I would have spotted my first Mini in Omaha, roughly fifty years ago. Although not sure how the original Mini – a Cooper – would have landed in Cornhusker country, I’ll assume SAC – the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command was just outside of Omaha – would have had something to do with it, given the number of airmen with previous postings in Europe. Mini was officially imported into the States prior to the numerous emission and safety regs hitting our Union, but in the Sixties it was an answer to a question few had yet asked. And now that the novelty has worn off of its revival – and gas is back at $2/gallon – it may once again be an answer to a question fewer are asking.
Thankfully, they are asking about compact (and subcompact) crossovers, and for evidence you need only look at RAV4s outselling Camrys and Honda’s CR-V outselling – or about to outsell – Accords. The nation’s appetite for a compact footprint with outsized utility is apparently huge, and the suits at MINI are prepared to do their part. MINI’s Countryman, first seen in 2010, appeared to be an aberration, but as we saw in the last election, an aberration can resonate; the Countryman was a hit among buyers right out of the box, and while this shopper – ultimately deciding on Subaru’s Crosstrek – would have enjoyed the quirkiness of its architecture, ultimately saw it as too small and, once out of warranty, probably too problematic.
That, of course, was then, and to commemorate the Countryman’s redesign we’ve driven one. Our test vehicle, a Mini Cooper All4 Countryman, remains small when juxtaposed against the RAV4s and CR-Vs, but has grown larger – as these things do – relative to its predecessor. Now sharing a platform with BMW’s X1, and propelled by a turbocharged three offering 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, our test Mini was hard-loaded, with a window of about $36K. And while this will sound dismissive, with that 134 horsepower driving what is now rather substantial bulk (at least within the parameters of the ‘Mini’ descriptive) we just didn’t see or feel $36,000 DOLLARS. Better, we think, to start anew at MINI’s website, and build a Cooper S All4 to roughly the same price point.
So I did. Notably, the Cooper S All4 comes with 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, and while we haven’t driven a Cooper S in this new Countryman guise, we know the turbocharged four to feel like 189 horsepower and not – thankfully – 134. A 6-speed manual is standard, 8-speed auto optional, and given the in-town shuffling the Countryman will endure, we’ll go with the auto. And although Texas doesn’t demand all-wheel drive (the Ben & Jerry tour is some 2,000 miles away), the security on wet streets more than compensates for the additional cost and small drop in economy. Plus, my wife has it on her Grand Cherokee…
Despite the wide range of available colors, we see this new Countryman, sitting slightly more squat than Gen 1, as somewhat color sensitive. We’ll go with silver, keep the black roof (with standard panoramic sunroof!), and spend the $100 bucks for black hood stripes – as God and Carroll Shelby would have wanted. The suits also offer – for $500 – an Offroad Exterior Styling kit, and while not sure what that includes, this is a Countryman, right? And you might go offroad, if only to attend the kid’s soccer game.
The 8-speed automatic adds $1750, and while that seems expensive, know I’m going to spend an identical amount on the gray lounge leather. Really. In combination with the John Cooper Works interior package, this is just the combo to put Mary Quandt (inventor of the mini skirt) at ease – until, of course, I start talking. The end sum, with destination and handling, is $37,450. And while that’s $1,500 more than the ‘ask’ of our tested Countryman, you’ll save at least as much on dentistry – ‘cuz you won’t be gritting your teeth every time you pull away from a frickin’ stop!
With a quality build, decent interior materials and a willing platform, the Cooper S All4 Countryman is more than worth a look if considering something easy to drive and park in town, but still willing for that weekend romp to Austin. If you insist on keeping your Countryman under $30K (good luck) and can handle a manual, than a front-wheel drive Cooper with just the necessities is probably the right call. Or you could buy a Crosstrek.