With the debut in 2011 of the Countryman, MINI tried to address the major drawback since the manufacturer's arrival in 1959. But is a four-door MINI, which arrives 11 years after new owner BMW rebranded Mini as MINI, an oxymoron? Or can the MINI ilegitimately be considered a family car?

The new offering is one foot longer and six inches wider than the standard MINI. The Countryman (Mini actually had a coupe called the Countryman in the 1960s) also has an all-wheel drive option — another manufacturer's first.

Likewise, the Countryman has 41.3 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded, the most of any MINI in the current fleet.

 The Weekly Driver Test Drive

With its Sky Blue exterior, white top and white race stripes, any MINI would attract attention. But with four doors (five considering the rear trunk/door), I couldn't drive the MINI far with hearing comments.

One onlooker in a department store parking lot approached me and simply asked: "So, how much did you pay for it?"

My weekly test drive didn't include the all-wheel driver option. But the qualities that make a Mini and MINI were all present — the oversized speedometer to toggle door and window switches.

There also a unique innovation, a center interior rail that runs nearly the length of the car. The idea is that the detachable cupholders and eyeglass/sunglass case can be positioned as desired near the front or back seats.

Likes:

Comfortable seats (all four).

Interior backlit door handles.

Surprisingly quiet while idling.

Hatchback trunk opens with road insignia handle. Way cool.

Smooth drive on freeway.

Spaciousness. It's easy to forget the car's name with adequate space for four six-foot occupants.

 Dislikes:

Bumpy ride, particularly at slower speeds.

Difficult shifting.

Radio controls and channel read-out lettering too small.

 2011 MINI Countryma) Facts & Figures:

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 9.8 seconds

Airbags (7): Driver and dual front, side, side curtain and front knee airbags.

Antilock brakes: Standard

First aid kit: N/A

Fuel economy: 28 mpg (city), 35 mpg (highway)

Government Safety Ratings: Not rated.

Engine Specs: 4 cylinder, 121 horsepower with six-speed manual transmission.

Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $21,650.00

Price As tested: $26,850.00

Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 4 years/50,000 miles; Corrosion, 12 years/unlimited miles; Roadside assistance, 4 years/unlimited miles.

 What Others Say:

"With its distinguished rally-racing history, the MINI is born for twisty roads, where it feels alive, edgy and high in testosterone. Especially in tighter quarters, the MINI can bob, feint and counterpunch its way to an upset over weightier, stronger competition." —- New York Times.

 "A MINI Cooper with added length in the wheelbase, extra legroom in the rear seats, and a half-door on the passenger's side to ease ingress and egress to the back, the Countryman is all the fun and cuteness of the smaller Mini with a more hospitable rear seat." —- Car and Driver.

 "Admittedly, the Countryman is a niche offering, and that's particularly true this year. There's a wide range of fun-to-drive cars that offer more practicality and typically cheaper prices, including the Ford Fiesta, Mazda 3, Volkswagen Golf/GTI and Volvo C30." —- Edmunds.

 What The Wife Says:

 "When I found out it was owned by BMW, I wasn't surprised because of all of the attention to detail."

 The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

 "As a convertible or a coupe, the MINI remains unique in the auto industry. It's at the top of the funky-fun-sports-car-diversion list. But as a family car, the Countryman still doesn't match up well against a dozen competitors' offerings."

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