Review of: 2015 MINI Cooper Countryman ALL4 4dr S
2015 Mini Cooper S Countryman: More space, less cute
By Chris Chase
Jan. 16, 2015
Every car has its critics, and cars like the Mini Cooper Countryman tend to have more than the average. It’s certainly not as mini as the car from which it borrows its styling cues, but it fits nicely in the compact crossover class that’s gaining popularity, whether at the entry level or in the upscale ranks that Mini plays in as a brand.
The Cooper hatch was redesigned last year, and a five-door version of that car was added in early 2015, but the Countryman carries on as it has since its introduction in 2011, with a few minor updates for this year.
Pros & Cons
- + Acceleration
- + Sharp handling
- + Headroom
- - Value for money
- - Road noise
- - Usable technology
Countryman is recognizable as a Mini, but lacking the perfect proportions that make the Cooper hatch so attractive. Still, the impression is of a more substantial vehicle, for what that’s worth, the stubby nose required for pedestrian protection and added ground clearance both a good fit with the crossover esthetic.
At the outset, the Countryman was offered with the same turbo and non-turbo 1.6-litre engines as the hatch, and with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, but now all are turbocharged and AWD. The only drivetrain choices are between manual and automatic transmissions, or moving up to the quicker, sharper John Cooper Works (JCW) version.
This isn’t Mini’s only crossover model: there’s also the Paceman, a two-door model built on the same AWD underpinnings.
With a dash design lifted straight out of the previous-generation Cooper, an inattentive passenger could be mistaken for thinking they were in that smaller car. But no: there’s more headroom, and the wider body means more shoulder room and allows for a third seatbelt in the rear. (Packing three across back there still isn’t realistic, though.)
Rear seat legroom is decent, owing to a wheelbase a bit longer than the hatchback models. Cargo space is not quite double that of the five-door with the rear seats in place, but the Countryman loses much of that advantage when the rear seats are folded down.
My tester came with plenty of useful stuff, but most of it was optional: auto-dimming rear view mirror, Xenon headlights, automatic climate control (single-zone only), navigation, smartphone integration and Bluetooth. That last item was the most disappointing, refusing to communicate with my Android smartphone, and Mini’s USB connection interface doesn’t recognize any non-Apple device.
Last year’s redesign added a bunch of refinement to the Cooper hatch, but I feel like those changes will be a better fit when they come to the Countryman. The 1.6-litre turbo motor is a lot of fun, even if its peaky behaviour feels out of place in a car designed for those who feel they’ve outgrown that smaller Mini.
Still, this feels familiar: low-end torque is good for a small engine, and turbo boost comes on rather suddenly, making acceleration a decidedly non-linear event if you’re not careful with your right foot.
This was the first Mini I’d driven with an automatic, so colour me pleasantly surprised how well the auto preserves the quick responses manual Mini drivers enjoy. It’s not the smoothest-shifting thing ever, but nor does it favour fuel economy over fun: it listens to your right foot, holding on to lower gears until you’re done accelerating, thank-you-very-much, and eagerly seeking out a lower ratio when it’s time to accelerate some more.
Handling is less crisp, an obvious side effect of the taller ride height, but the sub 1500-kg Countryman is still fun to fling around.
Mini says one of the changes it made for 2015 was to add more soundproofing, but they didn’t add enough.
At $29,950, the base Countryman sounds like a reasonable deal, until you look at what’s missing: no heated seats, no Bluetooth, items that are standard in many less-expensive cars. Those two things, plus navigation, LED fog lights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, front centre armrest, automatic wipers/lights, Xenon headlights, automatic climate control, automatic transmission and a windshield defroster drove the price to nearly $38,000.
Load up a Nissan Juke with similar gear, and you’re looking at a low-$30,000 price. It’s smaller inside, and weird-looking, but that kind of price difference forgives many sins, and the Juke is just as much fun to drive, in spite of the continuously variable transmission that comes bundled with its AWD system.
This is certainly one of the more entertaining crossovers available, but like the Cooper hatch it’s styled to resemble, it’s an expensive way to get into a small, noisy car with all-wheel drive. For this kind of money, wait for the next-generation model, and the extra refinement that design should bring with it.