Sometimes life requires a car that is bigger than a MINI Cooper (shocking, I know), but you don’t want to buy something boring and clunky (or slow for that matter). This is where the MINI Countryman comes in handy (and in some respects, the Paceman too). Even a shiny new car from any brand (except maybe Toyota) can be a lemon (looking at you Range Rover), used cars just have an even better chance of leaving you disappointed, or stranded, or both. This guide is meant to help you mitigate those chances, though nothing is foolproof.
Countryman vs. Paceman
There is little difference between the driving dynamics of these two cars and how they make you feel while driving them. However, the two cars are worlds apart in terms of practicality and style; because of this I routinely joke that the Paceman was “too cool to live”. The Paceman’s roof and door lines make it appreciably less dowdy than the Countryman, but also make it understandably less spacious in the rear.
The cool looks of the Paceman will cost you 20 litres of boot space with the seats up, but the inability to option the 60/40 folding rear bench seat costs you a further 80 litres with the rear bucket seats fold down. It’s also important to note that the Countryman’s entire rear bench can slide forward and tilt to offer up an extra 40 litres of space with the seats up and this has come in handy for me in the past.
The Paceman didn’t fare well in the Canadian new car market and towards the end MINI Canada was offering $4500 and $6500 cash back on the ALL4 and JCW versions respectively. Meanwhile most Countryman’s rolled off the lot for at or near MSRP, if you got a deal on a Countryman before 2015 then it’s probably because they were allowed to knock off up to $1500 for returning customers.
From here on out, just assume that when I write “Countryman”, I meant “Countryman and Paceman” unless I write otherwise, or I specifically mention the Paceman.
The engines N16 vs. N18
The Countryman lucked out by coming with the same revised engines as the Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) I Cooper from start to finish. The naturally aspirated N16 and turbocharged N18 engines are a marked improvement over thier predecessors (the N12 and prolblematic N14). Both engines were more powerful and efficient than thier predecessors thanks to VANOS infinitely variable valve timing (Valvetronic) on both intake and exhaust valves and a redesigned positive crank case ventilation system.
The N18 further benefited from a new map-controlled oil pump, a lighter/stronger composite camshaft, and revised pistons. These changes served to solve two potentially fatal flaws; coking of the intake valves, and the catastrophic failure of the timing chain assembly colloquially known as “the death rattle”. If the N18 has a drawback, it’s that the induction system lacks the noise maker that lets you hear the whoosh of the turbo sucking in air so that you can go faster and the “choo choo” of the charge recirculation valve. However, it more than makes up for this lost element of fun with a more pronounced “burble and pop” from the exhaust.
If I am honest, the decision by MINI to field a manual Countryman with the N16 engine was a mistake. When paired with an Aisin automatic transmission this engine is merely anemic (0-100 kph in the same 11.6 seconds as a Toyota Corolla). Yet pairing it with the Getrag 6-speed is an exercise in frustration due to the lack of torque, grabby clutch and higher weight resulting in stalls unless you rev it aggressively and wearing down your clutch in the process. During my hill start test I needed to rev it through 1800-2200 rpm just to avoid stalling, in an normal MINI Cooper I could make it up a hill stall free at a modest 1200 rpm. There is a reason MINI Canada cancelled this engine offering with the LCI Countryman; it was a pairing that just didn’t make any sense at all.
FWD vs. ALL4 vs. JCW
The Countryman S came in front wheel drive and an all wheel drive system known as ALL4 while the JCW only came with ALL4. Having driven both systems in the wet and the snow I can safely say that the ALL4 system was worth the $1000 premium when new and in the used market it’s a no-brainer as FWD and ALL4 cars command nearly identical prices. A Countryman ALL4 with the TCS and DSC turned off and sport mode on is a bundle of laughs in the snow, the wet and the muck. The car is nicely poised and with the right tires it drifts around effortlessly in first and second gears all the while leaving total control within easy reach. I’ve never had a problem with heavy snow or ice in our Countryman ALL4 on the factory Pirelli Sottozeros, even when other cars were stuck or in the ditch. The TCS and DSC systems are so seamless that only the lack of drama on an icy surface gives the game away.
The Countryman JCW still commands enough of a price premium ($4000-5000) over similarly equipped S ALL4’s on the used market that it is still an emotional buy. It’s important to note that non-MINI dealers often sell S’s with the JCW Appearance Package for the same price as other Countrymen without. This package gets you the JCW aero kit, sport suspension, 18″ JCW Twin Spoke Wheels, JCW steering wheel, JCW shifter, power fold mirrors, anthracite roofliner and piano black interior trim. The 2013-2014’s with this package will also come with the “dark style” package which consists of micro-checkered mirror caps, side scuttles, and down tubes, white side indicators and anthracite scuttle trim instead of chrome. If you can’t find one with the JCW looks, the front spoiler lip and some beefy exhaust tips will only set you back at most $600 and you can install them in your driveway.
Packages and options
Key options include Premium Package (dual pane sunroof, rain sensing wipers, heated seats, climate control, automatic headlights, fog lights and Bluetooth calling), Lights Package (adaptive bi-xenon headlights, white turn signals).
Options that are really nice to have and are prohibitively expensive to retrofit include Wired Package (MINI Connected, navigation, voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming), HK Sound, Black Headlights, Comfort Access, rear bench seats, cargo package and the sports gauges. Get the interior you want, lounge leather can be had on the used market for only a modest markup over the base leatherette or punch leather.
Don’t get hung up on things such as accessories and wheels. Things such as black headlight/taillight rings, stripes, mirror caps and side scuttles are inexpensive to add after the fact. Wheels can be tricky if the car comes with the the ugly 17″ 5-Star Triangle Spokes, or the boring 18″ Turbo Fan Spokes, but any of the other option wheels are relatively easy to sell or trade. The American-sized front and rear cup holders are also an inexpensive retrofit ($120 for the front and $80 for the rear), though the install for the front ones can be tricky (panel poppers are your friends).
Regarding resale values (and getting a deal on a Paceman)
In-warranty and certified pre-owned Countryman ALL4 and JCW have the single highest resale/trade value of any car on the market (averaging 59% after 3 years) because of continued high demand. Particularly well optioned low KM examples can go for as high as 70% of MSRP (which is pretty insane). This also means that there are only around 30-50 of these cars on the used market at any given time and turnarounds can be pretty quick.
If you can live without a rear bench and only two doors, similarly optioned Pacemen can be had for much less and despite thier comparative rarity, there are usually 20 kicking around on used car lots at any given time because they tend to sit there and collect dust. This creates opportunities for serious discounts and they can often be had for $2000-6000 less than a similarly equipped Countryman.
Things To Avoid
Avoid anything before an Aug 2012 build at all cost. These cars often develop electrical gremlins and there was no optional rear bench. The most commonly afflicted parts are window motors that will only go down, interior lights that flicker, door locks and wipers that have a mind of thier own.
If you’re looking for a stick, Countrymen prior to Jan 2013 came with a mushy clutch cylinder and a softer friction material. This resulted in smooth takeoffs, but excessive clutch wear and any car on it’s first clutch won’t be for long. If the clutch pedal is really soft and riding high, walk away. Countrymen built after Jan 2013 got the same tougher clutch plate assembly and stiffer clutch cylinders as the JCW, but this also means smooth launches require much more finesse. Older cars that have had thier clutch and flywheel replaced should be using the updated clutch package, but may still be operating with the old input/output cylinders, this is where service records come in really handy. Note that this more aggressive clutch setup makes non-turbo version of the Countryman even more difficult to drive with a stick than it already was.
Other than the above issues, the Countryman has been the MINI model in need of the least amount of sorting out over it’s production cycle. Unlike the Cooper LCI, the Countryman LCI didn’t introduce any major changes to the vehicle, just some cosmetics and reorganization of the option packages.
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