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Maxi Mini: A true bulldog
The Mini Countryman is sold in three trim levels and two engine choices with six-speed transmissions.

Mini Cooper S Countryman All4

Body style: compact, 4-door, 4-passenger, front- or all-wheel drive wagon

Engine: aluminum, turbocharged 181-hp, direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 31 hwy; premium fuel recommended

0-60 mph: 7 seconds

Length/width/wheelbase: 161.3/78.5/102.2 in.

Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.9/40.4/52.8 in.

Curb weight: 2,954 lbs.

Cargo space: 16.5 to 41 cubic ft.


Standard equipment includes: remote locking and push-button ignition, climate-controlled glove box, 6-speaker CD-MP3-HD-satellite-radio audio system, air conditioning with pollen filter, power windows-mirrors-locks, visors with lighted mirrors, three 12-volt plugs, 17-inch run-flat tires and alloy wheels, 6-way adjustable seats in black leatherette with built-in height adjustment, leather multi-function steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, onboard computer (tracks fuel use, average speed, distance to empty and more).

Safety features include: 7 air bags (including driver's knee bag), dynamic stability control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with corner brake control and electronic brake-force distribution

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper with roadside assistance; 3-years/ 36,000-miles free scheduled maintenance; 12 years/unlimited mileage for rust perforation


Base price: $27,650, including $700 freight charge

Where assembled: Graz, Austria

The Mini Cooper Countryman is a breakaway bulldog for this brand that prides itself on tightly wrapped and endearing, small sporty cars. The Countryman is a big Mini with a robust stance, four full-size and comfortable seats and tall headroom. It is also the first modern Mini with all-wheel drive and four doors.

There are three versions and two power choices. The base Countryman starts at $22,350 and comes with a 6-speed manual transmission and 121-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The Cooper S Countryman with turbocharged, 182-hp engine starts at $25,950. And the Cooper S Countryman All4, today's test car, starts at $27,650. Add $1,250 to any model for the six-speed Steptronic transmission.

The tester had a final price of $33,150, which included the Premium package, $1,750, of dual-pane panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control and Harman-Kardon audio system.

The Countryman is 15.7 inches longer than the Cooper coupe and rolls on a wheelbase that is 5.1 inches longer. The rear seats have 5.1 inches of fore-aft slide, and there is adult shoulder and leg room. With the back seats folded, there is room to carry two mountain bikes with the front rims removed, Mini says. It looked like tight quarters for two bikes and me, but there are roof-rail systems for bikes and other large gear. A unique center rail runs between the seats front to back and can accommodate cup holders, sunglass case, iPod cradle and other accessories.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety loves the Countryman and gave it a "Top Safety Pick" for achieving "Good" ratings for front, side, rollover and rear impact protection. The IIHS also rates the Countryman's roof as "Good," meaning it can withstand a force equal to nearly 5 times the car's weight (2,954 pounds). The current federal standard is 1.5 times weight. The awards are another first for Mini, and only the second such nomination for parent company BMW Group.

While it is not the zippy driving experience as the shorter-wheelbase Minis, the Countryman is likable for its tall ride height, easy step in and out and sturdy, safe feel on the road. There is noticeable road noise at interstate speeds (it's not exactly an aerodynamic shape), and the toughened up suspension can be jarring on rough road. But the Countryman puts its nose to the ground in cornering maneuvers.

With nearly 3,000 pounds on the chassis, even the turbocharged S engine requires a rev up for off-the-line performance. Once it's up to turbo-breathing speed, the uptake can be quite brisk.

Not once did I manage to engage the permanent All4 system, which isn't meant for off-roading but all-weather adhesion. The system sends all power to the front wheels until slippage occurs. Then it can vary power front to rear in infinitely variable amounts.

This bigger Mini could be the second Mini in the family garage, mainly because it has seats for the school car pool. But as a utility vehicle it is good for carrying stuff or people, but not much of either at the same time. It will transport four friends to the ski slope or the lake, but making all the gear fit will be the friendly challenge. As the brand's bulldog mascot, it's perfect.

Like all Minis, the Countryman is a specialty vehicle. You buy a Mini because you like it and want it a little more than you need it.