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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

MINI Countryman


When you think of a MINI, you imagine a truly small car--or "minicar". But the MINI Countryman is actually a larger small car, one of the few genuine subcompact crossovers on the market--a full car class smaller than 'compact crossovers' like the better-known Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, or Subaru Forester. And because it's part of the image-conscious MINI brand, its rivals are more likely to include vehicles like the Audi A3 compact five-door hatchback, the new Buick Encore, and the Range Rover Evoque than those higher-volume, less prestigious brands.


The MINI Countryman was launched in the U.S. for 2011, and it's had no major updates since then. For 2013, MINI added a sporty John Cooper Works hot-rod model. This is fitted with a more lively version of the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine in the Countryman S, which is rated at 211 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque (up to 221 pound-feet of torque with Overboost). This particular John Cooper Works model is also the first to offer an available six-speed automatic gearbox as an alternative to the standard six-speed manual.


Despite its minimal dimensions, the MINI Countryman offers a lot--even including a healthy dose of practicality for moving people and their goods. It also has some off-road capability to match its tall proportions, ride height, and increased ground clearance. And while it may be a MINI, the price isn't particularly minimal; it's largely targeted at premium buyers who could afford a more expensive car but like the Countryman's compactness and spunky performance.

The base model is the regular Countryman and it comes with a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Up one rung on the ladder is the sportier Countryman S model, which gets a turbocharged version of the base model’s engine and a 181-horsepower rating. The vehicles also come with front- or 'ALL4' all-wheel drive configurations. All-wheel drive is safer but hurts fuel economy a little.

Whichever wheels are doing the driving, it’s a bit of a shock how good the thing handles though you’ll never mistake it for a sports car like you may with the regular MINI Cooper. We also found the vehicle to be a bit down in power, even when driving the turbocharged Countryman S.

The lines of the Countryman are instantly recognizable as a MINI, but larger in every dimension. It actually shares no body panels with the smaller, shorter vehicles in the rest of the MINI range, with one exception: the odd three-door Paceman hatchback, essentially a Countryman with its rear doors missing--and perhaps a competitor for the similar three-door version of the Evoque.


Inside, the Countryman is more similar to its smaller siblings, with all of the retro design and odd ergonomics that brings. The rear seat has two individual seats and is not a full bench, and most adults will find it tight back there. The vehicle’s closest competitor would be the Volkswagen Tiguan, but the VW is easily one size bigger.

Safety is a strong suit as the Countryman is equipped with a wide array of safety equipment, including a full complement of airbags, stability and traction control, corner brake control and anti-lock brakes all helping it to score top marks in independent crash testing.

Beginning in the 2013 model year, a new John Cooper Works (JCW) version of the Countryman joined the lineup. With 211 horsepower and an overboost mode that kicks torque up to 221 pound-feet in bursts, the JCW can accelerate to 60 mph in about seven seconds; and it's the first JCW model yet to offer an automatic transmission in addition to the standard six-speed manual

 The 2013 model also has a redesigned armrest with relocated power-window controls and a larger console storage area. Also, the second row seat is now a three-person bench, with a two-person bucket arrangement now a no-cost option. Also on the horizon is the 2013 MINI Paceman, which is essentially a two-door version of the Countryman.

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