First Drive: 2011 MINI Countryman
Tamara Warren has an interesting gig — driving MINIs across the USA for MINI Takes the States, and then blogging about it. One of the perks of the journey was a first drive of the 2011 MINI Countryman. Here are her thoughts:
After nearly 1000 miles of MINI driving across America, I have a solid grasp on the finer points of the zippy Clubman handling, which gives me comparative reference for the Countryman. I also have the unique perspective of the devoted MINI drivers I’ve met. Along the route, I’ve listened to a range of opinions on what the Countryman means to the loyal group of owners at MTTS. The overall assessment is that the Countryman is a well-regarded new addition to the family. In fact, I have yet to bump into any real criticism. Many drivers I spoke to expressed the intention to buy. Others just wanted a chance to test drive to answer the proverbial question: Does the Countryman have MINI DNA?
Let’s start with the looks. I’ve driven behind the Countryman on stretches of endless highway. From a distance, the backend is easily mistakable for one its smaller MINI siblings. The exterior retains the flowing form language that conjures up the notion of classic British sportiness, and this shape comes into its own on the streets, leading a pack of Clubmans, Convertibles and Hardtops.
The interior is where the Countryman takes its design cues to a new level. The position of the seats adds depth and dimension. The back seat has separate seating for two, which creates the sense of larger proportion, accentuated by a high roofline. The model I drove was black leather with red trim and accents. Black is a color that tends to shrink environments, but the cabin still felt generous, packed with our suitcases. The clean design integrated the technology in a bulbous center consul that was operated with the toggle of a switch. The surface features reminded me of something that might be found at the MOMA design store.
I started out in the passenger seat as David Duncan, Manager, Product Strategy and Aftersales for MINI took the reins. Leaving downtown St. Louis, the ride from the passenger-seat perspective was smooth. The cabin was quiet and conducive to conversation. We switched spots half way to Kansas City. I immediately found the Countryman to be light on its feet and responsive on the throttle and passing, with the S living up to its extra spunk. I drove the six-speed manual transmission, and felt equally comfortable at high speeds and coasting. It handles more like a car than the average crossover. When the Missouri sky turned a shade of granite, I felt no change on the wet surface as the drops fell. As I made my way down I-70, a crossover driver in another make pulled alongside, craning their neck for a better look in what seemed to be envy.
Countryman is not exactly like anything else on the road. That’s because it is truly the next generation of MINI, where logic and fun intersect. So to answer the question: Countryman is a dynamo when it needs to be quick on the draw, and a sensible companion with elbow room. In essence, it’s a more refined MINI. MINI folk, rest easy.