The 2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman might just be the way to bring both fun and practicality right to your household's driveway. After all, this Mini has four doors and is bigger than a Mini Cooper, so that helps already, right?

Even though the Countryman is technically a crossover, it's still a Mini. If you have a family that's larger than four people, the Countryman won't accommodate the whole gang. If you're the type who regularly shops at warehouse stores and carts around lots of equipment, the Countryman might not be a good fit for your family, either.

But if you're the type of family who is looking for an enjoyable driving experience, reasonable gas mileage and values a little personality on the road — the 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman will deliver.

Driving the Countryman was a thrill on many levels. Its agility and handling is not only precise, but also fun. Parallel parking is a snap — squeezing into tight spaces is a non-issue — and U-turns are virtually stress-free. It felt nimble and connected to the road, and since my test car was a Cooper S model, it was quick, as well.

One thing not so small about the Countryman is its price. A base model starts at $26,050, including a $700 destination charge, but you'll need to pay extra for many amenities. Even the armrest in my test car was a $250 upgrade! My top-of-the-line Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 model with navigation and a leather interior (and yeah, an armrest) cost $36,850.

EXTERIOR


The Mini Cooper S Countryman is a compact crossover, and its taller dimensions are what differentiates it most from the original Mini Cooper. The Countryman appears more "grown up" than the Cooper, but it still has plenty of personality.

Looks aside, the best exterior feature for families is the Countryman's four doors. Four doors eliminate many of the hassles the two-door Cooper presents for families, and its added height isn't too tall that it hinders children from getting in and out of the vehicle by themselves. When it came to getting my daughter into her child-safety seat, I found the Countryman sat at just the right height to keep me from straining my back or hunching over as I strapped her in.

The large Mini badge on the rear door isn't only for appearance; it also serves as the liftgate handle. The rear design also lends itself to a convenient loading/unloading experience. I went on my weekly grocery run and fit five bags in the cargo area, two more bags behind my seat and still had room for my daughter's increasing entourage of stuffed animals and books strewn across the backseat. Disclaimer: I don't own a double stroller, and I didn't try to pull snack shack duty with the Countryman, either. I was able to fit my regular stroller in the back when I needed it, but I did have to place it upright on its side.

If you need to haul golf clubs or pick up a small bookshelf from Ikea, the Countryman could do it. The rear seats are easy to fold down, and there's even additional storage beneath the cargo floor.

A base Cooper Countryman is equipped with a 121-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. My upgraded Cooper S Countryman came with a 181-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. For both engines, a six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. The base engine paired with the manual transmission and front-wheel drive gets an EPA-estimated 27/35 mpg city/highway. The S with a manual transmission and front-wheel drive gets 26/31 mpg. An automatic transmission takes 1 mpg off the city number to 25/32 mpg. The numbers aren't far off from each other, but the big difference is the base engine can use regular unleaded gasoline while the turbo engine requires premium.

SENSE AND STYLE


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): More than Fair/Less than Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On

INTERIOR


It's no surprise that the Countryman's interior looks just as cool as the exterior. Right away, you'll notice the giant circular gauge dead center in the dash, and it'll be your first clue that this isn't your average car. Even though the Countryman is a more "grown-up" version of a Mini, the interior is still playful. My test car had mood lighting inside that would gradually (not obnoxiously) change colors. It was all the entertainment my toddler needed when we drove around at night.

Let's get to what really matters to families thinking about a Countryman: Is it too mini to fit my family? No, my family of three not only fit, but also we were all comfortable. Admittedly, my toddler now sits in a forward-facing child-safety seat, so I didn't have to deal with a rear-facing safety seat that eats up backseat space, even in larger cars. My husband had sufficient legroom up front, even with my daughter seated behind him. We actually enjoyed that we all could be close together inside the car — we'll call it cozy, but definitely not cramped.

Also worth noting is that the Countryman comes standard as a true four-seater, with bucket seats even in the back. My test car had an upgraded rear bench seat, which made it a five-seater. I'm not convinced it would be a comfortable ride for three in the back, but the bench seat does provide more wiggle room and a more spacious passenger experience for two.

As much as I loved the Countryman, it definitely comes with its quirks. The keyless entry is awkward; I had to make slow, deliberate movements to get the doors unlocked. The same went for the keyless start. To turn the car off, I had to push and hold the button for a few seconds. Otherwise, the car stayed on. It got better as time went on, but keyless features are intended to be convenient and my experience was the opposite due to the time and energy spent over such minute tasks.

The Mini is short on cupholders when it has the optional rear bench. The two up front are small, and there are none in the backseat. There isn't room to fit much of anything in the shallow door pockets, and the center console's bin made me laugh out loud. Consider this lack of storage as incentive for a cleaner and streamlined passenger experience, or just know up front that if you're a packrat, the Countryman isn't the car for you.

The Mini Countryman also features a variation of the iDrive interface found in most BMWs. IDrive's adaptation inside the Mini calls for a significant learning curve. My main frustrations came from my radio presets; it took lots of extra steps to access them, and I knew it would've been a whole lot simpler if the presets just had their own buttons like they do in most cars. The tiny knob used to navigate through the menus takes some getting used to, as well. It seemed like I was always turning it the wrong way when I was trying move through each menu.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

SAFETY


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has named the 2012 Mini Countryman a Top Safety Pick. It received the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. It hasn't been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The 2012 Countryman has standard front-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. All-wheel drive, rear parking sensors, active rear head restraints and auto-leveling, adaptive headlights are optional.

Child-safety seats fit well inside the Countryman. I invited another mom and toddler pair out for a jaunt in the Countryman. Both forward-facing seats fit without problems. I was able to fit a rear-facing safety seat in the Countryman, but the front passenger seat had to be moved forward to do so. The two sets of Latch anchors are easily accessible.

Get more safety information on the 2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman here.