2012 Mini Countryman S Test Drive – Car Throttle

19 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2012 Mini Countryman S Test Drive – Car Throttle
Mini Countryman

2012 Mini Countryman S Test Drive

What do you call a big Mini?  A Maxi? It#8217;s really more like a mediumini #8211; although the Countryman is far and away the biggest car to ever wear a Mini badge, it#8217;s still not that big of a car.  In fact, by American standards it#8217;s still smaller than a lot of the stuff we buy in bulk.

 We consider a Ford Escape a #8220;small#8221; SUV, but it still dwarfs the Countryman by a wide margin #8211; although the Escape#8217;s wheelbase is only about an inch longer, overall size is about 11#8243; longer than the Countryman, it#8217;s about an inch wider, and it#8217;s almost 7#8243; taller.

So if a Mini isn#8217;t small, what#8217;s the point?  Isn#8217;t that their USP?  Isn#8217;t that why they#8217;re Minis?

 I suppose one could argue that point, but sometimes reality is a lot more convincing than ideology.  Not all people that want a Mini want to fold themselves down into a tiny car, not all of them want to make their rear passengers have to hurdle over a folded seat, some people get married and have kids and need more car, life occurs.  Sure, the world would be a better place if everyone was issued a Cooper S Hardtop JCW and told to make do, but that#8217;s not how it works.

 And when your only product is long on fun but short on really anything else, people end up leaving your brand for something awful when they have kids.  Like a Toyota Rav4.

Realizing that keeping people in the Mini fold was important, the Countryman was born.  Not quite a wagon, not quite an SUV, it#8217;s really just a big Mini with some extra (real) doors.  Brand continuity isn#8217;t Mini#8217;s strong suit: the odd French doors (that open in two pieces down the middle) of the Clubman don#8217;t make an appearance here, just a traditional open-from-the-top hatchback like the Hardtop Cooper.

 The Clubman#8217;s unique #8220;club door#8221; (reverse-opening door on the passenger side) also sticks to that model, as the Countryman has four totally conventional doors.  Where#8217;s the weirdness to be found on the Countryman, then?

Don#8217;t worry, it#8217;s still there.  From the headlights that stay with the chassis while the hood lifts up around them#8230;

To the four-bucket-seats interior layout, complete with a rail running through the center of the interior, to which you can attach things like an integrated sunglasses holder.  Or odd, pod-like cup holders.  Why no center seat in the middle of the rear row?

 Who knows?

There#8217;s a lot more cargo space in the Countryman than in the Clubman or Hardtop, of course.  With the rear seats folded down, the Countryman offers a sizeable 41.3ft³ of cargo space, which is 8.5 more than a Clubman, and 17.3 more than a hardtop.  It#8217;s still 16 less than the Honda Fit, but that car is an engineering miracle of space utilization.

 It#8217;s also 15.3 bigger than a 5-door Fiesta hatch, and a surprising 26.3 larger than a 4-door Golf hatchback.

Dimensions-wise, it does dwarf a regular Mini.  A Cooper S Hardtop is 57.2#8243; wide; the Countryman sits right at 70.4#8243;.  Length-wise, a Hardtop is 146.8#8243; long; the Countryman stretches to 161.8#8243;  Wheelbase is similarly larger: 97.1#8243; for the Hardtop, 102.2#8243; for the Countryman.

 Height is the visible biggest difference: 55.4#8243; for the Hardtop, 61.5#8243; for the Countryman.  Result: park it next to a Cooper and it looks huge.  Park it next to a compact SUV or even a family sedan and it looks pretty small.

 Everthing#8217;s relative.

Anyone familiar with modern Mini#8217;s will feel right at home in the interior; not a lot of adapting to do.  There#8217;s still the gigantic center-dash mounted Speedometer, and the tiny tachometer stuck to the steering column, along with a row of tiny switches low down in the center stack to control windows and locks, etc.  Interior build quality has always been a Mini advantage, and it continues to be in the Countryman, regardless of whether or not you like the retro-chic styling.  I still find it charming, and I#8217;m pretty used to Mini#8217;s by now, but it might not be your cup of tea (so to speak.)

The seats are cushy and comfortable, with adequate lateral support considering the Countryman#8217;s primary intentions.  The handbrake (bottom left in the above picture) is another oddity, but it#8217;s nice to see manufacturers getting creative with seemingly set-in-stone features like that.  I#8217;m still not in love with having to look down and right to see my speed, but they make the speedometer so gigantic that it#8217;s pretty hard to miss.

 Other Mini oddities: a key #8220;pod#8221; that you poke into a dock in the dash, and crank the engine over with a start button right next to it, or the turn signals that don#8217;t actually ever stay in place when you move them, or the release for the hatchback hidden in the Mini symbol.

The Countryman uses the same engines and transmissions as the rest of the Mini lineup, so nothing entirely surprising.  The base Countryman has a naturally-aspirated 1.6L I4, but the test car (A Countryman S 6-speed) uses the Cooper S#8217;s turbocharged I4.

 It#8217;s still a fairly high-tech engine: all aluminum, twin chain-driven camshafts, a single twin-scroll turbocharger, direct fuel injection, VALVETRONIC variable valve timing, etc yields a total of 181bhp @ 5,500 rpm, and an impressively flat torque curve: 177lb-ft from 1,600rpm all the way to 5,000rpm.  Like other turbo Coopers, the Countryman S also has #8220;overboost#8221; which momentarily increases peak torque to 192lb-ft during wide-open-throttle.

 Unlike the Hardtop, Convertible and Clubman, there isn#8217;t a JCW engine option to increase power to 208bhp.  Like the other Mini#8217;s, the Countryman is available with either a Getrag 6-speed manual transmission, or an Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission.  Fuel economy isn#8217;t as good as regular Mini#8217;s, but I wouldn#8217;t complain about the Countryman S#8217;s 26 city/ 32 highway rating #8211; that#8217;s pretty great mileage for this much power and space.

Driving the Countryman S yields more similarities to #8220;regular sized#8221; Mini#8217;s than differences, but there are some notable changes.  You sit higher up in a Countryman, certainly not SVT Raptor high, but visibility is improved over the smaller models.  You can certainly feel the extra width in the interior- those with lengthy elbows will appreciate not feeling cramped.

 The 6-speed manual gearbox remains a joy to operate, with short throws and very well-defined gates #8211; it#8217;s strange that BMW can#8217;t get this kind of shift quality out of their manual gearboxes, where the lever sits right above the transmission itself.

With the extra poundage that Countryman S is carrying around, you do notice something you wouldn#8217;t in a regular Cooper S: turbo lag.  Considering the same engine in the Hardtop Cooper S is only carrying around 2,668  lbs, compared to the Countryman S#8217;s curb weight of 2,954, a little bit of wait-and-go isn#8217;t surprising.  It#8217;s just a momentary pause before the tiny turbo huffs magic horsepower into the 1.6L engine, and you#8217;re off on your way on a pretty impressive surge of torque.

The other new thing the Countryman brings to the Mini table is all-wheel-drive, a Mini brand first.  The system is called All4, and it#8217;s an active AWD system with a static 50/50 torque split #8211; the way AWD really should be.  My tester was a front-wheel-drive Countryman, but I#8217;ve heard good things about the All4 system #8211; plus, they#8217;re using it as the basis of their return to WRC Rallying, so it has to have some redeeming attributes!

 The bad thing, which is common with virtually every all-wheel-drive system, is the added weight.  All4 is only available on the Countryman S; and considering the non-turbo Countryman takes 9.8 seconds to hit sixty and the system adds 254lbs to the car, I can sort of see why.  Among all the Countrymans, the FWD S 6-speed is the quickest, running 0-60 in 7.0 flat and through the quarter mile in 15.5.

 An Automatic S FWD does the same in 7.4 and 15.7, while a manual S All4 takes 7.3 and 15.8, and the heaviest model (Countryman S All4 Automatic) takes 7.7 and 15.9.  So one must balance their need for speed with their need for winter grip.  And of course, avoid the automatic #8211; it#8217;s still a Mini, not a Camry, you need a clutch pedal.

So it#8217;s certainly not underpowered (15 years ago a 7.0 second 0-60 time out of anything with a 1.6L engine would have been amazing, much less a tall 5-door quasi-SUV), but the option of the JCW engine (with it#8217;s 208bhp and 192lb-ft before overboost) wouldn#8217;t go amiss.  There#8217;s always the aftermarket for that.  What#8217;s really impressive is how the Countryman rides.

 One of my primary complaints about the standard Mini#8217;s is that while they do handle like gokarts, they also ride like one when you take them on the highway, and that#8217;s primarily due to the extremely short wheelbase and firm spring and damper rates.  I#8217;m young, so I prefer handling to Buick ride quality, but it#8217;s certainly a turn off for more mature buyers.  No such issues in the Countryman; this thing rides like a Cadillac.  (This analogy is probably out of date, what with the pop-your-spine-out-of-your-back CTS-V, now.)  There#8217;s reasonable suspension travel (again, I feel like they designed this car half for WRC use) but surprisingly little body roll.

You#8217;re not as tempted to attack a back road like it just punched your mother as you would in a Cooper S, but if you wanted to, you absolutely could.  I suppose all of England would revolt if they sold a Mini that handled poorly, and they#8217;ve succeeded in making a vehicle that handles the opposite of how it looks.  I#8217;m quite impressed, especially considering this car was devoid of the optional sport package (which includes 18#8243; wheels with low-profile tires) or the Sport Suspension (which has stiffer springs and dampers as well as thicker anti-roll bars.)

So it#8217;s a nice car, and it#8217;s got more room for real people and real families, but it still drives like a Mini.  What is the competition for this car?  I#8217;d say as far as mechanical and market similarities go, it#8217;s probably the Nissan Juke.

 They#8217;re both oddly shaped 5-door hatchbacks with (realistic here) seating for four people, both powered by 1.6L direct-injected I4#8242;s with around 180 horsepower, they#8217;re both relatively small although they look large in pictures, and they#8217;re both available with a combination of front or all-wheel drive, and manual or automatic (CVT, in the Juke#8217;s case) transmissions.  There are some differences, mostly in appearance: while the Juke is willfully ugly, intentionally bizarre to the point of polarity, the Mini is just really a plus-sized Mini.  Sure, the headlamps are an usual shape, and it#8217;s got a floating roof, but otherwise it#8217;s really not all that weird.

The Juke is also only available with a turbo engine (and it#8217;s pretty awesome), but you can either have a manual or all wheel drive #8211; not both.  Which is a shame, because a 6-speed Juke with the independent rear suspension, and auto-torque-biasing AWD would be awesome.  The other thing: the Juke is a lot cheaper.

 The non-turbo FWD Countryman starts at $22,350; a Nissan Juke (base model, turbo, FWD, manual) starts at $19,570.  The Juke#8217;s interior has a noticeable amount of cheap flimsiness to it #8211; but a Countryman S starts at $25,950.

So, Mini has done something fairly enviable here #8211; they#8217;ve stretched their brand beyond where most people would think logic would dictate, and the product is still clearly a Mini.  It looks like a Mini, drives like a Mini, feels like a Mini, but you can actually use it.  You know, fit cargo or real people in it (I fit comfortably in the back seat of the Countryman, and I#8217;m 6#8217;2#8243;.

 Can#8217;t say the same about the Juke, which seems to run out of rear head room around 5#8217;8#8243;.)  It#8217;s not as fun to drive as a regular Cooper S, but you wouldn#8217;t expect it to be considering the additional girth and mass.  Mini purists (are there such a thing?) might decry it as against brand values, but it#8217;s no Cayenne or Panamera.  It#8217;s a little pricey, but it could be just what you#8217;re looking for.

2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman

Base price: $25,950

Price as tested: $29,800

Options: Cold Weather Package ($750; power mirrors, heated mirrors headlight washer jets, heated seats), Premium Package ($1,750, Dual Panoramic Sunroof, Auto Climate Control, Harmon Kardon Sound System), Center Armrest ($250), Xenon Headlights ($500),  Bluetooth USB iPod Adapter ($500), White Turn-Signal Lights ($100)

Body: 5-door unit construction hatchback

Drivetrain: Front transverse-engined front wheel drive, 6-speed Getrag Manual Gearbox

Accomodations: 4 passengers

Engine : I4, Aluminum Block Head

Displacement: 1,598cc

Aspiration: Single twin-scroll turbocharger, intercooled

Fuel delivery: Direct fuel injection

Valvetrain: Dual Overhead Cams (Chain Driven), 4v/cyl (16v Total), Valvetronic variable valve timing

Compression ratio: 10.5:1

Horsepower: 181@5,500rpm

Mini Countryman

Suspension (F): MacPherson Strut, coil spring, anti-roll bar

Suspension (R): Multi-link independent, coil spring, gas-charged shocked absorber, aluminum trailing arm, anti-roll bar

Steering: Rack Pinion, Electronic Power Assist, 14:1 steering ratio

Wheels/Tires: 17#215;7#8243; Alloy wheels, 205/55/R17 tires

Brakes (F/R): 12.1#8243; ventilated discs, single piston calipers (F), 11#8243; solid discs, single piston calipers (R), ABS, EBD, CBC

Wheelbase: 102.2#8243;

Length: 161.8#8243;

Track (F/R): 60#8243;/61.1#8243;

Width: 70.4#8243; (w/o mirros) 78.6#8243; (w/mirrors)

Height: 61.5#8243;

Cargo Capacity: 41.3ft³ (with rear seats folded)

Curb weight: 2,954lbs

Main Competitors: Nissan Juke, Audi Q3, VW Tiguan, BMW X1, mainstream small SUV#8217;s (Escape/CR-V, Rav4, etc)

Pros: Adds useful space in every direction to the Mini without losing the Mini-ness, greatly improved ride over conventional Mini#8217;s, available AWD, selection of powertrains wider than the Juke, come on it#8217;s not that big guys.

Cons: More noticeable turbo lag, pricey (loaded Country S with every option can top $42,000 before you even get into dealer add-ons), no JCW engine option, no AWD on base model, that#8217;s a big Mini.

Conclusion: Makes no sense on the surface; makes plenty of sense once you drive one.  Got kids and/or a lot of stuff but still want a Cooper S?  Get one of these.

Thanks to Michael Robinson at FLOW Mini of Raleigh for the test drive!  Need a Mini?  you can reach him at mrobinson@flowauto.com

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