Walkaround and Interior

By April 17, 2013

Walkaround

From a distance of 50 feet, the Countryman looks a lot like a Mini Cooper. Its distinctions are obvious only if it's parked near another Mini model. While it's unique in the Mini line, the Countryman absolutely will not be mistaken for any other brand.

Labeled a crossover by many, the Countryman is the first four-door Mini. Designers have done a great job retaining Mini's familiar visual charm in the Countryman, and that's one reason it's not obvious how much larger than other Minis the Countryman really is. At 161.8 inches in length and 61.5 inches high, it's 17.7 inches longer and 6.1 inches taller than a Mini Cooper hardtop. It's about six inches longer than the extended-wheelbase Clubman. The Countryman has a similar footprint to Ford's Fiesta subcompact hatchback, and it's substantially smaller than other compact crossovers. It's a foot shorter than a Volkswagen Tiguan, and 1.7 feet shorter than a Toyota RAV4.

Countryman's grille is more upright than that on other Mini models. Its headlight clusters are big and oblong, rather than classic Mini round, with two pipes for main beams and a ring of LED elements that serve as daytime running lights (DRLs). Countryman S and ALL4 models have extra openings in front, including a slot above the bumper that replaces the hood scoop on other Coopers to feed cold air to the intercooler. The S also has square, chrome-trimmed openings near the fog lights for directing cooling air to the front brakes.

In side view, the Countryman features what Mini designers call a helmet roof. It's less flat and more domed than that on other Mini models. All of the roof pillars are black, so the contrasting roof appears to be floating.

The MINI logo at the rear serves as the tailgate release, and the license plate recess has the same shape as the air intake in the front bumper. Unlike the Mini Clubman, with its swing-out barn doors, the Countryman has a conventional hatch. It opens remotely with the key fob or manually by swiveling the center of the logo. A rear wiper/washer comes standard and it clears virtually all the window you see in the mirror.

We couldn't help but notice a sort of insect quality viewed from behind or overhead, with the single center antenna and the various curved sections reminding us of biology-class labs. The Countryman is playful, different and seems quite appropriate for this maximum Mini.

It's available in plenty of colors, some unique to it, with contrasting roof paint. We recommend the lighter shades if you live in a place with high-voltage sunshine. You can accessorize almost indefinitely with chrome, dark light housings, stripes bordering on wallpaper, and a Union Jack, Black Jack or checkered flags for the roof and mirrors.

Interior Features

Anyone who appreciates other Mini Cooper models should feel right at home in the Countryman. Design themes, features and materials are similar in all Minis. The big difference is that the Countryman is a true four-passenger vehicle, with a lot more all-purpose utility.

With larger front door openings, the Countryman is easier to climb into than the other models, and its front seat bottoms are higher than those in other Minis by about three inches. For the same reason, the Countryman is a big improvement in forward visibility. The view outward is very good in all directions, because the roof pillars are fairly narrow and more widely spread out. The edges of the hood can be seen by the driver, the glass is expansive and the rear wiper is very effective. The side mirrors are available with a power-fold option for rare neighborhoods where a Mini is wide.

The standard upholstery is leatherette, vinyl. It doesn't come off as cheap, and we'd be quite happy with it. Upgrades include cloth, two types of leather, or a combination of cloth inserts and leather side bolsters on the seats. Contrasting piping is available. Door panel inserts have soft-touch surfaces, the roof is a fuzzy fabric and carpeted floor mats are standard. Most of the standard trim pieces are well-grained plastic. There are no sharp edges or mold lines where panels meet, and nothing looks like a cost-cutting measure, nor out of place.

Choices in cabin trim are as varied as what's available in some luxury cars, with dark silver, piano black, faux carbon fiber and wood among the choices. Door panel inserts and some control surfaces are available in matching or contrasting colors.

The front seats are reasonably comfortable, and the available sport seats are up to the car's capability. The cushions are adjustable for height but not angle, so longer legs may find thigh support minimal and tend to submarine, sliding down and forward, over time. Only one front passenger wished for more lateral support in the backrest (after being flung about like a puppet through half an hour of hard driving). Driver and passenger both benefit from wide foot wells, without wheel-well intrusion to make the outboard leg feel shorter than the other one.

The dashboard is larger than that in other Minis to fit the bigger format, with larger vents in slightly different locations, but it's pure Mini in look and operation. Most switches and controls are black with white labeling, and the optional chrome trim adds rings around everything from the shifter to the tachometer. Instruments and controls are bathed in deep amber at night, while door handles and ambient lighting can be adjusted through a rainbow of colors.

The tilt/telescoping steering wheel and properly placed shifter ensure a decent driving position for all sizes. The pedals are nicely placed for fancy footwork if your shoe size isn't too big. The handbrake is a horizontal bar attached on the right side of the console; it works fine for the driver but sometimes made it difficult to find the passenger's seatbelt buckle. And in hard motoring it will be one of the first things the passenger grabs to hang on.

The tachometer is directly ahead of the driver and most of it can be viewed through the wheel. It includes a digital speed display, which is handy because the parallax error in the central speedo can be up to 5 mph. The tach also displays mileage and trip data, but this readout can wash out with polarized sunglasses.

The huge speedometer sits at the top of the center stack of controls, giving equal property rights to driver and front passenger. It includes the fuel gauge, arcing across the bottom like so many pieces of candy corn. On cars with the optional navigation or Mini Connect system, the speedometer has a stubby needle that rotates around the outside edge, with a TFT image display in the center (not affected by polarized lenses). The nav system is operated via two buttons and a small rotary controller just behind the shifter, and it works better than it sounds. Menu logic and programming is much like BMW's latest iteration of iDrive, so be thankful the bugs were worked out before Mini got it.

Audio controls sit at the bottom of the speedometer. Below these are the CD slot, ventilation controls, toggle switches for the four windows, and door locks. The lock toggle does not correlate push-down with lock and lift-up with unlock. It just moves the locks to the other position whenever you move the switch, and these toggles may also be an issue with long fingernails. Along the bottom are controls for fog lights, sport mode, and stability control-off.

There are map lights on the inside mirror and another pair right over the front seatbacks, though this set seems really useful only for a reclined passenger. Inputs for plug-in audio devices are behind the shifter, and the only standard-equipment concealed cabin storage is in the glovebox.

The Countryman does come standard with Mini's Centre Rail storage and fastening system. Centre Rail is two aluminium rails running lengthwise through the middle of the interior in place of a conventional center console. Various accessories, including cupholders, ashtrays, storage boxes and armrests can be locked anywhere along the rails to the occupants' preference. Every car comes with a two-spot cupholder and sunglass case. Other devices, including armrests, are extra.

Rear-seat space is comparable to the typical compact sedan's, with ample headroom and access through generously-sized rear doors on both sides. The rear buckets aren't as heavily bolstered as those in front, so it's easy to slide in and out. Each seat slides fore and aft up to 5.1 inches, to maximize either rear-passenger or cargo space. With rear seats moved back to maximum depth, there's plenty of leg room for passengers six feet tall. It feels like there is more than the claimed 33 inches of rear legroom, but there is limited toe space under the front seats. The window toggles in the rear doors can be awkward to operate, and it seems that a dog paw might easily break one off.

As it does with passenger space, the Countryman also provides the most cargo space in Mini's lineup. It has a liftgate, like the Mini hardtop, and delivers a minimum 12.4 cubic feet of space for stuff, even with the rear seats upright and as far back as they'll slide. That's comparable to the trunk in the typical small sedan. Sliding the rear seats forward creates more cargo space, and folding the seatbacks expands maximum cargo volume to 41.3 cubic feet. There's enough height and length to haul two mountain bikes with their front wheels removed, according to Mini.

Cargo room is better still because there's a substantial well under the load floor, which aligns with the hatch opening. There are tie-down points in back and several optional storage accessories, including a basic net. The load height isn't far off the ground, yet the hatch still opens high enough that our 6-foot, 4-inch test dummy didn't whack his head.