NEWS

Mini Cooper Countryman: First Look

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  • Competes with: VW Tiguan, Honda CR-V, Land Rover LR2
  • Looks like: A Mini SUV, which it is
  • Drivetrain: 120-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder or 184-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder; front- or all-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Early 2011

In 2008 Mini introduced its Clubman, a slightly elongated version of its popular Cooper hatchback. That “wagon,” however, wasn’t enough for buyers looking for a larger vehicle or the option of all-wheel drive. Those prayers have been answered with the all-new Mini Cooper Countryman, an actual crossover with Mini’s quirky British style. However, fans will have to wait at least a year before they can buy one.

The fact that the Countryman has optional all-wheel drive and four traditional doors should be enough to please the masses, but there is a lot more to like. Mini is adding variable valve timing to the Cooper S model’s turbo engine for better fuel economy. It also packs 12 more horsepower than the Cooper S hatchback or Clubman. The base engine gets a minor bump in power, too, from 118 to 120. No mileage estimates were given, but expect them to be similar to the current 28/37 mpg city/highway for the base model and 26/34 mpg for the Cooper S version. Seventeen-inch wheels come standard on the Cooper, and 18-inch wheels are standard on the Cooper S. A John Cooper Works edition will come to market sometime in 2011.

What about the cargo area? Is it big? Not really.

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It sounds like an interesting system, too. All-wheel drive is available as an option on either the Cooper or Cooper S Countryman and sends 50% of the power to the rear wheels during most driving. Under heavy acceleration, it can send all of the power to the rear wheels. Along with the fact that Mini says the Countryman will feature the same trademark handling of the rest of the lineup, this all-wheel drive could make the Countryman quite a performer.

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The rear seats slide forward and back and recline, which should make it the most comfortable Mini yet. A panoramic moonroof will also be an available option.

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Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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