MINI Cooper Countryman Launched in the U.S. at $22,350
MINI has officially launched the Countryman crossover vehicle on the U.S. market. The company has announced three versions will be available: MINI Cooper Countryman, Cooper S Countryman and Cooper S Countryman with ALL4 (all-wheel drive). All will be in MINI dealers by the first quarter of 2011 starting at $22,350. Although full pricing has not yet been announced, MINI says that a "well-equipped" Cooper S Countryman ALL4 will come in under $30,000.
The Countryman is 161.3" long, which is about the same size as the less expensive Nissan Juke and Kia Soul. The rest of the crossover competition like the Volkswagen Tiguan and Jeep Compass are at least a foot longer. Outside of the crossover/SUV segments, the Countryman competes in size with small cars ranging in price and prestige from a loaded Ford Fiesta hatchback to a basic Audi A3.
This crossover is a departure in the world of MINI. Where the standard hatchback and MINI Cooper Clubman models draw inspiration from vehicles that were in the original BMC Mini line, there were no original Minis with four front doors. Still, the headlights, grille, doors, wheel arches, and paint schemes have all been designed so there is no mistake that the Countryman is a member of today's MINI family.
The Countryman is over 15" longer than a standard MINI Cooper hatchback, and inside is where the extra length is noticed the most. Four full doors and two rear bucket seats that can move independently along a 5.1" track likely qualifies the Countryman as the most comfortable of all the MINIs. The Countryman is only about 4" wider than the standard Cooper and Cooper Clubman, so there is no room for a third seat in the second row.
With the rear seats folded flat, the Countryman has 41.3 cu ft of storage space (over 17 cu ft more than the standard MINI Cooper.) MINI says this is enough to carry two mountain bikes with the front wheels removed. On the occasion the back seats are needed to carry people, the Countryman can still have up to 15.4 cu ft of available rear storage.
The most noticeable part of the interior is the new standard center rail storage system. It is a fashionable center bar that runs the length of the front and rear seats, and the rail is used for everything from cup holders to cell phone integration into the vehicle's entertainment system. The center rail makes scooting over a little difficult in the back seats, but the added functions should make this a worthwhile feature.
From the driver's seat the Countryman looks very much like the rest of the MINI lineup.
Features like the large steering column-mounted tachometer, round air vents, center stack, and center-mounted speedometer (with optional navigation), are direct carryovers from other MINIs.
Just like the standard Cooper hatchback, the MINI Cooper Countryman comes with a 1.6-liter engine that makes 121 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. The Cooper S Countryman adds a twin-scroll turbocharger for 181 hp and maximum 192 lb-ft of torque. These engines do not have the power for towing anything significant, but the payoff is they offer good fuel economy. The Cooper Countryman is rated at 27/35 mpg city/highway. The two-wheel drive Cooper S Countryman gets 25/32 mpg, and the added weight of the ALL4 system reduces economy slightly to 25/31 mpg.
MINI is quick to admit the Countryman is more about space and flexibility than towing capacity or off-road prowess. The crossover body style was possibly the easiest way to add more room considering the appearance of a MINI sedan would probably be too radical a departure, and a MINI station wagon would likely not be hip enough for the company's image.
There are some strong points to having the MINI charm in a larger vehicle. The rear doors mean it is convenient for suburban school pickups, but it is still small enough to fit well in urban areas. The available ALL4 all-wheel drive system will make it the most useful MINI in places where the roads can get a little mucky. Also, the Countryman somewhat keeps the rest of the MINI line's economy car value with high-option models still coming in under $30k.
Basically the MINI Countryman is not for people who need a SUV/crossover to perform the big jobs, but most of those customers are not looking at a MINI anyway. Instead, the Countryman is for the parents and weekend warriors who want to keep a little MINI-minded personality in their lives.