Thursday, May 16, 2013

First Drive: 2013 Mini Cooper Countryman

The original Austin Mini Countryman was a two-door estate car with double "barn"-style rear doors. Luxury models came with decorative, non-structural wood inserts on the rear exterior of the car. From 1961 to 1969, approximately 108,000 Austin Mini Countrymen were built. In 1994, BMW gained ownership of the Mini marque. In 2010, Mini announced that the brand would be making a compact crossover SUV. At the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, revealed the production version of the compact crossover SUV, the Countryman. The Countryman is the first Mini crossover SUV and the brand's first five-door model. The Countryman is front-engine compact crossover SUV that is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. In America, the Countryman is either available with a 1.6L I4 engine in the Cooper trim level or a turbocharged 1.6L I4 engine in the Cooper S trim level. The four-wheel drivetrain is only available on the Cooper S All 4. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the Countryman, and a six-speed automatic transmission is available as an option. I first saw the Countryman at the 2011 Houston Auto Show. On February 2, 2013, I decided to go to a local Mini dealership and test drive a Countryman along with a Mini Cooper Hardtop. The Countryman I drove was the Mini Cooper Countryman that came with the six-speed automatic transmission.

The Countyman is a bigger version of the Mini Cooper Hardtop. The Countryman has rear doors as well as being higher of the ground than the Mini Cooper Hardtop. It shares some styling from the Mini Cooper Hardtop. The Countryman has good head room and leg room for the front passengers. When I sat the back of one, I had little leg room. Just like the Hardtop, the Countryman has a speedometer in the center of the dashboard. I still find this feature strange. Not many brands, if any, has this feature on its vehicles. The seats have decent comfort. These are not the softest seats I have been in, but they are not stiff and uncomfortable.  

The Mini Cooper Countryman is powered by a 1.6L I4 engine that produces 121 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. The Countryman goes from 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds and reaches a top speed of 116 mph. The Countryman uses the same 1.6L I4 engine that is used in the Mini Cooper Hardtop. Yet the Countryman is 300 pounds heavier than the Mini Cooper Hardtop. This hurts the Countryman in the performance category. The Countryman felt slow. When a company makes a bigger car and uses the engine from the smaller car, it just does not work. The Countryman needs a bigger and more powerful engine. 121 hp is just not enough for  a compact crossover SUV. As far as the ride goes, it has a slight sporty feel to it. It also feels a little bit heavy as well. The Countryman handles nicely. It responds well when I turn the wheel. It is also quiet inside the Countryman when I was on the roads and highways. 

Overall, the Countryman is not a good car. When I think SUVs, I think space and comfort. I drive a 2007 Toyota RAV4, and that is also a compact crossover SUV. My RAV4 has plenty of leg room for rear passengers plus I have a large trunk to carry my belongings when I was travelling between Houston and San Antonio during my college years. The Countryman does not have the cargo space that my RAV4 has. My main issue with the Mini Cooper Countryman is the performance. 121 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque is not enough power for the Countryman. If a company is going to make a new model that is 300 pounds heavier than a current model, then the new model should gets its own line of engines that are suitable for the new model.  When Mini and BMW came out with the Countryman, they should have given the Countryman its own set of engines. The Mini Cooper Countryman should have gotten at least a 2.0L I4 engine in addition to an optional V6 engine. If you want a compact crossover SUV will plenty of interior and storage space, pass on the Countryman. However, if you want a Mini with four doors, then go with the Mini Cooper S Countryman. That version gets 181 hp for a turbocharged 1.6 I4 engine. The Mini Cooper Countryman is just unimpressive.

Photo was taken by a camera phone.
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