First Drive: 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman

Don Sherman

The Mini Countryman is available with three high-end audio systems all of which provide CD, MP3, and auxiliary input connections and six speakers. The Connected feature described above is available with and without navigation and it includes both Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Map information is stored in flash memory with updates enabled by the USB interface. The 6.5-inch nav screen not only guides you to your destination, it's also useful for displaying call list information, business cards, and album covers. Using the voice output function, you can have calendar entries read to you while you drive.

Go Power
In keeping with its core minimalist mission, the Mini Countryman's engines are hard-working, fuel-efficient 1.6-liter four-bangers. Both use Valvetronic intake valve control engineered by the BMW Group. The base (Cooper) version produces 121 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque while the turbocharged and intercooled Cooper S engine cranks out 181 horsepower. Full tilt, the turbo delivers 192 lb-ft for a short period exploiting over boost (rising temporarily from 17.4 to 20.3 psi), and 177 lb-ft during continuous full-whip operation.

The turbo demonstrates excellent enthusiasm for its work including a hearty howl as it crowds the 6250 rpm redline (common to all Minis). The manual transmission is a joy to use with well orchestrated clutch and shifter action. According to the factory, the 0-60 sprint can be accomplished in seven seconds flat. The only notable fault is that the revs hang high following a quick drop of the accelerator pedal, an unfortunate byproduct of the Valvetronic system.

The 6-speed automatic tries hard to please, offering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a manual shifting mode when the console lever is used. Unfortunately it's programmed for automatic upshifts at the redline though it does at least hold gears during deceleration into bends.

Punching a Sport button on the center stack keys up more aggressive steering assist, throttle response, and automatic transmission shift characteristics.

ALL4 Fun
Mini's first 4-wheel driveline uses Getrag and GKN components to bring the rear wheels in on the propulsion action. A bevel gear added to the transaxle spins the longitudinal drive shaft at front-wheel speed. A computer-controlled clutch pack in the rear differential unit engages on cue to energize the aft wheels. This clutch is capable of locking completely so 100-percent of available torque can theoretically be delivered by the rear wheels, assuming the front axle is on something slippery such as ice, wet grass, or mud. To avoid overloading the light-duty rear axle, torque management kicks in long before things get too exciting. A dab or two of automatic ABS braking controls the left-to-right torque split. The system is quite effective at eradicating torque steer while adding only 130 or so pounds to the curb weight.

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