2011 MINI Cooper S Countryman Review

2011 MINI Cooper S Countryman - Biggest Mini ever still a Cooper at heart.


PLUSES: First 4-door MINI and first time all wheel drive offered.
MINUSES: Such a long list of options.

The new offering from BMW was appropriately named the MINI and was so small when offered for sale in the U.S. as a miniature sports car that it quickly was considered cute and cuddly in a world filled with land yacths.

Eventually reality set in, as it typically does with small cars that prove a joy to look at and admire, a pain to get in and use. While small cars don't grow in size the longer you own one, people tend to swell in dimension the older they get.

And that's why MINI adds a Countryman edition for 2011 complete with 4-doors and a 5 inch longer wheelbase and 15.7 inch stretch in overall length. The change means it's now much easier to get people in or out of a MINI without holding the breath or twisting limbs into unnatural positions. And it allows for sufficient room to carry gear or groceries in the cargo hold without having to flip a coin to decide what must stay behind.  

Much more room and space than either the regular Cooper or the 3-door Clubman with its small rear hinged access door behind the front passenger door similar to those offered on pickup trucks.

In addition to a bigger and better and less snug fit, MINI adds all wheel drive for the first time to give the car more security on the road for even better performance and handling when dry and more stability and control when not. It doesn't have to be garaged each winter in the Snow Belt.

The 2011 MINI Cooper Countryman is offered in base, S, and S ALL4, with ALL4 at MINI like Quattro at Audi---code for all wheel drive. There's a choice of a 1.6 liter, 122 h.p. naturally aspirated four cylinder teamed with 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic or a beefed up 1.6 liter, 184 h.p. turbo in S versions teamed with either 6-speed manual or automatic.

We tested the Cooper S with the turbo 4 cylinder and automatic---but not ALL4. While enthusiasts may give the manual the nod for more spirited motoring and more active driving involvement, the automatic still allows you to enjoy the lively performance character of the machine though you'll notice a few trans decibel growls at takeoff at times.

And, yes, there is some turbo lag or hesitation, but the power ramps up quickly. And yes, there is some torque steer, which perhaps the ALL4 would better control. And yes, build up the needed energy ahead of time and don't wait until you've finally arrived at the bottom of the interstate incline to overtake the 18 wheeler ahead.

The mileage rating is 25 m.p.g. city/32 m.p.g. highway, which means you can enjoy an agile, sporty machine and still boast about conserving fuel.

Thanks to the larger dimensions the Countryman provides good room front and rear. If front seat occupants are of above average height you might find your knees touching the backs of the front seats, but rear seats slide fore and aft a few inches to adjust for needed space. No problem with head room.

The bucket seats are adequate for long distance travel, but rear seat backs and bottoms are stiffer than up front. Being the sporty Cooper S edition, ride was firm on the fanny, with the stiff run flat performance radials contributing to the firmness. But the offsetting benefit was very good handling into and out of the twisties. Countryman delivers the expected BMW performance character, but while the speedometer goes up to 160 m.p.h., even a turbo boost isn't going to take you there in this sedan/wagon.

A rail runs front to rear between the seats down the center of the car and offer a variety of holders---from cups to cell phones---that slide along the rails into whatever easy to reach location you choose.

The test vehicle came with the optional dual pane power sunroof, with the glass opening over the front seats, fixed over the rear seats. Dual panes helps make the cabin feel more spacious.

And the rear cargo hold is very spacious for gear, grub or luggage. Need more space? Just lower the rear seat backs into the flat position. There's also some stowage and hiding space under the cargo floor. Up front, however, the gear shift lever in the console blocks access to the cupholders located directly in front of it. Guess that's what BMW means by don't drink and drive.

The Cooper S Countryman starts at $25,250 loaded with goodies, but the test car added just about every option available, from leather seats to heated mirrors, to park distance control and by doing so pushed the sticker $8,000 higher.

2011 MINI Cooper S Countryman

Wheelbase: 102.2 inches


Length: 161.3 inches


Engine: 1.6 liter, 184 h.p., turbocharged four cylinder.


Transmission: 6-speed automatic.


Mileage: 25 m.p.g. city/32 m.p.g. highway.


Base price: $25,250.


Price as equipped:
Add $1,500 beige leather seats, $750 cold weather
package with power folding and heated mirrors and heated seats, $1,750
Premium package with power dual pane sunroof, automatic climate control,
and Harmon-Kardon sound system, $1,000 sport package with 18 inch alloy
wheels, white bonnet (hood) stripes, and xenon headlamps, $1,250
automatic transmission with manual mode, $500 for park distance control,
$250 center arm rest, $500 keyless entry, $500 blue metallic paint, and
$700 freight.

Jim Mateja

Jim Mateja enjoyed a 42 year career with the Chicago Tribune before retiring in 2007 as the newspaper's automotive columnist. He received numerous awards for his reporting and writing, including the National Automotive Journalism Association's "Moto" award for best regularly published column and automotive feature writing, and a Best in Show award for his test ride of a horse in conjunction with the Tribune's 150th anniversary. He also earned the Detroit Press Club Foundation's Gold Wheel Award for best car reviews, and a Tribune Professional Performance Award for his column and regular reporting. He still writes occasional car reviews for the Tribune, is one of the nation's 50 automotive journalists who serve as members of the North American Car of the Year judging panel, and is a panel member who helps select Best Buys for "Consumers Digest" magazine. Mateja also is the founding President of the Midwest Automotive Media Association.