Months in service: One
Miles to date: 1957
After taking delivery of the Mini Countryman at Mini HQ in New Jersey, our Cooper S Countryman All4 spent its first month in New York, where first impressions were formed and where we began to evaluate the relative merits of the equipment we'd ordered.
Right off the bat, we're liking the turbocharged engine, which seem more essential in this car than any other Mini, if only because of the Countryman's greater size and weight. It being mid-summer, all-wheel drive hasn't yet been able to show off its winter-weather advantages, but it's welcome even on dry, sunny days because it effectively vanquishes torque steer.
When pulling away from a stop, it takes a moment before the turbo kicks in, so if you don't rev the engine when you're slipping the clutch the car can bog down for a second (at that point, the hill-holder feature is often quite welcome). Then the turbo kicks in, and the Cooper S Countryman scoots ahead with characteristic Mini verve. Mini claims the 0-60 time to be 7.3 seconds (with all-wheel-drive and the manual transmission), significantly quicker than the base engine's 9.8 seconds (with the manual and front-wheel drive). So far, in mostly around-town driving, we're averaging 29 mpg, which is not bad at all -- although that is on premium fuel.
The shift action and clutch are getting full marks, as is the electric power steering. Mini does electric assist better than just about anyone. Despite its larger dimensions, the Countryman is nearly as zippy through traffic as the standard Mini. Alas, the ride is pretty harsh, which is also very much like the standard Mini. At this point, we're glad to have skipped the sport suspension, but we're thinking that the upsized, 18-inch wheels were probably a mistake. Impacts are sharp, and the car can skip sideways when you hit a bump on an off-ramp.
We used the Countryman to go out to dinner with another couple, which is not something you would do with any other Mini. There were no complaints from those riding in back. In fact, they were ooh-ing and ahh-ing over how cool the car was. That is, until we hit our first sharp-edged bump, which caused a very different expletive -- and a mumbled apology from the driver.
As to other features of this particular Countryman, opinions are still forming on the navigation system. It comes with a Mini version of BMW's iDrive, which is somewhat cumbersome to use. We have not, however, dialed in to all the system's features, so more on that anon. There is a little cell-phone cradle thing on the center console, but it's poorly located (under the center armrest); if you just drop your cell phone into one of the two cupholders instead, you've effectively used up half your stowage space.
As its first month was drawing to a close, New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman grabbed the keys and was setting off for Pittsburgh with his family to take in a Pirates game. Since our Countryman wears Pirates colors, maybe they got preferential parking. In any event, check back next month to see what Kitman had to say.