You have to pay to play
THE GOOD
  • Fun to drive
  • Premium build
  • AWD
THE BAD
  • Options add up quickly
  • Busy ride
  • Lacks some driver assist systems expected at this price

Just like jumbo shrimp, the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 is a bit of an oxymoron.

This largest of Minis lacks the ultimate nimbleness and speed of its smaller sibling but it’s still very much a Mini, showing quirky style, nostalgic whimsy, and enthusiastic road manners. The fact that the all-wheel-drive Countryman can accommodate four adults and carry quite a bit of stuff makes this chic oddball an endearing – if pricey – offering.

Styling: 7/10

Well, what can you say about this Mini in a puffer jacket? Does its quirky charm overcome the ungainly proportions? Is it huggable, or just wilfully weird? I’ve heard both sides of this debate.

The Countryman gets some visual upgrades for 2021, including a restyled front end and Union Jack taillights. Seen on this tester is the lovely new-for-2021 Sage Green metallic paint ($590) and Piano Black exterior trim ($550). Yes, the Mini Cooper S Countryman is an odd duck, but you sure can’t call it boring or even remotely mainstream, and for that it deserves a hearty “jolly good!”

Safety: 7.5/10

In a compact crossover that just tickles $50,000 as-tested, one would expect a dinghy-load of advanced safety systems. The optional Driving Assistant package ($1,000) bestows forward collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control, but blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, or any kind of lane-keeping alert or assist are not on the Mini menu. Fair enough, the Mini is a driver’s car, but blind-spot monitoring is always a handy feature to have.

In the plus ledger, this little upright hedgehog affords good visibility, all-wheel drive, nimble moves, plus standard LED headlights and rear parking sensors.

Practicality: 7/10

The cargo area is a bit small for this class, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this Mini is still a pretty useful tool. The powered hatch opens up to reveal a low load floor, which means taller items won’t impede outward visibility. Flip up the floor panel and there is a generous hidden space below deck. The 40/20/40-split rear seat is a nice feature, and it folds nearly flat, opening up 1,348 L of usable cargo space.

Up front, there’s some useful storage – decent-sized door pockets with bottle holders, a storage/phone charge cubby between the seats, and a bin in front of the shifter.

User Friendliness: 8.5/10

Those familiar with BMW’s admirably logical iDrive interface will find the Mini’s ergonomics easy to navigate. A rotary control knob surrounded by tactile buttons for calling up basic categories (menu, media, map, etc.) provide intuitive access to most functions. The 8.5-inch touchscreen that sits within the huge central circle in the dash is within easy reach. (Well, what isn’t in a Mini?) Then there’s a volume knob, but no tuning knob.

Below the screen are three large dials and an array of hard buttons for HVAC controls. The row of funky retro toggle switches – engine stop–start, drive mode, etc. – look cool and function well. New for 2021 is this tester’s digital gauge cluster that moves up and down with the steering column, ensuring good visibility for all.

On first viewing, the Mini’s interior with its cartoonish riot of circles and retro touches looks like an ergonomic nightmare, but it actually turns out to be quite user-friendly.

Features: 7/10

Standard kit for the 2021 Countryman Cooper S ALL4’s $35,990 starting price is a bit thin on the ground; 18-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, black leatherette, single-zone climate control, sliding and reclining rear seat, heated and manual front seats. To get Apple CarPlay (Android Auto isn’t available) and some safety systems, one has to dive into the options list. This top-spec $7,350 Premier+ package adds most of what you want – automatic trunk, comfort access, sun protection glazing, auto-dimming mirror, heated front electric seats with memory, dual-zone auto climate control, upgraded audio, head-up display, navigation, 8.8-inch touchscreen, wireless charging, and the new full digital instrument display, among others.

As noted earlier, the Driving Assistant package ($1,000) adds forward collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control but you still can’t get blind-spot detection. The useful electric front window defroster runs $250.

The upgraded audio gets high marks for its clarity and rich, even sound, while the head-up display projects speed, road sign, audio, and navigation info on a small dashtop flip-up screen.

Minis are infinitely customizable, and adding a few more thousand dollars to this car’s bottom line would not be hard to do. The fact that this near-$50,000 specimen does not have real leather or a heated steering wheel is a tad disconcerting.

Power: 7.5/10

The Mini’s 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, making 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, provides adequate if not overly enthusiastic thrust. After all, this maxi all-wheel-drive Mini weighs in at 1,594 kg (3,514 lb). On the plus side, the four-pot delivers its power with zesty linearity. BMW knows its way around turbocharged engines, and its four-cylinder units are stellar. The brainy eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and always finds the right gear.

Comfort: 7.5/10

Minis have never really placed high in the comfort department, generally sacrificing ride compliance for signature go-kart handling. This tall-boy Countryman does its best to straddle both worlds, but doesn’t quite find its happy place. The ride is firm and can get jittery over rough surfaces, which for those of us who live in the pock-marked Greater Toronto Area (GTA) could get tiresome. We recommend opting for the $500 adaptive dampers – money well spent.

Nonetheless, away from rough road surfaces, the Cooper S Countryman ALL4 is a pretty comfy place to spend time. The front buckets arrive at an expert blend of firm support and long-distance comfort, and those in the second row will find the contoured seats to their liking, along with generous (for this class) legroom. Headroom is to the max – Marge Simpson and Abe Lincoln could go on a date and neither would be compromised. They’d also appreciate the cabin’s high build quality and big whimsical illuminated ring that changes its hues depending on the car’s functions.

With its high stance and wide opening doors, getting in and out of the Countryman Mini is easy. A heated steering wheel is missed, but the well-calibrated tri-level front seat heat provides a nice glow at the lowest setting.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

This Mini might be plus-sized, but the way it goes down the road is very Mini indeed. The steering shows a meaty heft and the car responds instantly to inputs. There’s a puppy-like eagerness here, and even though the Countryman can’t dance like the smaller Mini coupe, it’s still the most engaging of any subcompact crossover. This tester was fitted with 18-inch winter tires (as opposed to the 19-inch performance rubber on the spec sheet) so ultimate grip and zippiness were compromised. The brakes feel strong and progressive, and selecting sport mode via one of those groovy dash toggles gives marginally sharper throttle response and a more aggressive shift map. Odd that there were no shift paddles to play with, though.

BMW knows how to make fine engines, and in this case the brand also managed to make this turbocharged 2.0L four actually sound good – a feat that pretty much eludes all other automakers. No agricultural coarseness here, just a meaningful snarl that carried through right up to the redline. Is the sound piped in? Maybe so, but I’m okay with that.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

The Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 asks for premium fuel, and on my watch returned 7.8 L/100 km. On extended highway trips, fuel consumption dropped to the low 6.0 L/100 km range. Official figures are 10.4 L/100 km in the city, 7.6 on the highway, and 9.2 combined.

Value: 6.5/10

Premium European vehicles get pricey when dipping into the options list, which in many cases could be considered the “necessities” list as a lot of the stuff needed to round out the equipment level is not standard equipment. As such, this 2021 Cooper S Countryman ALL4’s base price of $35,990 quickly swells to just over $47,000 – the biggest hit being the $7,350 Premium+ package that adds a host of goodies. This Mini does indeed look and drive like a premium offering, yet at this price we’re still missing a heated steering wheel, Android Auto, shift paddles, and real leather.

The Verdict

The 2021 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4, like all the vehicles in the fun and funky Mini stable, is a right-brain purchase. You’re not heading to a Mini store by following a path of hard logic; you’re there because these odd little British cars tug at your heartstrings. Drawing on a history that goes back to 1959, these modern interpretations, courtesy of BMW, are distinctly different from anything else on the road, and place fun-to-drive dynamics and funky styling as high priorities. Well-engineered and well-built, the Cooper S Countryman ALL4 can get pricey, but in the Mini world, you have to pay to play.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $35,990
Peak Horsepower 189 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 207 lb-ft @ 1,350 rpm   Destination Fee $2,245
Fuel Economy 10.4/7.6/9.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $49,375
Cargo Space 498 / 1,348 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$11,040 – 19-inch Turnstile Spoke 2-tone wheels, $750; Premier+ Package (automatic trunk, comfort access, sun protection glazing, auto-dimming mirror, heated front electric seats with memory, auto climate control, Harman Kardon audio, head-up display, ConnectedDrive Services, remote services, real time traffic info, Apple CarPlay, XL app integration, navigation, wireless charging, extended USB, full digital instrument display), $7,350; Driver Assist, $1,000; metallic paint, $590; piano black exterior trim, $550; ALL4 exterior styling, $500; electric front window defroster, $250; performance tires, $50