MF Review: Countryman Cooper S Auto

“How is it possible that I’m enjoying this automatic Countryman Cooper S more than our manual All4?” That was what I was asking myself as I wound around Sheridan Rd just north of Chicago. Behind the wheel of our True Red front-wheel-drive automatic Countryman test car, I had a revelation. It’s not like I’ve never driven the auto before, and we here at MF have always preferred the manual for more control of the car and a generally more engaging drive. But somehow this felt different.

However, lets not pull any punches here. The Aisin six-speed automatic is old tech. It’s two tiers below the rest of BMW’s automatic range and it doesn’t deliver the response or feedback that the DCT does in VW products. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel like MINI has finally found the correct car for this previously less-than-stellar transmission with the Countryman S. They’ve tweaked electronics and the transmission feels snappier and more at home in the larger, heavier R60.

That said, we’ve never liked the idea of an auto in any MINI. It never really felt suited to the idea of the car, but in the Countryman it has the right mix of comfort and performance that put the auto in sync with the R60 ethos.

Yes there are still niggles. The push-pull paddle shifters need to die. BMW has killed them in their entire lineup. MINI needs to do the same and move to a pull-pull system that’s standard across so many other sporting cars — with the left paddle shifting down and the right shifting up.

Would I recommend the auto over the manual? On the All4 I’d come close. While I’d personally still opt for the manual (for greater feel, control etc) the automatic, for the first time, feels like a logical option. In the Countryman All4 it feels just a bit quicker to respond to a driver who likes to use the flappy paddles. But even if you don’t, the transmission is quick and competant enough to likely never prove frustrating to most enthusaist drivers. You don’t get the involvement and it’ll never quite be as rewarding as the manual (yes even with the lazy clutch in the All4) but it’s not a bad choice in the Countryman either.

  • JonPD

    Maybe your getting older and softer Gabe 😉

    The last time I drove a auto MINI was not completly horrified. still missed the connection that manual gives just like you said. However my left foot gets bored easily heh.

    • Sounds like you don’t know me that well 🙂

      If you want to know how I personally solve the problem is daily commuting, check out my last tweet.

    • Sounds like you don’t know me that well 🙂 If you want to know how I personally solve the problem is daily commuting, check out my most recent tweet

      • JonPD

         Hah just poking fun Gabe, great shot btw

  • Dr Obnxs

    Automatics are fine transmissions in the correct cars. For the large SUVs we’ve had, I always want an auto. The cars are tanks, and with 4 wheel drive, an auto lets you apply torque more gradually than a manual. That’s good for surfaces with poor traction. The right tool for the job is a good philosophy.

    And let’s face it, if you are used to sports or sporty cars, the Countryman is wanting. Sure, it’s sporty for what it is, but it is not a sports car. If an auto is what you want, it’s good to know that it’s well mated to the engine and it works well in this application.


    • JonPD

       Have to disagree with you on this, I would rather drive a MT in any weather or offroad that any automatic as they mask the feel to much. I am not anything special as a driver but my left foot is more delicate with applying torque than a Automatic. Automatics have their place but not in this argument I feel.

  • Nick Dawson

    The bottom line is that by 2020, manual clutch operated gearboxes will no longer be manufactured for mainstream car production. BMW is currently developing, with ZF, an eight speed DCT exclusively for front-drive application, which will be available as an option first on F45, the all new front-drive 1-series. Bearing in mind the huge developement cost and that MINI 3 will share the same UKL1 platform and oily bits, expect to see the same gearbox in MINI 3.

    • Evan

      Interesting… a responsive, 8sp DCT for MINIs… a lot of people have been asking for this.

      I’d still be hard pressed to not get a manual, especially in a small, fun, 3-4 cylinder car like the MINI… assuming it’s still available.

      And I do agree that the auto Countryman is a nice proposition. I drove one when they first came out and it suited the Countryman nicely. The only problem is not being able to separate the sport steering and throttle from the sport transmission mode…. same problem in the new 3er without the adaptive dampers.

  • walk0080

    MINI needs to ditch that crummy auto box and put something decent in there. There are plenty of good single clutch, dual clutch and even modern torque converter automatics out there that would be quite acceptable in any MINI model irrespective of anyone’s opinion of auto vs. manual.

    I agree that the paddle shifts in the MINI are silly, cheap looking devices that don’t match the left/right setup commonly used. The Aisin doesn’t even throttle blip/rev match on down shifts. Is this like 1999?

  • we have an ALL4 2012 with auto (for my wife), my Bimmer (2000 Z3 2.8 roadster) has a proper manual, but I have to agree to a point, the auto is okay with this car, err SUV.  This ALL4 is the all around car for the family and it works fine.  If I was the only driver, I would have opted for the stick.  The shift points for the “normal” driving is fine for DD and highway.  The “sport” button makes it feel better.  But like I said, this ALL4 was for my wife 🙂 So it stays in the normal mode. Still think this is a great car, err.. suv… err all around great vehicle.  🙂

  • Jac Cottrell

    FWIW, the auto box seems to agree with our 2011 ALL4 much more than it does with our ’05 MCSa. 

  • goat

    Had a similar spec as a loaner (except was ALL4) and disliked the pairing of engine and gearbox. The entire time I had it I was thinking that the car would have been a lot more satisfying – and certainly sounded better – with the 6MT. One thing many do not mention is the “slurring” upshift that characterizes most torque converter automatics (with slow-witted / fuel-saving programming). That “slur” sets my teeth on edge!  🙂