THE PROS & CONS
What’s best: It’s a big MINI!
What’s worst: It’s kind of a small sport ute.
What’s interesting: The MINI Countryman was an early entry in the now burgeoning subcompact crossover market. And it is just one model in MINI’s extensive eight-model lineup including three-door and five-door hatchbacks, a roadster, a coupe, cabriolets (convertibles), the Clubman (station wagon), Paceman (three-door CUV) and Countryman (five-door CUV).
2015 MINI Countryman ALL4 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Subcompact SUV/CUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, six-speed manual or automatic (as tested)
ENGINE: 1.6-litre Twin Turbo inline-four (181 hp, 177 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: Six-speed automatic transmission. 8.7/6.5L/100km (city/hwy); As tested 9.1L/100km (comb)
CARGO CAPACITY: 467 litres expanding to 1195 litres with rear seat folded
PRICE: MSRP $29,950; As tested $36,710 includes Essentials Pkg ($1,400) with glass sunroof, heated seats, Sport button, LED foglamps; Loaded Pkg ($1,100) with comfort access, auto dim mirror, front centre armrest, rain sensor, auto headlamps, auto climate, white turn signals; Wired Pkg ($1,400) with voice recognition, integrated visual display. Bluetooth, USB, Smartphone integration, MINI Connected, MINI nav, combox controller; Six-Speed Auto Trans Pkg ($1,300) with automatic transmission and sport leather steering wheel with shift paddles; black headlights ($100); Anthracite headliner ($180); Electric front window defrost ($190); Park Distance Control ($500); Metallic Paint ($590)
2015 MINI Countryman is MINI’s little big CUV.
I guess it’s been about five years since the MINI Countryman was first unveiled to shaking heads, deep sighs and all the requisite eye-rolling from flat-earthers who just want things to stay the same, damn it!
Although, actually, the debut wasn’t really bemoaned all that much.
Because in an automotive world where anything goes, with even Porsche and the Fiat 500 brands jumping on the SUV/CUV bandwagon, you start to get numb under the bombardment of products from every manufacturer exploring every niche.
Compare: 2014 Fiat 500L Review
It did seem funny at the time, the idea of a “MAXI MINI”, as the nickname was coined, sort of an oxymoronic clash of contradictory words, like “jumbo shrimp”, “military intelligence” or “rap artist”, for example.
But the Countryman was an inevitable evolution of product as MINI expanded the franchise to cover any and all customer demands. And, let’s cut to the chase.
The idea works.
Compared to a standard five-door MINI, the Countryman is longer, taller and wider with a correspondingly wider track. It has a higher ground clearance and larger turning circle. It also weighs in at almost 150 kg more than a regular MINI hatchback.
Headroom is actually about the same. There’s a little more shoulder space and elbowroom and there’s almost 40 mm more rear seat legroom.
So, yes, it’s bigger. Yes, it’s an SUV, or at least a CUV (crossover utility vehicle).
But somehow it hasn’t been corrupted enough by largesse to lose the nimble maneuverability, the sporty handling and go-kart-like flavour of MINI reflected throughout the brand lineup.
And, yes, you can actually carry passengers in the Countryman. Things are always a little more intimate in a subcompact, even a subcompact that’s bigger than the original.
But I managed to squeeze in four tall adults and a Puggle dog, with only some compromise and a little hilarity, mostly because of the Puggle.
The interior features an evolution of kitschy MINI cues – the dinner plate-sized centre-mounted speedo and gauge cluster, the trademark toggle switches and the tach with LCD info readout mounted behind the steering wheel.
And, although the smallish cabin is intimate, it’s also quite comfortable, with the sense of the added spaciousness in this as-tested model getting an assist from optional twin sunroofs.
There’s more room for your stuff this year, as well. The luggage compartment was re-engineered for 2015 with 30 percent more cargo space – 467 litres expanding to 1,195 litres compared to a regular MINI hatchback’s 278/941 litre rating.
There were other Countryman upgrades made for 2015 – new underside protective panels, improved aerodynamics, new trim details inside and out, a new colour palette, new wheels and new LED foglamps and DRL accents also incorporating LED lighting.
It’s a pretty complete package and, globally, the Countryman is offered with a variety of powertrain choices, with diesel or gasoline engines, front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive.
But for 2015, Canadian customers now pick from a simplified menu with only two models available – the Cooper S Countryman ALL4 and the John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4. Both models come with MINI’s ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. A six-speed manual transmission also comes standard although customers can opt for a six-speed automatic ($1,300) that adds shift paddles to the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel.
The 2015 MINI Countryman ALL4 ($29,950) starts with a 1.6-litre Twin Scroll Turbo inline-four that makes 181 hp and 177 lb/ft of torque.
This engine pulls with satisfying vim and vigour. We can argue about whether the Countryman is best served by either the manual or the automatic but, as tested here, the automatic version is a fun ride in its own right. Fuel economy is rated at a rather frugal 8.7/6.5L/100km (city/hwy) on recommended 91 octane gas or accepted 89 octane midgrade fuel. My real world results after a few hundred kilometres of mixed driving came in at 9.1L/100km (comb).
Customers looking for a little more of an adrenaline jump might bump up to the John Cooper Works ALL4 model ($38,500), harnessing a more muscular version of the 1.6-litre Twin Scroll Turbo inline-four engine, making 208 hp and 192 lb/ft of torque.
The JCW model also adds sport suspension to complement the extra power, special wheels with performance tires, Bi-Xenon headlamps and special badging, an anthracite headliner and the John Cooper Works aerodynamic body kit.
Performance-oriented customers will definitely be tempted by the more powerful JCW model, especially since the Cooper S version I tested was optioned up to almost the same price range (see pricing specs below).
So, how do we sum up the MINI Countryman?
Frankly, if we look at it through the lens of cold, cut and dried logic, it remains a bit player in the SUV/CUV market, selling just over 2,000 units here in Canada last year, a sales mark that the Ford Escape surpassed every two weeks, with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 not far behind.
But the MINI Countryman is an early entry in a rapidly expanding subcompact SUV/CUV market that will soon feature the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and a North American version of Ford’s EcoSport.
And, really, you don’t buy a MINI Countryman because you’re looking for an SUV.
You buy a Countryman because you’re looking for a bigger MINI.
So, forget about oxymorons because while MINI’s brand novelty may have worn off, this MAXI MINI still captures the unique design that pays homage to an original, the irreverent style and a sense of fun that has been mixed with just a little more added utility and practicality in this 2015 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4.