Driving Impressions : MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL 4By: Mark Moskowitz
For those of us tethered to the past, 'Mini' conjures up the image of small shoebox with go-kart like handling. Before Austin Powers or Mark Wahlberg graced a Mini driver's seat, later Formula One World Champions: Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jochen Rindt, James Hunt and Niki Lauda were gaining experience behind the wheel of a Mini. The postfix Cooper was added early and Mini benefitted from the engineering skills of a two-time Formula One constructor's champion and the man who brought the rear engine revolution to the Indianapolis 500. Mini's were everywhere besting cars with thrice their power on racing circuits and winning three editions of the Monte Carlo Rallye.
Hidden in the appellation 'MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL 4' are the ingredients of inspiration, MINI, Cooper, and S but it's not the car I expect. That car is the John Cooper Works MINI. It weighs 1100 pounds less, casts a smaller shadow, hits 60 mph in less than 6 seconds and has a top speed of 145 MPH. BMW, the present mothership, has made MINI a brand not a cult and I need to get over it. There are small sedans that can be had for less than $20,000. There are long MINI's (Clubman and Countryman), short MINI's, tall MINIS (Countryman) and convertible MINI's.
The Countryman is the top of the line and largest hardtop; the plug-in hybrid configuration was added this year. I like it; it's a competent car in a popular field, luxury compact crossovers, and rare in its class being both a hybrid and having all wheel drive. They do it well. A miserly turbocharged 3 cylinder drives the front wheels and a smallish 7.6kWh battery pack and 65 kilowatt motor drive the rear. Each can be used alone though all electric travel is limited to 12 miles (ruling out the majority of US commuters). Together they blend seamlessly in the hybrid 'Auto eDrive' mode. The factory claims 0-60 times of 6.7 times. I found acceleration from 30-50 and 50-70 quite quick though done with little drama – a mild guttural sound, no significant lag, but no throw the driver back in the seat sensation.
To complement the gas and e settings, the MINI has three modes which affect steering and shift points. Again carried off competently though I found steering feedback in the Sport Mode excessive, especially at lower speeds.
This largest and heaviest of Countryman is stable over bumps and stable in the turns though it does not encourage the driver to test its limits.
Lights, dials, toggles are in abundance in the MINI interior. There's subtle lighting in the doors and console recesses. A light ring dominates the center of the dash and surrounds a colorful 8.8inch touchscreen. Petrol levels are signaled by red strips. I was charmed by the projection of the MINI logo which appears on the asphalt after vehicle exit.
The infotainment system works well and is easily controlled by voice and console mounted dial. The MINI Head-Up display rises out of the driver's dashboard with the throw of a toggle. Speed and navigation instructions are easily seen. It's worth the $750 option fee.
The MINI Countryman offers a comfortable driving position, great front cockpit room, front seat heaters and an abundance of storage. A swing up console armrest reveals a wireless cell phone charger which accommodates the larger devices and even more storage. Finishes are upscale.
I have sat in both and do not recommend the sport seats. Neither side nor bottom bolsters adjust and they cramped this 5'10' 192 lb. test mule. Besides, I keep trying to make the point that this is not a performance sedan (there's not even a tach!) but a luxury compact crossover with great performance.
Rear seating is ample for the seat and upper body. The ability to recline is noted and appreciated. One has to position knees just right into the recess behind the bucket and the feet just so under the front seat to be comfortable. This is OK for adults on short jaunts but not on a lengthy trip.
I am impressed that the MINI could store batteries and the rear drive and sacrifice less than half a cubic foot of cargo volume. It measures 17.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Part of the sacrifice came from gas tank volume reduction from 16.1 gallons to 9.5 gallons; perhaps an encouragement to use the E power cord frequently.
Outfitted as tested the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL 4 lists for $40,000. Its Technology Package includes the Head-Up Display, Apple CarPLay and the 8.8 inch Touchscreen with Nav; it would add another $1500 to my test vehicle. The Premium Package adds power front seats, a panoramic moonroof, privacy glass, a power tailgate, a Harman/Kardon Premium Sound System, and $3000 to the sticker. Active Driving Assistant includes adaptive cruise control and frontal collision braking and adds another $1000. The sting can be reduced by a likely available $4000 tax credit and free service for the first 3 years or 36,000 miles.
Picking Nits: In 2018 one might expect adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, lane change warning and blind spot monitoring standard in a compact crossover with this price tag. The latter three safety options are not available. I find a combined cruising rage of 270 miles a bit less than expected.
If you are ready to make some sacrifices to lessen impact on the environment, if you have a short commute and a charging station at both ends of that commute and if you just want to join the MINI club, this may be the car for you. I consider it a great first step and a work in progress.