Two years ago, when gas prices surpassed $4 per gallon in the U.S., many believed it signaled the decline of the SUV class. However, since then gas prices have moderated to around $3 per gallon and auto manufacturers continue to make SUVs more efficient. SUVs have rebounded in a big way. In 2011, there will be more new SUV models than ever before.
One new model entering the SUV market is the 2011 Mini Countryman. The Countryman is Mini’s take on an SUV. It borrows its styling and engines from the Mini Cooper, but offers noticeably more space and an all-wheel drive option. It is the first Mini model to offer true four passenger doors, with room for 5 passengers.
The Countryman has a length of 161.3 inches, nearly 13.5 feet, comparable to a Honda Fit. However, the Countryman is nearly 4 inches wider than the Fit with a width comparable to a Volkswagen Jetta. The added width is noticeable as the Countryman has 8.8 inches more shoulder room for driver and front seat passenger than the Cooper. Overall, the Countryman is nearly 15 inches longer than the Cooper and offers a significantly higher seating position.
Rear seat passengers also travel in more comfort. The Countryman has rear seats that slide 5.1 inches and have a recline option, giving the vehicle added versatility. It adds up to a total of 41 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded flat, enough to hold a cartful of items from Costco. With the rear sets up, the Countryman has 12.2-cubic feet of cargo room.
The Countryman will be offered in two trims. The base model offers Mini’s modest 1.6-liter 120 horsepower engine while the S trim line offers a turbocharged version of the 1.6 liter engine that produces 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The S delivers much more spirited driving performance with 0-60 times under 8 seconds, even with all-wheel drive.
Both Countryman trims are sold with the choice of either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The all-wheel drive option adds about 150 pounds to the model’s weight. Even in S trim with all-wheel drive, the Countryman should get about 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, making it one of the most fuel efficient SUVs on the market.
The Countryman S comes with 17 inches tires with 18 and 19-inch options. Mini’s renowned go-kart style handling is still present in the Countryman. When it goes on sale in the U.S. in early 2011, the Countryman will undoubtedly be the best handling SUV on the market.
Mini, which is owned by BMW, has final assembly of the Countryman in Graz, Austria. It is the first Mini to be built outside of Great Britain. The Countryman is expected to have a base model suggested retail price of about $24,000 with S trims easily topping $30,000 with added options.