Car Showroom has just spent a week in MINI’s high-performance World Rally Championship rocket. Well not the actual rally car but the brilliant road car on which it’s based – the MINI Countryman Cooper S.
Some thought the four-door MINI Countryman with its raised ride height was a ‘Crossover’-mini SUV but don’t be deceived, by any measure the Cooper S ALL4 Countryman is a superb, high-performance, high-tech missile that is one the best cars we’ve driven in 2011. MINI actually calls the Countryman a “Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV)” and certainly when we unleashed the turbocharged 1.6-litre engine in the Cooper S version we tested, things got…well, ‘Active’.
In fact the ‘Fun-O-Meter’ was in the red zone every time we drove the MINI Countryman Cooper S.
MINI Countryman Overview
The Countryman is a MINI but its elongated four-door design stretches the concept to the max. Dimensionally, the MINI Countryman measures 4,110mm in length and its wheelbase is 2,595mm – that’s a big MINI (if you know what we mean).
MINI being MINI, its so-called compact SUV is the real deal with a cleverly designed and surprisingly spacious interior and available all-wheel-drive.
Our Cooper S version came with the four individual seats (bench rear seat is available) trimmed in glorious leather. Despite that plush/sporty interior the MINI Countryman affords up to 1,170-litres of cargo space – again reflecting its clever design.
So the MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4 is a MINI to accommodate the whole family and which high-performance enthusiasts will love.
MINI Countryman Engine
MINI Countryman is offered with a variety of 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines. The MINI Countryman Cooper S as tested by Car Showroom ran the turbocharged variant.
This engine is a first for MINI as it combines fully variable valve management, direct injection and the twin-scroll turbocharger. Maximum power is 135kW at 5500rpm and peak torque of 240Nm is available from 1600rpm (260Nm on overboost under hard acceleration).
Our test car drove all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission (six-speed manual is available).
The MINI Countryman Cooper S is rapid and fuel-efficient. Zero to 100km/h takes around 7.6 seconds (the same as a Volkswagen Golf GTI) and the combined cycle fuel consumption is rated at 6.3l/100kms.
Under hard acceleration the MINI Countryman Cooper S is a joy to listen to – a sporty exhaust note accompanied by rapid shifts as the electronic six-speeder swaps cogs.
MINI Countryman The Interior
You’ll need to search hard to find a better automotive interior than the MINI Countryman Cooper S as tested by Car Showroom. The clever four-seat layout, quality leather and other trim, the innovative instruments and switchgear with just the right amount of throwback to the original 1960s Minis…it’s all wonderfully well done.
The stretched 2,595mm wheelbase of the four-door Countryman has allowed MINI to deliver the sort of cargo versatility families need. Even with all four seats occupied there’s 440-litres out back (enough for a baby stroller) or you can fold the rear seat backs forwards which boosts capacity to 1,170-litres (enough for two mountain bikes with front wheels removed).
Our four-individual-seat test vehicle featured MINI’s unique centre rail storage system running all the way to the back of the cabin. The ingenious centre rail allows storage of personal items and comes with clip-in holders for things like telephones, iPods and sunglasses – there’s even a cable system to connect to the MINI audio system.
MINI being MINI there’s some special touches such as the subtle interior ambient lighting which has a switch to change the colour through a range from orange to blue and includes light rods for the Centre Rail.
Instrumentation is the hallmark MINI style with the large centre-mounted speedo and toggle switches cues to the original British design.
But this is 2011 and of course the driving position is top-shelf and sporty thanks to rake/reach adjustment for the superb sports steering wheel and multi-adjustments for the drivers seat.
Accommodation in the nicely supportive rear individual seats is also first-class and there is surprising legroom, which family buyers will appreciate.
MINI Countryman Exterior & Styling
The Countryman looks like no other MINI before – and not just because it sits higher and has four doors.
To accentuate its ‘SUV-ness’ the lower sections of the body are painted black, there are unique graphics on the bodywork.
But of course it’s the large four-door design which has everyone talking – and it’s more than just tacking on some extra length for the rear doors. For starters the rear is actually wider.
Where MINI’s stylists have worked hard is to include the extra length, height (1561mm) and rear doors while maintaining proportions and silhouette.
In the flesh the MINI Countryman Cooper S delivers a high-performance purposeful look while maintaining the hallmark MINI ‘cuteness’. This is highlighted by the Cooper S roof spoiler, rear wheel arch air-vents, twin exhausts and meaty 17-inch alloy wheels.
MINI Countryman On The Road
MINI Countryman runs a MacPherson strut front end and multi-arm rear end configured by parent company BMW. The four-door version features unique long-travel springs compared to the two-door models, however the Cooper S version as tested gains a sports suspension set-up which is lowered by 10mm compared to the rest.
Driver aids include electric power steering and Dynamic Stability Control which includes ABS anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, cornering brake control and brake assistant.
Tie all that together and the result is one of the most engaging drives we’ve enjoyed for a long time.
The ride is European/sporty/firm but we liked it just fine. The MINI Countryman Cooper S just lapped-up our high-speed mountain roads test loop with aplomb – pin-sharp turn-in, wonderful balance and feedback and the sort of poise you’d expect from MINI/BMW…in a four-door package.
Responsiveness from the turbocharged 1.6-litre and sporty six-speed automatic was spot-on and in fact this thing was so good, we turned around and treated ourselves to an extra run over the mountains.
Back in the city the MINI Cooper Countryman was just as easy to drive as a normal MINI (just remember to look for larger parking spaces).
MINI Countryman Challenges
During our week with the MINI Countryman Cooper S we came across a couple of Mini purists from the Stone Age who said the four-door/4WD concept stretched things too far.
MINI Countryman Verdict
By any measure the MINI Countryman Cooper S is one of the best cars we’ve tested this year. Brilliant to drive and boasting an interior which is just so stylish and clever, the MINI Countryman Cooper S had us smiling every time we opened the door.
Combine that with the technology and quality synonymous with MINI-BMW and you have a very tantalizing package.
Sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as a high-tech, high-performance sports compact the MINI Countryman Cooper S is outstanding.
And priced from $47,500 ($50,400 for the Coopers ALL4 tested), value-for-money gets a green tick too.
MINI Countryman The Competition
For high-performance, all-wheel-drive dynamics, the Audi S3 springs to mind but at $70K it’s a lot more expensive than the MINI Countryman Cooper S.
Looking at similarly priced front-drivers, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R, Mazda MPS, Renault Clio RS200 and Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV are in the mix.