CarCostCanada

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4 Road Test

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman is in its second-generation, but still looks every bit a Mini.

There are certain market segments an automaker wants to do well in. Obviously, higher end models like large sedans, SUVs and sports cars present the opportunity for higher profits, and are therefore important to any brand’s bottom line, while larger compact and mid-size models are critical for volume, but if you’re not able to pull buyers into the fold early on, when they’re moving up from pre-owned to new, or from a mainstream volume brand to luxury, then it’s more difficult to sell those higher end models later on. Or at least that’s the theory.

One might say BMW group owns the subcompact luxury SUV category in Canada. After all, together with the segment’s most popular X1, which found 4,420 entry-level luxury buyers last year, this Mini Countryman that was good for 2,275 slightly less affluent up-and-comers, and the sportiest (and priciest) BMW X2 that earned 1,383 new customers of its own, its total of 8,078 units sales more than doubled what Audi or Mercedes-Benz could deliver in Canada last year.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
It looks small from a distance, but the Countryman is actually quite roomy inside.

While BMW would no doubt like to eventually pull Mini customers up into its namesake brand, and some now doubt do make the progression, it really exists on its own. What I mean is that Mini has a completely unique character that car enthusiasts aspire to, and not kept around merely as a gateway brand. If a Mini owner was fortunate enough to trade in their Countryman for a larger, pricier SUV, they might just as well choose a Range Rover Velar instead of an X3 or X5. Then again, it’s probably just as likely they’ll stick with their Mini, choosing instead to move up within the brand to a John Cooper Works trim level or maybe even this top-line Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid.

The Countryman was one of the first subcompact luxury SUVs on the market, arriving way back in 2010. Mini made major improvements for its 2017 redesign, so now this second-generation model has been with us for four years if we include the 2020 model. If you looked at a 2020 and this outgoing 2019 model you wouldn’t be able to notice many changes. Some wheel designs have been changed, a normal occurrence every now and then, with the big updates found under the skin, and then only impacting buyers wanting a manual transmission. Yes, it’s been axed for 2020, mostly because Mini’s U.S. division swapped it out for a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox in front-wheel drive models not available here, so it’s almost entirely the previously optional eight-speed automatic across the Countryman line in Canada, whether DIY enthusiasts like it or not.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This Countryman S E ALL4 came as-tested with LED headlights, LED fog lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Almost entirely? Yes, the very Countryman S E ALL4 hybrid on this page uses a six-speed Steptronic automatic driving the front wheels via a 136-horsepower 1.5-litre three-cylinder Twin Power Turbo engine. The ALL4 in the name designation denotes all-wheel drive, but unlike the other ALL4s in the Countryman lineup, this model’s rear wheels are solely powered by an 88-horsepower (65kW) synchronous e-motor via electricity stored in a 7.6 kWh Li-Ion battery.

Like with most all-wheel drive systems, power can be apportioned front or back, with the wheels in the rear employed fully in EV mode, or partially when the Countryman detects front slippage and needs more traction. That means it feels as if you’re driving a regular hybrid, with each axle using its motive power sources seamlessly as needed, all working together harmoniously via Mini’s drivetrain management system. The S E ALL4’s electric-only range is a mere 19 km after a complete charge, but who’s counting.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
Mini interiors combine fun retro character traits with high-quality premium materials and finishing.

Not even 20 km? Ok, that is pretty minuscule, and many of my colleagues are reporting real world results of 12 and 13 km. Thank goodness Mini made another change to the Countryman line for 2020, a larger batter for a 30-percent gain in EV range for 29 km in total. While this will hardly cause BMW i3 fans to shift allegiances, the added range allows the Countryman S E ALL4 to be used as a regular commuter without the need to recharge until you get to work, as long as your daily commute falls within most peoples’ average. If you really want to go green you can stop along the way for more energy, and it won’t take too much time for the new 10-kWh battery to recharge.

It’s probably not a good idea to use EV mode all the way to work if you need to take the highway, unless it’s bumper to bumper all the way. While the Countryman S E ALL4 can achieve speeds of up to 125 km/h with just its e-motor, you’ll drain the battery in minutes if you try. Instead, you can use its hybrid mode on the highway (up to 220 km/h if you’re feeling frisky) and switch back to EV mode when traveling slower, which maximizes a given charge. The regenerative brakes help to charge up the battery when coming to stops or going downhill, doing their part to maximize zero emissions driving.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s cockpit is ideally set up for both comfort and performance driving.

I made the point of recharging the battery whenever possible during my weeklong test. I’d grab a coffee at McDonalds and give it a quick charge outside, drop by the local mall and do likewise, and one time stayed a little longer at Ikea’s restaurant in order to fully top it up, plus of course I charged it overnight. Being that it takes quite a bit of effort to find somewhere in public to charge it that’s not being used, the novelty quickly wears off when the battery runs out of juice in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes. Still, its fuel economy is good even when not charging it up all the time, with an 8.4 L/100km rating in the city, 8.8 on the highway and 8.6 combined. Plugging it in more often can give you an equivalent rating of 3.6 L/100km combined city/highway, however, so it’s obviously worth going through the hassle.

At least as important for any Mini, the Countryman S E ALL4 is fun to drive. I can’t think of many hybrid SUVs that include a manual mode shifter, let alone a Sport mode (that actually does something), but all you need to do is slide the switch at the base of the gearbox to the left and this PHEV shoots away from a stoplight with plenty of energy, taking about seven seconds to reach 100 km/h thanks to a total of 221 net horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque (the electric motor puts out an immediate 122 lb-ft of twist by itself), and while it can’t quite achieve the 301-hp John Cooper Work’s Countryman’s ability to get off the line, the JCW managing just over 6 seconds to 100 km/h, this 1,791-kilo cute ute still feels quick enough.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s centre display is high-resolution, graphically stimulating and packed full of features.

The S E ALL4 is even more sporting around fast-paced curves, with the kind of high-speed handling expected from a Mini. It’s not as firmly sprung as a JCW, but then again it provides a more comfortable ride. Likewise, the Countryman S E ALL4 is a complete pleasure on the freeway, tracking well at high-speed and excellent at overcoming unexpected crosswinds, my test model’s meaty 225/50R18 all-season tires providing a sizeable contact patch with the tarmac below.

A fabulously comfortable driver’s seat made longer stints behind the wheel easy on the back, my test model’s boasting superb inherent support for the lower back and thighs, with the former benefiting from four-way lumbar support and the latter from a manually extendable lower cushion to cup under the knees (love that). It’s spacious too, both up front and in the rear, with the back seats roomy enough for big adults as long as the centre position stays unoccupied. A wide armrest folds down from middle, housing the expected twin cupholders, while two vents on the backside of the front console keep fresh air flowing. A 12-volt charger has me wondering when Mini plans to modernize with USB charging ports, while no rear seat heaters were included in this trim. At least there was a wonderfully large power panoramic glass sunroof up above, making the Countryman’s smallish dimensions feel bigger and more open.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The centre stack controls are very well done, particularly the row of toggles at the bottom.

I’ve read/heard a number of critics complain about the Countryman not offering enough cargo space, however, but this little Mini’s cargo compartment design has me sold. Of course it’s relatively small compared to a larger compact or mid-size luxury utility, which is par for the course when choosing a Mini, its dimensions measuring 487 litres behind the rear seatback and 1,342 litres when lowered, but it’s the folding centre section I appreciate most. This allows longer items like skis to be laid down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats. The Countryman’s 40/20/40 rear seat split is the most convenient in the industry, while the seats’ folding mechanism feels very well made with everything clicking together solidly. The rear compartment is finished well too, with high quality carpets most everywhere. It all helps Mini make its argument for premium status.

Some buyers don’t consider Mini a premium brand, while those in the know place it alongside (or slightly below) BMW, at least when it comes to the Bavarian automaker’s entry-level models, like the X1. Of course, the X1 xDrive28i starts at a lofty $42,100 when compared to the $31,090 Countryman, but this fully loaded S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid, featuring upgrades like the previously noted sunroof, plus LED cornering headlights and fog lamps, a head-up display, navigation, real-time traffic info, superb Harman/Kardon audio, a wireless device charger, and more, will set you back more than $50k (the S E ALL4’s base price is $44,390), so Mini is in the same league. This pricing spread makes it clear that Mini sits well above most other mainstream volume branded subcompact SUVs, which range in price from $18,000 for the most basic to $35,000 for something fancier in full dress. 

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This is one of the best driver’s seats in the subcompact luxury SUV class.

By the way, you can find out all about 2019 and 2020 Mini Countryman pricing right here on CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options included, plus you can also access money saving manufacturer rebate info, the latest deals on financing, and best of all dealer invoice pricing that could help you save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. CarCostCanada provides all this and more for every volume mainstream and luxury model available in Canada, so make sure to go there first before stepping into a dealership.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s rear seating area is spacious and comfortable.

The base S E ALL4 is well equipped too, by the way, including 18-inch alloy wheels on run-flat tires, puddle lamps, a keyless toggle start/stop switch, a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, well bolstered sport seats with leatherette upholstery, adaptive cruise control, park distance control, two-zone automatic climate control, a large high-definition centre touchscreen with excellent graphics, and more.

Additionally, all of the high-end features just mentioned are housed in an interior that’s finished to premium levels, or at least it’s premium for this compact luxury SUV category. This means it includes fabric-wrapped roof pillars and plenty of pliable composite surfaces, while the switchgear is nicely made too, not to mention brilliantly retrospective with respect to the chromed toggles on the centre stack and overhead console.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
A flexible cargo configuration makes the Countryman especially useful.

All in all, the Countryman S E ALL4 might be a fuel-efficient hybrid, but it’s also a Mini, which means it lives up to the performance expectations the British brand’s loyal followers want, while also providing a high level of style, luxury, features, roominess, and more. That it’s possible to drive emissions-free over short distances is a bonus, as is access to your city’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, plug-in parking spots closer to the entrance of shopping malls, stores, etcetera, and better than average fuel economy whether using EV mode or just its hybrid setup. It’s a bit pricey, but the Countryman S E ALL4 delivers a lot for the money asked.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible Road Test

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Good looking Mini Cooper S Convertible looks sharp with the top up or down. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some brands are so small they don’t really get the press they deserve, and Mini fits into that mould both figuratively and literally. 

Ok, I just had a little fun with a small play on words. The just-used term “literally” was straight-forward, in that Mini’s lineup of cars and its single crossover are made up of subcompacts and compacts (they’re small), while the word figuratively should actually be used as a substitute for metaphorically, but instead I improperly chose it for its root word “figure” in order suggest that Mini’s sales figures reside on the smaller side of the scale as well (they only delivered 4,466 3-Door Hatch, 5-Door Hatch, Convertible and Clubman models last year). Clever? Not really. Grasping at straws for a witty opener? Guilty as charged. 

In reality, however, I almost completely forget Mini exists as a brand until checking my schedule on a given Sunday evening, at which point I’m reminded that one of their cars will be in my weeklong possession starting the following day. That’s when I get giddy with excitement and start planning my week to make sure I have time to drive somewhere unpopulated on the side of a body of water (ocean, lake or river), a mountain, or anywhere else with ribbons of winding black asphalt. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Classic Mini lines never go out of style. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Truly, their cars are so much fun they’re addictive, especially when the model loaned out is tuned to “S” specification or better, and has its hardtop replaced by a slick power-operated retractable cloth top. Such is the car before you, the 2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible, which is upgraded further with this year’s special $2,900 Starlight Blue Edition Package, meaning that it receives a special coat of stunning Starlight Blue Metallic paint, as well as unique 17-inch machine-finished Rail Spoke alloys featuring black painted pockets on 205/45 all-season runflat rubber, piano Black Line exterior trim replacing most of the chrome, including the front grille surround plus headlamp, taillight and outside mirror surrounds, etcetera. 

The “more” that I just noted includes rain-sensing automatic on/off LED headlights with active cornering, LED fog lamps, piano black lacquered interior detailing, a two-zone auto HVAC system, an accurate Connected Navigation Plus GPS routing system housed within Mini’s already superb infotainment system, a wonderful sounding Harman Kardon audio system, Sirius/XM satellite radio, stylish Carbon Black leatherette upholstery, and heated front seat cushions, while my test model’s only standalone option was a $1,400 six-speed automatic transmission, with all of the above upping the Mini Cooper S Convertible base price of $33,990 to $38,290, plus a destination charge and additional fees. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The Starlight Blue Edition Package gets special paint, unique 17-inch Rail Spoke alloy wheels, and lots of piano Black Line exterior trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, you can purchase the new 2019 Mini Cooper Convertible (sans S) for as little as $29,640 before any discount, or you can spend the slightly pricier amount noted above for my tester’s sportier and more feature-filled “S” trim. Alternatively, you could choose a base 3-Door Hatch (hardtop) for as little as $23,090, while other models in the Mini lineup include the Cooper 5-Door available from $24,390, a six-door Clubman that starts at $28,690, and the Countryman crossover that can be had for as little as $31,090, plus destination charges of course. 

Incidentally, all 2019 Mini prices, including trims, options and standalone features, were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also get otherwise difficult to find manufacturer rebate info, plus dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Before I share what makes this Cooper S Convertible and all Minis so enjoyable to live with, I need to focus on the quality of the Mini product overall. Mini’s acceptance as a premium brand is questionable, which makes sense when you can buy one for a mere $23k, but nevertheless quality of materials, fit and finish and features found in each Mini model is much better than average when comparing most subcompact and compact rivals, especially when discussing mainstream brands. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
These Union Jack LED taillights are fabulous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just the same, the majority of high-volume compact models have been on a refinement trend as of late, with the most-recent Mazda3 getting closest to premium status without raising its pricing into the stratosphere, but like its compact sedan and hatchback competitors (such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, et al) the 3 is quite a bit larger than all Mini models this side of the Clubman and Countryman, and therefore when comparing a regular Cooper to any top-selling mainstream subcompact rival (like a Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris), the Mini’s finishing and performance is on a much higher scale. 

The Cooper S Convertible before you, for example, is very well made, from its outer fit to its inner detailing. The paint finish is excellent and other exterior embellishments impressive, from my tester’s eye-catching LED headlamps and Union Jack-emblazoned taillights, to its nicely crafted leather-clad steering wheel and stitched leather-wrapped shift knob, as well as its primary instrument pods hovering overtop the steering column, the ever-changing circle of colour lights rounding the high-definition 8.8-inch infotainment display, the row of brightly chromed toggles and red ignition switch in the middle of the centre stack, and the similarly retrospective line of toggles overhead, it’s a car that completely separates itself from everything else on the market. Those who love retro-cool designs and brilliantly artistic attention to detail will adore today’s Minis. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini’s interiors are top notch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As grand as everything about this car sounds so far, the Mini Cooper S Convertible is at its best when in its element, on the road—prefe¬rably a winding road. S trimmed Coopers begin with a sonorously high-revving 16-valve twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine capable of 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, which is a sizeable 55 hp and 45 lb-ft more than the base Cooper’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged powerplant. This allows the S to slice 1.6 seconds off of the base model’s 0 to 100km/h acceleration time, dropping it from 8.8 to 7.2 seconds with the manual, or from 8.7 to 7.1 with my tester’s six-speed automatic transmission. 

If more speed is still required you can ante up for the John Cooper Works Convertible, which reduces its zero to 100km/h time down to 6.5 seconds by way of a more formidable 228 horsepower version of the 2.0-litre TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder engine, featuring a much more robust 236 lb-ft of torque. It starts much higher up the affordability ladder at $41,490, yet thanks to sport suspension improvements that include larger wheels and tires, plus more standard styling, luxury and convenience upgrades, most Mini fans will find it well worth the price of entry. 

Then again, even the mighty John Cooper Works won’t cause Honda Civic Type R drivers to quiver from fear in their form-fitting Recaro racing seats, but lower the roof and drop the clutch of a JCW or this Cooper S Convertible and you’ll quickly be enjoying your drive much more than you might expect, while never worrying about draining the bank account at the pump. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Love these instrument pods. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Mini claims a very reasonable fuel economy rating of 10.2 L/100km city, 7.4 highway and 9.0 combined with the manual, or 9.4, 7.2 and 8.4 respectively with the automatic when upgraded to S trim, while the base Cooper Convertible manages a mere 8.4 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.5 combined with its manual, or 8.8, 6.8 and 7.9 respectively with its autobox. 

Together with the performance upgrade, going from base to Cooper S adds some performance-focused items like default “MID”, “GREEN” and “SPORT” driver-selectable modes, the latter perfect for boosting takeoff and enhancing responsiveness all-round, while Mini also provides this trim with sportier front seats featuring heated cushions. And just in case going topless isn’t your thing, hardtop Cooper S trims receive a big panoramic sunroof as standard equipment. 

That just-noted Sport mode does a great job of increasing the Cooper S Convertible’s get-up-and-go while enhancing the quick-shifting nature of its transmission, while take note that its front-wheel drive system is never overpowered from torque steer, even when pounding on the throttle from an angled standing start. Those who read me often will know that I’d rather have any Mini with the brand’s wonderfully notchy manual gearbox, but nevertheless this automatic delivered strong performance while its manual mode, despite only being swappable via the gear lever, is plenty responsive. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini’s infotainment system features a crystal clear high-definition display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, that means it has no steering wheel mounted paddles, which is strange for this sportier S model. The current JCW autobox doesn’t come with paddle-shifters either, but reportedly Mini will rectify this shortcoming in 2020 with respect to the Clubman and Countryman JCW models, which are said to be fitted with a new eight-speed auto and much quicker 301-hp 2.0-litre engine making 331 lb-ft of torque, so it’s possible that in time we’ll see paddles on lesser trims as well. As it is, I left the autobox to its own devices more often than not, being that it shifts smoothly and was therefore ideal for congested city streets. Still, when the road opened up and consecutive curves arrived I found that manual mode significantly increased the fun factor, while helping to increase control. 

Just like with all Minis, the Cooper S Convertible comes standard with a brilliantly sorted fully independent front strut and multi-link rear suspension setup that can humble most front-drive rivals, other than those enjoying the aforementioned Civic Type R. Still, it slices and dices up serpentine tarmac like it’s some sort of front-drive BMW, jest intended. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
We love all the retro-cool toggle switches. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Those in the know (yes, we car nerds) will already be aware that second-generation Minis share UKL platform underpinnings with some modern-day BMWs. To be clear, however, the UKL platform is divided into UKL1 and UKL2 architectures, the former only used for Minis thus far (including the 3- and 5-door F56 Hatch plus this F57 Convertible), and the latter for larger Minis (the F54 Clubman and F60 Countryman) as well as the global-market BMW 1 Series Sedan (F52), 1 Series 5-door hatch (F40), 2 Series Active Tourer (F45), 2 Series Gran Tourer (F46), X1 crossover SUV (F48), X2 crossover coupe (F39) and Brilliance-BMW Zinoro 60H (a Chinese-market X1/F48 crossover with unique sheetmetal). 

We don’t have the 1 Series or 2 Series Active Tourer here in Canada, and so far I haven’t been able to get behind the wheel of these two while parked in my second Manila, Philippines home, so I can’t say anything useful about their driving dynamics compared to counterparts from Mini, but I truly don’t believe they could be much better than a Cooper 3- or 5-Door Hatch or Clubman. I can attest to the Countryman S and the new Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid being more planted at high speeds than the latest BMW X1 xDrive28i, however, the latter seeming to have been designed as more of a comfort-oriented, practical alternative. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
These sport seats are really supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Cooper S Convertible, on the other hand, is hardly as big and accommodating inside or out, its rear passenger area and luggage compartment actually the tightest in the entire Mini line. The back seats are probably best used for smaller adults and/or children, whereas the trunk measures 160 litres when the divider is moved lower and top is down, or 215 litres with the top up and moveable divider raised. It’s only accessible through a smallish opening too, but on the positive loading is assisted thanks to a really useful wagon-style folding tailgate that provides a temporary shelf for placing cargo before shifting it inside, while you can expand on cargo capability via 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks when hauling longer cargo such as skis or snowboards is required. All in all, the Cooper Convertible’s passenger/cargo capability is fairly flexible when put up against most rival ragtops, especially similarly priced roadsters like the Mazda MX-5 or Fiat 124 Spider. 

Of note, Mini’s cloth top is a very well insulated “3-in-1” design that’s truly quiet, not to mention capable of retracting or closing in just 18 seconds via an almost completely automated process (you just need to keep holding the overhead toggle switch). When opening, it first stops halfway to form a big sunroof, which is perfect for those times when totally dropping the top isn’t ideal. Pressing and holding it again causes the roof to completely retract, while repeating the same two-step process in reverse powers the top upwards. The convertible can be opened or closed while driving up to 30 km/h, so don’t worry about how much time you have while waiting at a stoplight. Additionally you can open or close the roof from your key fob while outside, handy if you left the interior exposed in your driveway when it unexpectedly starts to rain. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Rear seating is fairly tight, but doable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Cooper S Convertible isn’t without competition, the soon to be discontinued Volkswagen Beetle Convertible and cute little Fiat 500 Cabrio (which is available in sporty Abarth trim) being the closest four-seat rivals, but most would agree that the car on this page offers more luxury and performance than either European challenger. 

In short, Mini’s drop-top is a comparatively roomy four-place convertible with decent stowage, premium-like interior refinements, excellent onboard electronics, agreeable fuel-efficiency, and a fun-to-drive personality that’s hard to beat, all for a competitive price when adding up all its positive attributes. Those who simply want to own a really well made car that’s an absolute blast to drive each and every day will likely love the Mini Cooper S Convertible. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay