Test Drive: 2011 MINI Countryman S All4

VOICE OVER: Miranda Lightstone
It's a breakthrough for the MINI brand: its first crossover SUV. The MINI Countryman is not just a step forward for the company. This MINI with four doors and all-wheel drive is utter automotive perfection. Just when you thought MINI couldn't get any cooler, they release a model like the Countryman and your mind is officially blown. First launched at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, it came to the market as a 2011 model and is quickly growing a legion of devoted fans. In this video, spends a (blissful) week behind the wheel of the 2011 MINI Cooper Countryman S All4.


Diehard MINI fans are going to ave an issue with the Countryman from the get-go. It’s not that the Countryman is such a departure from the MINI look that it’s unrecognizable, but it is different. It’s larger, rides higher and has a beefier back-end and front. There’s also the issue of it having four doors instead of two (or three as the case may be with the Clubman). The AWD system also means more room is need for the chassis and drivetrain underneath so the Countryman has to be larger.

In my opinion, it still looks utterly fantastic. It is a MINI through and through. Sure it’s a bit heavier and larger, but who cares when the trade off is two extra doors and an AWD system that’ll keep you planted to the road no matter what the conditions?

Inside, the Countryman is distinctly MINI with the retro-inspired gauges and dash you’ll find across all MINI models. The back seats which can easily (and happily) fit two full-sized adults are actually captain’s seats that can be moved for optimal comfort. While there is no third seat in the back, there is a nifty little rail system that lets you position cup holders, storage compartments, glasses cases, and display your choice of mood lighting. Ooh la la.

The trunk also offers more space than a traditional MINI with a larger width and a deeper bed (with removable flooring that makes the trunk about a ½ foot deeper for more cargo space).

For anyone who thinks this isn’t a MINI, I urge them to look again. And I also urge them to get behind the wheel.


Driving the MINI Countryman S All4 is fab. In that one word I think it sums it all up. Equipped with the same 1.6-liter turboed engine found in the Cooper S, the Countryman drives like a MINI should. Precise handling and a peppy transmission mean you can strap the kids in, load up the trunk with groceries and still have a blast behind the wheel.

Sure, the Countryman is heavier round the corners and a little slower in the acceleration, but it’s a larger MINI. What do you expect? It’s heavier because it’s more practical and safer.

The MINI Countryman S All4 received Top Safety Pick from the IIHS for front, side, rear collision ratings as well as the strongest roof rating they can award. So, not only are you able to have a good time driving the Countryman, but you’ll be safe while you do it.

The AWD system in the Countryman, labeled All4, is great. I’d say it’s better than BMW’s xDrive only because you can feel it reacting much faster (perhaps because it’s a smaller car). The system is front-wheel drive bias until it feels the need to send power to the back. If it feels the back slipping, it will transfer 50% of the torque to the rear making it a 50/50 AWD split. And if it ever needs, it will send 100% of the torque to the rear wheels, though you hope never to be in that situation. Because of the front-bias system, it does suffer from a bit of understeer in corners, however, once the system feels the understeer the All4 kicks in and the rear snaps into action, almost as if you’ve pulled the hand brake -- fantastic.

I dare anyone who says this isn’t a MINI to get behind the wheel and tell me that again after they’ve driven it.