The Countryman is on its way out. Introduced in 2011 the R60 (internal MINI speak) was based on the R56 platform yet modified to the point of being almost entirely unique. The main selling points from the start were four rear doors and optional all wheel drive (questionable known as ALL4 in the MINI lexicon). Those key points remained unique in the MINI world until the F55 four door MINI debuted in late 2014. And in our eyes it was at that point that the Countryman lost most of its reason to be.
Is that true? Can the Countryman (which still has another 18 months on the market) still make a case for itself? Coming off of a week with the F55 four door MINI, it seems like a good time to find out.
Our week in our well specced ($38,000) 2016 MINI Countryman Cooper S wasn’t anything special. Or to put it another way we simply lived in it. That included commuting, a couple airport trips and hauling kids and gear. But then again that likely sums up the most typical use cases for the four door Countryman.
Lets get right to what makes a MINI. The R60 is one of the most lively and engaging small crossovers on the market. That fact is just as true now as it was in 2011. Turn-in is quick and body control excellent compared to competitors in the segment. Crucially our Cooper S wasn’t equipped with ALL4 which kept weight down and ultimately helped its performance.
While the chassis has aged well there are two areas that haven’t. The interior of the Countryman, always an area of controversy, has not gotten better with age. The new generation of MINIs (the F56, F55 and now F54 Clubman) are not only better designed but finished in materials miles above what the Countryman employs. But it’s the interfaces that the new generation of MINIs have introduced us to that make the Countryman’s interior feel so dated and at times peculiar.
Say what you will about MINI moving window controls and the like. But what these changes have brought about is less time needed for drivers to get up to speed on the controls of new MINIs. It allows you to feel immediately and home and focus on the things that matter about a car. I owned a Countryman for a year and it took me awhile to feel totally comfortable in the cabin again.
Interior room is roughly on par with the F55 four door MINI released last year with the exception of the trunk space (which is larger). But the big area the smaller F55 trounces the Countryman in is comfort. The seats both front and rear have a longer bottom cushion which not only works better for taller drivers but makes it a better long haul choice.
The other area that hasn’t aged gracefully is the drivetrain. The 1.6L Prince engine can deliver plenty of character. But when mated with the old version of the 6 speed Aisin automatic and the extra weight of the Countryman it feels like its simply outmatched. From the jerkiness of the transmission to the very busy sounds coming from under the hood, the Countryman doesn’t feel like the premium products that today’s MINI do. Speccing the FWD Countryman with a manual or (better yet ) checking the JCW box would have helped tremendously.
The saving grace of the Countryman is how it drives. While the steering is more vague than the new generation of MINIs, its agility is excellent for a small four door crossover. In many ways it defies the segment as something that isn’t user friendly (when everything else strives to be) and delivers a legitimately engaging driving experience (when nothing else outside of MINI does). If you can look past its interior and aging drivetrain (or stay away from the auto) the Countryman still offers something relevant to the driver looking for all weather traction and four doors in an efficient package.
The R60 Countryman will remain on sale through the 2016 model year. For 2017 MINI will replace it with a ground up redesign based on the UKL2 platform that the Clubman rides on.