As the time comes to say goodbye to our long-term 2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4, we can't help but look back on the experience with mixed emotions. For the record, we racked up over 19,300 trouble-free miles during that period, virtually all of it on-road. In that capacity, our maxi Mini proved to be a reliable travel mate but one that matched its enthusiast charm with no small amount of compromise and some genuine love-it-or-hate-it design elements that even its strongest proponents have grown tired of trying to defend.
There's no denying that the largest Mini iteration to date was a hoot to push to the limits. Crisp responses, an enthusiastic turbocharged engine and confidence-inspiring brakes made it easy to regularly seek out the longest and most serpentine route from point A to point B. The Countryman also happens to be the only family member that really does have a rear seat fully suitable for adults. While it won't serve as a true substitute for a purpose-designed compact crossover, the Countryman's nicely-scaled top-hinged hatch and near-flat folding rear seatbacks allow a decent amount of stuff to be quickly and easily stowed in the rear bay.
Regular extended stints behind the wheel -- whether commutes rich in relentless stop-and-go work or less-stressful cruising duty that included a trip to the Canadian border as well as several lengthy treks up the coast - also afforded time to more critically assess other aspects of the Countryman's overall design and creature comforts, or lack thereof.
Though it remained squeak and rattle free as well as resolutely devoid of mechanical problems, our Mini earned considerably lower marks in the areas of comfort and ride compliance. Several staffers reported that the front seats, while laudably supportive, lost a bit of their charm during multi-hour driving stints. In addition to being excessively noisy, the standard run-flat tires also exhibited a good bit of harshness on all but the best of pavement. Perhaps the biggest downside ding involved the Mini's stunningly poor overall ergonomics that remain a testament to prioritizing quirky styling sensibilities over genuine user friendliness.
Commuter duties, particularly on LA's perpetually packed Interstate 405 freeway where our Countryman ALL4 4 racked up about a third of its total distance driven, revealed another character flaw. While an autoshifted Mini may strike purists as near sacrilege, midway through the 60-plus minutes it regularly took for the staff's most remotely located road warrior to travel the last 12 miles back home each evening, the prospect became easier and easier for any sane person to justify. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that our Countryman's clutch also tended to become rather "grabby" as its usage cycle intensified.
In the final accounting, we found much to recommend in the biggest and most versatile Mini. However, the kudos also came with a number of caveats.