The 2016 MINI Cooper Countryman is the maxi-est of the MINI lineup, not to mention the only one where all-wheel drive is available as an option. While it had the small utility niche largely to itself for several years, a new crop of competitors will likely highlight the Countryman’s relatively high price for the space it offers–though few of the newcomers have quite the MINI charm or personality.
For 2016, the MINI Countryman is essentially the same vehicle that was launched for the 2011 model year. It had a mild refresh last year, but for this year, changes are restricted to some trim and paint-color changes, and a new special-edition model called the Park Lane.
The Countryman’s shape is essentially that of a tall four-door wagon with a liftgate, similar in plan to most other utility vehicles of many sizes. Side-by-side with smaller models in the MINI range, however, you might be hard-pressed to highlight similarities. The Countryman’s styling captures the overall MINI effect in design flourishes on a larger and more standard package.
Last year saw a new and bolder grille, and additional chrome details for the sportier and more powerful Cooper S model. The underbody guards that come standard on most all-wheel-drive models can now be added to front-wheel-drive Countryman versions too. The rest of last year’s updates included new 17-inch alloy wheel designs, LED fog lights, and accents in glossy piano black, along with a handful of new exterior colors.
Inside, this is the second year for the latest (optional) MINI Connected infotainment system, which not only integrates with smartphones but provides internet-based services than span infotainment, communication, and driver experience. A growing range of apps that run on the display screen in the center of the dash, operated via a joystick in the center console, provide all those functions.
Front seats are comfortable, but while headroom in the rear is ample, knee room can be tight. While the Countryman’s compact size limits its interior volume, the load bay will hold about as much as the trunk of standard sedan–and cargo space rises to 42 cubic feet of cargo with the split folding rear seats folded down.
The engine choices are all 1.6-liter fours, one standard and one turbocharged. The base engine, at 121 horsepower, is naturally aspirated, but on the sportier Cooper S model, it’s turbocharged, for an output boosted to 181 hp. Above that, the special John Cooper Works model wrings a higher output yet from the same turbo engine: 211 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on every trim level, with a six-speed automatic is available on all models. The MINI ALL4 all-wheel-drive system is optional. The best value for money is probably the base Cooper ALL4, if you don’t mind slow acceleration; on the other end of a much more expensive scale, the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works ALL4 is for buyers who crave maximum performance.
The MINI Countryman gets an IIHS Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which awards the car its highest rating of ‘Good’ in every test category including the tough new small-overlap front collision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however, hasn’t tested the Countryman throughout its six years on the market–likely due to low volume.
Equipment and appearance combinations for the MINI Countryman are essentially endless. The car comes well-configured in base form, but given how it can be upgraded with a huge number of high-tech and luxury features, there’s a Countryman for almost anyone. Just be sure to pay attention to the bottom line if you have a heavy hand on the optional equipment list.
For 2016, the Countryman Park Lane is a new special edition package, offered only in an Earl Gray metallic paint with Oak Red roof, mirror caps, and side scuttle inlays. It also appears on stripes and trim accents throughout the interior, complementing bright silver dash surfaces and door trims. It’s a $2,500 package for the Cooper and Cooper S versions of the Countryman, or $2,000 for the Cooper S Countryman ALL4.