Before Audi, BMW, Volvo, Lexus, Buick, and Mercedes-Benz introduced their small premium SUV/Crossovers – there was MINI.
Yes, BMW-controlled MINI. A name synonymous with the transverse-mounted engine since 1959. Once a two-door mini-car, the MINI brand has grown since. Actually, they grew a few times over the decades to encompass wagons, vans, convertibles, roadsters, two-seat coupes, and four-door hatchbacks. The original Austin/Morris Mini helped frame an entire automotive industry through platform sharing. Remember the Maxi and the “Landcrab”?
Fast forward to 2003 when BMW sorted out what they wanted to keep from its acquisition of Rover Cars. They loved how MINI changed the automotive universe back in 1959, so the Bavarians wanted to sow more lightning from the bottle. Well…they did.
Today, you can choose between five body styles, a choice of three levels of performance, and other options in terms of color, trim, and vehicle customization.
For the purpose of this review, I chose one MINI – the most popular one right now. It is their SAV (what BMW calls their SUV/Crossover lineup), known as the Countryman.
The Countryman may look like a bloated version of the iconic MINI. If you think that way, you’re missing the point. A brand’s design language can be adapted to some types of vehicles. MINI actually does a great job with this. That is why the Countryman has all of the key design elements to not only identify as a MINI – it serves to set itself apart from the competition.
With that said, the current generation Countryman just went through a mid-cycle refresh, as have the entire MINI lineup. The 2021 Countryman has a different grille texture, a more aggressive lower bumper, and a few other updates inside and out. We’ll go over the other details shortly.
Meanwhile, the taller Countryman offers wide opening doors, a more upright windshield with better side corner angle vision, and a wide-opening tailgate. My tester – the Cooper S with ALL4 all-wheel-drive – came in a sporty Chili Red primary paint color, with black mirror caps, roof paint, a duet of racing stripes, and wheels. The red-and-black color scheme gives this Countryman a lot of personality.
The finishing touch on this Countryman were the taillights etched with the Union Jack on each one. As much as it is a part of BMW Group, MINI wants the world to know where it all began – in ye ole Oxford, England. They still make MINIs there, by the way.
More of that personality was found inside the Countryman. The Signature interior motif adds a few more luxuries to this vehicle. The leather upholstery has a sporty feel, as do the seats. Heavy bolstering will read your body and locks you in. Some parts of the driver’s seat can be firm, while others are compliant. My tester has power adjustments for rake, recline, and lumbar support, as well as steering column adjustments.
There is a lot of headroom in the Countryman, which is highly appreciated in both front and back seats. Rear legroom varies depending on the mix of passengers. If you’re as big as I am, don’t sit behind me. If all four of you are of average size, you’ll will definitely enjoy the ride comfortably.
Cargo space starts off with just 17.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats. You can stow away precious cargo by lifting the load floor and put them out of sight. Fold down the rear seats for 47.6 cubic feet of anything you take home for your annual holiday celebration.
The instrument panel yielded many surprises. The big update for 2021 was the switch to a fully-digital instrument binnacle. The tachometer and fuel gauge look analog, but they are not. Actually, they’re clearer to read, as well as the digital speedometer. A clean design to fit the brand styling tenets of MINI.
The 8.8-inch touchscreen anchors the big circular pod that used to be where the speedometer rested in older models. This is the hub for everything MINI Connected, the telematics and infotainment system for the brand. You can also connect Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly with smooth operation. Harmon Kardon provided premium sound throughout the cabin.
I also love that you can add mood lighting to your drive. A switch on the roof console can change the accent color inside. That also includes the “openings” in the instrument panel trim and in the door bins. The overall effect was stunning.
Speaking of sound, one cannot ignore the grunt from the 189-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine on this Cooper S Countryman. Since this SUV…crossover…oh, yes, SAV weighed under 3,400 pounds, you truly felt its power. The low end grunt – 207 pound-feet worth – was definitely felt when passing or getting on the highway. This tester had the eight-speed automatic and the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. Shifts were smooth and the shifter is one of the better ones coming from BMW.
As for fuel economy, I could not get a proper reading for testing. However, MINI states that their fuel consumption average for this model is 26 MPG according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The ride quality on this Countryman is very smooth. It absorbed the streets of the Twin Cities like a champ. Handling was fine, though I noticed a bit of roll and lean on some curves and maneuvers. Of course, I was in "Mid" mode. If I switch to the "Sport" drive mode, then the dampers tighten up for a firmer ride and flatter cornering. Keep in mind, this is not a Hardtop 2-door where the center of gravity creates an even more handling and corner prowess. For the higher-riding Countryman, enthusiasts will be pleased with the difference Sport mode makes.
The same could be said for the steering system. In Mid mode, the steering is actually tight, precise, and responsive. Sport only tightens things up by making the system feel heavier and even more precise. As for the brakes, the pedal feel is great, and the system feels confident. Stopping power is superb in both normal and panic situations.
My 2021 Cooper S Countryman ALL4 came with a sticker price of $42,085, including the upgraded Signature trim. If you think that’s on the high side – remember that MINI is a premium brand and competes against the likes of the Volvo XC40, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Audi Q3. Not to mention that it gets cross-shopped with its own BMW X1 and X2. The Countryman lineup starts at $29,100 for a front-drive Cooper with the 134-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine.
If you want more than just what you see and read about in this review, may I suggest the John Cooper Works version of the Countryman? That’s 301 horsepower of absolute SAV fun. Hmmm…I'd like a turn in that one.
That’s the beauty of MINI. No matter which body type you choose, you have so many options to make it truly yours. It is one of the few brands that give you that freedom of choice. It is also why they have a very loyal owner/fan base.
The other thing that I took away from this 2021 Countryman is how much it will make even the most jaded driver happy. In the automotive context, happiness is not an absolute. It is different with each brand and genre of vehicle. However, driving a MINI is a source of happiness. It is sunshine on a Cloudy day. It is Bobby McFerrin playing through its Harman Kardon speakers.
In all, the 2021 MINI Countryman is a really good and fun-to-drive SAV/SUV/Crossover for its class and money. It has a lot to offer for those who want to stand out in a crowd. It will put a smile on your face every time you drive it. I think the latter is a testament to what a MINI – especially the Countryman – will do for you.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Motorwerks MINI, Golden Valley, MN
All photos by Randy Stern