustments right the first time then it’s an easy task.

  • Dan

    Armindo Araújo finished 7th the Rally of Mexico, in the Countryman WRC.

  • http://about.me/bentyyc Ben Tsui

    Great update Gabe! I received my ’11 Cooper S Countryman ALL4 in June last year and have been thoroughly enjoying it. Is it as tossable and responsive as my ’08 Cooper S Clubman? No. My Countryman has also been into MINI service a lot less than my previous Clubman.

    I have come to take great assurance in the Countryman’s solidity and all-weather playfulness. While the Clubman with Blizzaks was a great winter car, the Countryman with Sottozeros seems downright unstoppable. And there’s nothing better that going down a twisty, snow-covered mountain road and enjoying a little controlled slide as you head into the next switchback.

    With ski box and bike racks on roof, the Countryman has served our family of four as: 1) 2 week summer getaway vehicle (yes, everything we needed for 2 weeks) 2) All winter ski vehicle 3) Bike commuter vehicle 4) Vehicle of choice for weekend jaunts

    For me it is “right sized”. I chuckled over one of your previous articles which mentioned that the number one complaint in the US market was that the Countryman was too small. Come on folks! 

    My only real “complaint” with the Countryman thus far is that the fuel tank seems small; smaller in fact than the Clubman’s based on average fuel filling stats.

    I’m at about 13,000 KM, and have enjoyed everyone of them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Eaves/100002517570191 Scott Eaves

       Ben – love the blue highlights!

      • http://about.me/bentyyc Ben Tsui

        Hey thanks @facebook-100002517570191:disqus ! Much appreciated! 

  • that.guy

    “By 10,000 miles, all three MINI’s I’ve owned had to be taken to the dealer at least three times for some sort of unexpected service issue.”

    This is the most important sentence in the piece.  Props to MF for keeping it real.  MINI reliability is consistently near the bottom of the industry for a reason.

    • Greg

      Hey, Gabe!

      Do you think that the improved reliability is just for the Countryman or has Mini got their act together with the Coupe and Roadster designs as well? I wonder how much of the reliability improvement is from being assembled at an Austrian Plant rather than at Oxford?

      I have a new JCW Roadster on order and live 300 miles from my nearest dealer. So reliability is an issue for me. I do my own oil changes and general service work but if it is a dealer repair, it is an awfully long tow.

      • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

        I can’t speak for Gabe’s projections, but it’s worth pointing out that the introduction of the Cooper S Countryman coincided with the 2011 engine refresh. Several key improvements were made to the engine for performance, efficiency, and particularly reliability — the same engine shared across the MINI lineup. I would wager that these key upgrades along with better owner awareness (and dealer education) that 15,000 miles is simply TOO LONG to go between oil changes will go a long way toward re-establishing MINI’s reliability baseline on these turbo power plants. A baseline already there in non-turbo R56 Coopers and the later years of the R50/R53 models. And so by extension, good reliability in the Countryman ought to translate to good reliability in any MINI Cooper S, be it hardtop, Convertible, Coupe or Roadster.

        • JonPD

           Do personally wonder if part of the upgraded reliability is also based around it being built in Austria as the Magna Steyr factory is know for high quality workmanship. 

        • Greg

          I have a JCW Roadster on order. Doesn’t it still use the N14? So are you saying that it won’t be reliable?

          I am planning on changing the oil after the first 2000 mies and then every 5000 from then on. I know it is long life synthetic but I just have a thing about keeping the fluids fresh and clean.

        • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

          The JCW Roadster at this time is still using the non-Valvetronic version of that engine — which we won’t see, that we know of, until the JCW Countryman in autumn of this year. However, the JCW engine is a different animal from the Cooper S engine. It’s based on the MINI Challenge race engine. That said, I don’t have any information on its relative reliability. The anecdotal information we DO have regarding the regular Cooper S engine is that a large percentage of the engine failures were due to oil starvation. With the oil change regime you’re suggesting, plus a healthy habit of being sure to CHECK your oil at regular intervals will go a long way toward reliable running. This is true for any MINI.

          Even as far back as my R53, it is within the service limit for some cars to use a quart of oil in less than 1000 miles. While I haven’t experienced this myself (I lose a quart about every 4k-5k miles), it is within the written spec. It’s a good reminder to all MINI owners that like it or not, this high strung little car will require more careful attention than your more appliance-like vehicles from Japan, for example. As db (whose MINI is well over 250,000 miles) is fond of saying, “Check your friggin oil!”

        • Greg

          Thanks, Nathan. I am really looking forward to the JCW Roadster I ordered. It is being loaded on board ship today in Southampton. Since I live out West, it is still a good months away.

  • Jan Wojcik

    I would offer that your negativity in regards to Audi is ill placed. I have had 2 Minis and use an 2011 A4 as my winter car and can vouch for it’s functionality. Can’t get a Mini up my driveway in winter even with snow tires unless I sand like crazy. My 2011 A4 gets 31.x mpg during winter and 32.x mpg on summer rims (254/40-18). Yes, it is heavy but it works. My current Clubman S gets 34-35 mpg routinely. I have a 100+ m ile commute daily on combined highway and country roads.

    Pray tell, what kind of mileage do you get with the Countryman over this past winter? 

    • Anonymous

      I concur…My wife owns a 2005 A4/Quattro… it gets 34mpg sticks rather well in wet or dry conditions and though it’s one of the under powered models it’s quite adequate most of the time. I call it “The Slug” but it’s been a fine car with very few service related problems. 

      My 2004 MCS has been relatively service free… windscreens, and a engine failure at 22,000 miles but that was from a rock through the front grill. I have gotten 34 MPG rarely in this MINI and regularly it gets about 23-24mpg, not great, and I’ve backed of the right pedal as petrol prices have soared. Now my 2002 MCS was a nitemare! 

      Really good review with many good points. I too thought it was the MINI from Hell but in person my online impressions were slightly softened though still not a huge fan of the styling but again in person it’s not as bad as I thought it would be nor as big. Like you stated Gabe… compared to the rest of the SUV’s it’s quite nimble and responsive.

      One thing…what kind of MPG is it getting?

    • http://BimmerFile.com Gabriel Bridger

      I think you miss the point of my negativity. It isn’t that Audis can’t be good cars. It’s that AWD isn’t the answer to everything that many people think it is. So why does Audi present it as such? Because front wheel drive cars don’t fare well in the near luxury or luxury marketplace. 

      • Anonymous

        Seems, at least here in LA/Pasadena area of California Audi is doing quite well in the luxury brand area. For sure the steering is heavy and turn in is sluggish but in rainy or any slippery condition I’d rather be in the Audi.

        I agree with your statement “AWD isn’t the answer to everything that many people think it is” for sure but the words of one Hans Stuck ring loud “Ve go balls out in da corners!”.

        You never responded to my MPG query?

  • b-

    Really too bad that we did not get a real Chicago winter to test the ALL4

    • Greg

      I live in Colorado at 8000 feet. I have a CM All4. It works like a champ and that is with the standard All-Season Run Flats. Our roads are consistently snowpacked, and lately they have been a combination of slush and slick mud. The All 4 mini has been able to go where no rear wheel drive car could ever go. The only issue is ground clearance. If the fresh snow is over a foot deep, leave the CM at home. It is fine in 6 – 10 inches of fresh powder but after that it floats up and looses traction. 

  • Joan Manuel

    Cooper S All4 with winter tires and 17′ wheels,  is really impressive in snow and ice…..   i m sure twice better than onyl FWD model!!!

  • Al

    I think MINI purists who don’t like the Countryman don’t get it.  My wife was sad when we had to trade her 2005 Cooper in for a larger vehicle when our 2nd child was born.  There was just no way she would be able to drive around a toddler and an infant in a Mini Cooper.  So, imagine her giddiness when I told her that MINI was coming out with the 4 door Countryman.  The Countryman fills a need in the MINI lineup.  It allows a small family like ours to still enjoy driving a MINI.  Sure it’s huge, and with size, lanky as a MINI.  But, it is still a MINI from how it looks and drives.  As for MINI purists, there are 3 other models in the MINI line up that they can enjoy.  My only regret is that since it’s the wife’s car, I don’t get to drive it all that much.   

    • Frank Granados

      I can prove you wrong. 5 year old and one a half year old ride happily with side by side in my 2005 R53 S with 90K miles on the clock. It can be done.

      • Mxspdster

        I don’t doubt you can do it, and that it can be done.  But, we chose not to as it would be ridiculously inconvenient.  Believe me we tried.  It took a lot of effort to contort myself so I can get the infant carrier in through the driver side so I can place it on the base on the passenger side.  I can’t imagine how I’d get it in there with a front facing car seat for my toddler behind the driver seat.  And, once it was on, the front passenger seat was so far forward that leg room was very limited.  The set up would be fine for a short jaunt, every now and then, but everyday?  oh, and where does the stroller go?  It just wasn’t happening for us.

        • Bob Hayhurst

          …I think Al has nailed the point of the “SUV” nature of the Countryman. He’s using the car for the purpose that it was built. Yeh, it’s bigger; it was designed to meet the needs of people who outgrow a hatch or just need/want more room.

          I like the idea of an alternative to a typical MINI hatch. While I don’t care for the front end design/style of the Countryman, my short term driving expierence with a Countryman was really positive. Based on the short term review that Gabe has posted, it seems as though his expierence was the same.

          In terms of value for money spent, it looks to me like the Countryman more then meets a means test when compared dollar to dollar with other vehicles in it’s design range.  I imagine that the Countryman would have easily been a success without the All4 system. To have it as an option seems like a real bonus.  I’ll be interested in the long term review results to see how the Countryman does over time in real world driving conditions…

      • CMB2′s Mom

        Seriously? Are you driving your baby around front facing? My infant carrier wouldn’t fit rear facing (tried 2 of them). And now that my baby is 8 months old and in a bigger infant carrier, still rear facing, it still doesn’t fit in my 2008 R56. So glad the CM is here. Hoping to order one this weekend!

  • Anonymous

    Consumer Reports now has “regular” MINI’s and the Countryman as “Recommended”; although they do say the S-models (w/ turbos) are much less reliable.

    I prefer the design of the Paceman over the Countryman; and I think it will be a bigger hit for singles and/or those without kids.   It’s like a downsized Rover Evoque. 

  • JonPD

    A well balanced and good review Gabe, keep up the good work.

  • Hoover

    I do wonder how you feel about the clutch?

    • http://BimmerFile.com Gabriel Bridger

      This isn’t meant to be the exhaustive end of term review. We’ll be covering that plus mileage and other things at that time.

      • Hoover

        Thanks. Now I need to listen to the latest Bimmer File.  I am curious about your experience with the newest edition to your garage.  Wondering if you were able to find one with a manual transmission.

        • http://BimmerFile.com Gabriel Bridger

          (hint) nope.

          via mobile

  • R50

    I was next to a Countryman at a light and didn’t notice I was next to a Mini, until I crossed the intersection and looked back at it in my mirror. As an owner since 2003, I’ve been looking for and waving at Minis for 8 years now. This 4 door Mini next to me just didn’t register as a Mini.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/32ORJIPKGSGHGBJXHYWVUDQHBM David

    You state: “In the end, three things keep the Countryman from feeling as “MINI” as the rest of the range: weight, steering ratio and overall length.”  Weight and length, sure, but what about the steering ratio?  My new R60 All4 steering seems very similar to my R53 in ratio (even feel is similar IF the Sport Button is activated). I can go around a nearby roundabout with my hands in a similar position on the wheel compared to the R53.  Overall enjoying the car – well done Mini.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      That’s a great point. I agree that the steering feel on the Countryman may indeed be the best of any MINI to date, including my R53.

    • RKCA1

       Interesting. I feel my R60 steering ratio is slower than it was on my R56. I’m not sure on the exact ratio but that is my feeling from driving both of the cars. Maybe it’s that the R56 turns in better thus not needing additional steering input. I always feel like I need an additional 1/4 to 1/2 turn in the R60.

      • http://BimmerFile.com Gabriel Bridger

        It is.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/32ORJIPKGSGHGBJXHYWVUDQHBM David

    You state: “In the end, three things keep the Countryman from feeling as “MINI” as the rest of the range: weight, steering ratio and overall length.”  Weight and length, sure, but what about the steering ratio?  My new R60 All4 steering seems very similar to my R53 in ratio (even feel is similar IF the Sport Button is activated). I can go around a nearby roundabout with my hands in a similar position on the wheel compared to the R53.  Overall enjoying the car – well done Mini.

  • Branan Mike

    We have 10K on our Countryman S and absolutely LOVE it! It has not required a trip to the service department as of late, despite a couple of calls to a service advisor about vibrations associated with bad fuel. The only real complaints we have are wind noise from the dual sunroof and the smallest drink holders on the planet; my old Bimmers never had them anyway.


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'11 Tesla Roaster 2.5 '11 Countryman Comparo
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