There’s definitely a ton of stigma and stereotyping behind the “Mini” name. The tiny size, shape, and overall quirkiness of the original Mini made it an instant hit around the world, alongside icons such as the Volkswagen Beetle. For our generation, its revival for the 2002 model year by new parent company BMW added tons of technology and a touch of modernization to the brand. In recent years though, the Mini range has expanded to seemingly include something for everybody. Our editor offered me a 2015 Mini Cooper S Countryman with the ALL4 system to see what I thought.
The compact crossover ute segment is no longer sparse. In the Canadian market, it includes entries such as the Nissan Juke, the Chevrolet Trax, the Buick Encore, and even the Fiat 500L. These are trendy, capable little crossovers that provide premium features, some added ride height, all-wheel-drive, and some style – all aimed towards the young urban buyer. I rather liked the Trax and Juke when I drove them, and everything Mini has sent us in the past has had a certain premium elegance, so I was pretty excited to try this Countryman S out. My test week also consisted of the first massive snowstorm of the year, and the Countryman on Pirelli SottoZero winter tires with its all-wheel-drive effortlessly dominated the roads.
In order to streamline the Countryman lineup, Mini has made some model line modifications for this year. For instance, the only engine available is the turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder. That means the Countryman can only be had in “S” trim; no more naturally-aspirated model. Additionally, the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system is also standard, making the only two models in the Countryman lineup this Cooper S and the slightly sportier Cooper S John Cooper Works. Confusingly enough, the Countryman isn’t just called the “Mini Countryman”. Its actual name is Mini Cooper S Countryman. It’s a bit strange, but I went with it anyhow.
The little four-cylinder is essentially unchanged for the past few years, and since going turbocharged for model year 2007, it’s been good for 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. It scoots along nicely; there’s plenty of low-end grunt. The big Mini gasps a little bit at highway speeds, but the turbocharger does help. Mini officially claims 8.2 seconds to 100 km/h with the automatic transmission, and 7.9 seconds with the manual. Using “Sport” mode increases the exhaust sound a little bit, but the four-pot isn’t particularly quiet to begin with. The Countryman S is available with a 6-speed manual, which I personally would love to try out, and my tester was equipped with BMW‘s excellent 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. It shifts smoothly and quickly; I can only assume that the next generation of Countryman will offer the ZF 8-speed automatic instead of this unit.
I really like the way the Countryman rides and feels. It feels extremely planted to the road and it absorbs bumps firmly. It does have a little bit of body roll, but the next-up John Cooper Works model has a stiffer suspension that remedies this. Steering is very good and the Mini corners like it’s on rails. It’s not as sharp as the regular Cooper S, but it does feel exactly like the Cooper’s bigger brother should. One strange thing I noticed was the awkward paddle shifters. Rather than the conventional pattern of the left paddle for downshifts and the right for upshifts, both paddles work exactly the same way. To shift up, you pull them towards you, and to shift down, you push them away. It does work well, but it takes some getting used to.
Our editor Adi had a late first-generation 2005 Cooper a few years ago, and to this day he doesn’t shut up about how much he loved it. It wasn’t the fastest thing around, and it had its flaws, but he was enamoured with the little gimmicks that made for his Mini’s personality. For instance, the power door lock switch is a toggle in the centre stack. Controls for fog lights and traction control are also in the same area, which is neat. The traditional Mini centre-mounted speedometer may not seem ergonomically correct at first, but it’s pretty easy to get on board with. Here, there’s also a large display screen for infotainment in the centre of the speedometer.
The new streamlined pricing around the Countryman means that my Cooper S Countryman ALL4 starts at a very reasonable base price of just over $29,000. Our friends at BMW added some packages to this particular tester, including the $1,400 Essentials Package (sunroof, heated seats, Sport mode, LED fog lights), the Loaded Package at $1,100 (Comfort Access, rain sensing headlights, automatic climate control, centre armrest, etc.), and Wired Package at $1,400 that includes all the technology bits. Factoring in the optional automatic transmission, parking sensors, electric heated windshield and metallic paint, the Countryman came in at $36,710. This is essentially fully loaded for this model.
On the interior, all the quirks that make a Mini special continue. The parking brake is an airplane-style lever with a meaty handle, and the driving position is unmistakably Mini. The seats could be a bit more comfortable; they’re supportive enough but I just couldn’t see myself spending hours and hours on a long gruelling road trip in this. On the other hand, I’ve personally borrowed our editor’s ex-Mini, the 2005 Cooper, and done thousands of long distance kilometres on it. The cloth seats in the old car were a bit more comfortable and supportive than the leather in this newer one. Additionally, one gripe I had was the need for a proprietary BMW-branded iPod cable. Just using the standard USB cable on my iPod Touch allowed the system to read it, but no audio would come out until I actually borrowed the proper cable from a friend to test.
Even though I prefer the slightly more modest Clubman, I do like the way the Countryman looks. Especially in this colour scheme, it appears grown-up and elegant while still maintaining that same Mini charm. Using strictly premium fuel, I averaged about 9.9L/100km in this little ute, a number I’m completely fine with. At $36,000 though, it’s right up against crossovers like the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3. The Mini is definitely quirkier and has that youthful appeal, whereas the others are a bit more grown up. It all boils down to what the buyer wants. Personally, I may be getting older with every passing day, but my car should always be youthful, making cars like the 2015 Mini Cooper S Countryman particularly appealing.