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MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4

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MINI Countryman

Model/Engine size: Cooper S ALL4
Fuel: Petrol
Fuel economy combined: 42.2 mpg

Beating Spirit rating: 9/10

The MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4 offers all the practicality of a family hatch, plus the fun of a MINI, combined with the promise of all-weather traction.

In terms of emissions and fuel economy, the Countryman Cooper S ALL4 falls short of the Cooper D model which is class-leading in the 4×4 segment for the lowest emissions, with just 129 g/km CO2. This translates to 57.6 mpg, which is excellent for a 4×4 (although MINI is calling the Countryman a crossover rather than a 4×4). The Cooper S can only manage 42.2 mpg and 157 g/km CO2 – however this isn’t bad for a fun 184 bhp all-wheel drive machine.

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These economy and emissions figures are achieved with the help of BMW’s EfficientDynamics technologies, including automatic stop-start and brake energy regeneration, although these are known as ‘MINIMALISM’ for the MINI brand.

The Countryman is also fun to drive. It certainly shares the genes with the MINI hatch for direct responses. It may not have quite the same level of ‘go-kart’-like handling as the regular MINI, but the steering and chassis are sharper than most cars in this class. The ride is more compliant than the hatch, which is a good thing for a family car.

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Our Countryman was with us during another one of the UK’s one-in-a-hundred-year freak arctic conditions (the BMW X1 was with us during last year’s one-in-a-hundred-year freak arctic conditions). Both the Countryman and the X1 have one thing in common – BMW all-wheel drive systems mated to BMW tyres. There’s no doubt that BMW makes excellent cars, however there’s one thing that drives us crazy, which is the brand’s insistence on fitting such road-biased tyres to all-wheel drive cars.

This resulted in the Countryman, as well as the X1, offering the promise of excellent capability in the snow, as the all-wheel drive systems are undoubtedly effective, but the car fell well short of this potential due to the tyres having grooves in the tread going round the tyre, but hardly any gaps in the tread going across the tyre. This means that the Countryman can certainly achieve levels of traction far in excess of a regular front-wheel drive MINI – or a Golf or Focus for that matter – which means that you can get moving in most snow conditions. However the car’s ability to steer on snow isn’t confidence-inspiring, and braking on snow is definitely a scary experience.

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As with the BMW X1, we tested the MINI back-to-back on the same route and in the same snow as another 4×4 fitted as standard with tyres that perform excellently on road and off road, and the difference was incredible.

Having said all that, the Countryman is billed as a crossover rather than a 4×4, so we’re not expecting it to climb mountains, but having winter tyres fitted to press cars when it snows would be a good idea.

Back to everyday matters, as well as being capable in the traction department, the Countryman is also a practical five-door hatchback. There’s a decent amount of space inside, with good levels of rear legroom, and a reasonable boot (with 350 litres of space, it’s the same size as a Volkswagen Golf). The rear seats can be moved forward and backwards, and their backrests can be tilted. In the UK the standard spec is for five seats, although the car can be specified as a no-cost option with just two seats in the rear, with the MINI rail between the seats.

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With just two rear seats you end up with a big hole between them, through which objects from the boot could easily shoot forward under braking. However the clever MINI designers thought of a solution for this – you can tilt up the false boot floor and slot it into place vertically behind the rear seats.

But this isn’t just an all-weather family hatchback – one of the most important things about this car is that it’s a MINI. In other words, it’s fun. It’s fun to drive in terms of the driving dynamics, but it’s also fun to drive in terms of its interior environment. Sitting in the car, it seems poles apart from the majority of very dull interiors normally found in this class of vehicle. Just gripping the steering wheel feels good, and everything else on the dash is just so much more interesting than that found in rivals. Yet the whole experience also feels very solid. Not that you should be in any doubt, but just in case, you’re reminded that you’re in a MINI by the relatively upright MINI windscreen.

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MINI Connected is a new feature, which allows increased levels of interactivity with the car from an iPhone, together with a web radio function, giving access to any radio station worldwide if it’s on the web. Other functions include Google local search and Google Send to Car functions, RSS news feeds, the ability to receive Facebook and Twitter posts by either viewing them on the on-board monitor or using MINI Connected voice output to have them read out.

In terms of performance, whereas the Cooper D Countryman has a 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine (with a six-speed gearbox) producing 112 bhp, the Cooper S ALL4 has a turbo petrol unit with 184 bhp. This means a 0-62 mph time of 7.9 seconds compared to the more leisurely 11.6 seconds in the diesel. Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the penalty is that the emissions of the Cooper S ALL4 climb from 129 g/km to 157 g/km CO2, and the fuel economy drops from 57.6 to 42.2 mpg.

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No surprise that it’s the Cooper S that will form the base for MINI’s return to world championship rallying in 2011. The Countryman WRC car is currently in testing by partner Prodrive, and success in motorsport will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the consumer’s image of the vehicle. Watch out for special Prodrive versions of the car in due course.

The MINI ALL4 all-wheel drive system is a key factor in the car’s ability to achieve some degree of off-road capability while maintaining relatively low emissions. When driving normally along a dry road, the car is just front-wheel drive – so reducing drag on the car from the four-wheel drive system. However if more grip is needed by the rear wheels, then power can be sent backwards – up to 100%, so theoretically, in certain conditions, this could be a rear-wheel drive MINI.

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The Countryman also comes in front-wheel drive form only, when it will be more of a direct rival to the Nissan Qashqai, a car which MINI acknowledges as a huge success. In front-wheel drive form, the Countryman One D emits just 115 g/km CO2. It’s worth noting that the Countryman comes in all the forms that the normal MINI does – One, One D, Cooper, Cooper D and Cooper S. All these models are available with just front-wheel drive, but only the Cooper, Cooper D and Cooper S variants are available with four-wheel drive.

So apart from the tyres, what are the Countryman’s weak points? Well, enlarging the MINI has resulted in the exterior styling perhaps not being the most elegant of designs. The electric window switches are still in a very unintuitive place, on the centre of the dash rather than on the doors. The large central speedo, as classic and retro as it may be, means that there are lots of small switches down near the floor of the car. And the fabric hooks to pull the rear seats down really don’t look as though they’d last for very long before breaking.

A key issue to be aware of is that the Countryman shares the ability of the MINI hatch to vastly increase the basic price by specifying a huge range of options. The Cooper S ALL4 costs £22,030. But let’s look at some options. Metallic paint is an extra £385. Leather can cost up to an extra £1490. The media pack can cost up to £1940. Alloy wheels can cost up to £1695. You get the idea. The options on our test car came to a massive £6,390. This takes the total price to £28,420. And the option list goes on and on.

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However with this car MINI has gone one step beyond the normal, huge options list. Because the Countryman has a centre rail, either just between the front seats, or in the front and the rear if four seats are specified, then this opens a whole new world of options to sell you. Attachments for the centre rail range from a glasses case to hooks which will safely transport your curry from the takeaway back to your house. Because the rail has a power supply, it’s even possible to mount a laptop on the rail, and power it.

Just in case you thought that was everything in terms of new ideas for options and accessories, it isn’t. The Countryman has mountings in its rear chassis into which you can fit a bike rack – and of course you would buy the rack from MINI.

Although the purchase price, especially when options are taken into account, is likely to be high, in its defence, the residual value of the Countryman is predicted to be good.

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Summary

The MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4 is the complete all-round car. It’s a family hatch that is also fun to drive. In addition it can provide added security in low traction conditions, and hopefully it will get you home if it snows. It has the character of a MINI and so it is much more interesting than the average family hatchback. If you also want it to be class-leading in terms of economy and emissions, go for the Cooper D. The fact that the Cooper S can’t add excellent fuel economy to its list of attributes means that it only gets a Beating Spirit rating of 9 out of 10, but it still remains a car that we like very much.

Paul Clarke

Fuel economy extra urban: 48.7 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 34.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 157 g/km
Green rating: VED band G – first year £155
Weight: 1450 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 20%
Price: £22,030 (From £16,000 to £22,030)
Insurance group: TBC
Power: 184 bhp
Max speed: 130 mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
DPF: Yes

Keywords: MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4 review, MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4 road test