If you’re going to tear through the Lake Country of rural Lithuania, I suggest you attack the roads in a 2015 Mini Cooper Countryman.
Admittedly, that’s probably not likely to happen this week or next for most drivers, so it’s safe to assume the Countryman will function equally as well in whatever metropolitan area you inhabit. I jumped into my test run Countryman during the 2015 IMM Rally near Vilnius. The event included a race (a big scavenger hunt, really), and I chose the bulked up MINI Cooper because I expected a little off-roading, some dirt roads and some dodgy pavement along the way through rural Lithuania.
The Countrymen is a larger version of the standard MINI Cooper in look and function. Unlike some automakers who greatly distinguish their SUVs and crossovers from their hatchbacks and sedans, the MINI line sticks with the classic styling of the original car and opts for variations on the central theme. You’ll see the same thing from Fiat with its 500 model — with the Fiat 500X emerging as a bigger version of the original 500, while retaining the same styling cues.
The MINI tag really no longer applies to the make in a size sense. You can drop an original British MINI inside the current Cooper. The Countryman jumps up another size from that.
Coming standard with an inline four cylinder engine and six speed manual transmission, the crossover starts around $25,600. Different trim packages work northward from there. Regardless, the Countryman will comfortably seat five, unlikes its smaller sister, and pul down an MPG of 25/31 en route.
While not designed for heavy duty towing or off-roading right off the line, the Countryman is aimed at the urban crossover crowd and is intended for passenger transport with a little more payload. You can get your Countryman beefed up for more aggressive driving on different terrain depending on your trim and customization choices, but I took the standard vehicle into the IMM rally race.
As expected, the rally took me and my co-driver over hill and dale — and I drove it hard. The build quality is strong, if not overly rugged. The acceleration is adequate, and the handling reliable. I was most impressed with the fact that I did indeed have to run the Countryman over some forest paths and dirt backroads — sometimes at speed. The crossover held up well and returned a general sense of deft sure-footedness that allowed me to slide it around a bit and enjoy the first.
While I can’t imagine most would-be buyer would put a MINI Cooper Countryman through similar ordeals in daily use, it’s good to know the little SUV is up to the challenge.