Circles, Style, Performance and Fun – The Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4


I have always wanted to test drive a Mini Cooper. Yeah, ok, they are “cute” but that’s not the reason. They are fun – fun to look at, fun to experience and fun to drive. And they have quite a following of devoted fans. In fact, as I was test driving the 2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 on a roadtrip to Los Angeles from San Francisco, I saw another person driving the same model of Mini. We made eye contact and she threw me a big smile as if to say “you made a great car choice, don’t you agree?” The Mini Cooper in general is a car that gets your attention. It’s styling is unique and memorable. It stands out and not in a bad way.

When you think of the Mini Cooper, the name itself makes you think that it is small. And, well, for the most part, it is. In just about any model of Mini, you can seat 4 adults, sometimes you do have to give up a little bit of leg room or luggage space. But if you are looking for a car that is great in an urban environment, needed for small parking spaces, you really should test out the Mini. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was told to test drive the Mini Cooper S Countryman. I was told that it was the largest Mini that you could get and and wanted to see how truly well would fit a family of 5 plus a dog (luckily it’s a tiny dog). Believe it or not, the Countryman was more than adequate for our family, pretty much dispelling the issue of it being “tiny.”


Mini Cooper as a brand and car has been around for over 50 years. It was developed to combat the fuel crisis of the late ’50s in England. The desire of the designers was to create a small, affordable, fuel-efficient car that could carry 4 adults. When the first Mini came out in 1959, it had a surprising design – wheels were thrust forward and back and the engine was mounted sideways, all to ensure that the cockpit was large enough for adults but the car itself was still small and light. Because of its low center of gravity, small size and unique wheel placement, it was a nimble vehicle. And it could corner, especially due to the weight being over the front wheels because of the forward and sideways engine mount. As the Mini grew in popularity, people started to personalize it (something that isn’t lost at all in the modern-day Mini Cooper). In the 1970’s, while the popularity remained high in the UK, new emissions standards in the US forced the sales to stop. The final classic Mini rolled off the productions lines in 1999 just as a new Mini concept car was introduced. The Mini was reborn and has definitely made its mark globally.

The Mini Cooper Countryman looks small from a distance but once you get closer to it and stand next to it, you suddenly realize that it is pretty big. The ability to seat 5 is actually an optional feature ($250) but well worth it, especially if you have kids. If you get the 4-seater, you get four bucket seats with a center divider. With the 5-seater, the rear row is more of a bench seating arrangement.


Since I’m talking about seating, it makes sense to mention the storage. The super small Mini doesn’t have a lot, the Countryman does, and when you fold down the rear seat bench, you can really pack it full of luggage (think loading up that car to head down to college – the Countryman can handle a lot of stuff). With the seats up, there is plenty of room for luggage…


…and with the seats folded down, even more so!


And, as you can see, you have many ways to fold down the seats, just one, just the center or all.

So, the Countryman is bigger than other Mini’s and it is actually quite comparable to some of the crossovers in the market. But what else makes it distinct? Style!

While I captured many of the unique design elements in photos, you might want to watch this video review of the Countryman (also available directly on YouTube):


The first thing that struck me about the Mini Cooper Countryman was how unique looking it was, from both the exterior and the interior. On the outside, you are greeted with a whimsical yet bold styling, especially depending on how you get it painted. There are literally hundreds of ways that you can customize the exterior, from color to decals to stylized accessories. You can really make it unique to your taste. It has plenty of the throwbacks to the original Mini, especially in terms of the headlights and taillights, the roofline and the boxy look. There is no other car on the road that looks quite like a Mini.


But the Mini’s uniqueness in style doesn’t stop on the outside, once you climb into the cabin, you again are greeted by memorable style. The thing that struck me about the design was that there was a theme of circles throughout the vehicle. Obviously, this is headed up by the center console speedometer and digital information center.


It does take a little bit of getting used to having the speedometer in the center of the dash. It’s huge and antique-looking, simply because it is a big red arrow that climbs up the circle the faster you go. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of the analog and classic speedometer with the digital screen in the center. Be sure to watch the video above to see the information system in action. And, to complement the circle theme, you have two circular air vents.

But the circles don’t stop there. You see it obviously in the Mini Cooper emblem…


… in the side view mirrors…


…and in the door paneling.


….and even in the seat designs (see the rear seat photo towards the top of the page).

There are other design choices that I particularly enjoyed – the toggle switches are a great example. These reminded me of an airplane cockpit. There were two main toggle sections of note, in the front of the roofline which controlled the sunroof and reading lights and lower down in the center console which were for the windows and some other controls.


Frankly, I thought that this was unique, distinct and quite functional. In fact most of the controls were quite intuitive. The main screen that handled the navigation, audio and other controls is placed right in the center of the the speedometer circle. Again, you can see the console in action in the video above. This too was a design that jumps out at you initially and then you see how it all fits in completely with the ambiance of the Mini. Also, the theme of circles continues here, you dial through the different settings on the screen using a rotating joystick located near the gearbox. Not only can you spin the joystick, you also make selections using that same joystick by clicking right to get more details on a particular menu Item or left to go back. There is also a button that lets you cycle through the most used menu items (contacts, navigation and audio).

It does take a little while to get your brain and muscles trained for this interface, as well as to understand what some of the icons represent, especially on the navigation. But after a few days, you can definitely become an expert whipping through all of the commands available at your fingertips.

Another interesting design choice that I haven’t quite made up my mind on is the “dock” for your smartphone. Located right under the airplane-like handbrake, is a small tray that holds your phone in place with an elastic band. You can then plug in an iPhone or other smartphone and use the closely located connectors for that. While it is great that your phone has a place that is secure and holds your phone in place, it is impossible to interact with your phone in any way which is both good and bad; good, in that you aren’t distracted by your phone while you drive – all calls and music appear on the screen of the Mini, but bad because if you do need to interact with your phone, it is impossible to see or remove easily without pulling over first and removing it.

The Mini Cooper’s technology is definitely quite good, but you aren’t beaten over the head with it. It is carefully balanced into the style of the car. Here are a few more photos that I took (also available on my Flickr set here):


And my review wouldn’t be complete without discussing the performance of this seemingly small car. One word sums it up in terms of drivability – fun! The Countryman is peppy. It’s solid. It gets off the line quickly and it corners like there is no tomorrow. As I mentioned, because of the design of the wheel base, having the tires way forward and back on the car’s chassis, you can hit the corners hard without any kind of complaint from the tires. In fact, the Mini Cooper is really meant to be driven sportingly. The version that I drove has a turbo and the ALL4 designation means that it has all-wheel-drive on all of the time. I did manage to squeak out an average MPG of about 26 which was a combo of city and highway. The Countryman has 181 horsepower powered by a twin-turbo, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine.


It comes with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. I drove the automatic which also has paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Revs are high and loud a bit but not to the point that it is overwhelming. You definitely know that the turbo-charged engine is doing it’s this and the acceleration is quite confident. Occasionally, I pushed the “Sport” button to make the revs a bit higher and tighten up the steering and suspension but for the most part, I kept it in the “Normal” drive mode. The Mini is fun enough in even the Normal mode.

The 2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 has an MSRP of $27,750 but when you put in all of the available options, you are going to come out around $35,000. But that is a reasonable price to pay for the fun you receive with the Countryman. I loved the Countryman as did my entire family. It’s definitely one I would put on my short list of cars I would want.

Disclosure Text: Apart from the 7-day loan of the 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman, I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.

HTD says: Mini Cooper has really brought life back to driving by resurrecting the fun that enveloped the Mini Cooper of yesteryear.

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Disclosure: This is a global disclosure for product review articles on HighTechDad. It does not apply to Automobile reviews and there are other exceptions. Therefore, it may or may not be applicable to this particular article. I may have a material connection because I may have received a sample of a product for consideration in preparing to review the product and write this or other content. I was/am not expected to return the item after my review period. All opinions within this and other articles are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.

About HighTechDad

Michael Sheehan (“HighTechDad”) is an avid technologist, writer, journalist, content marketer, blogger, tech influencer, social media pundit, loving husband and father of 3 beautiful girls living in the San Francisco Bay Area. This site covers technology, consumer electronics, Parent Tech, SmartHomes, cloud computing, gadgets, software, hardware, parenting “hacks,” and other tips & tricks.

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