It’s a big Mini, and a strange crossover hatchback at that
It’s always a bad sign when one of the first questions that comes to mind with a new car is: what is it? Yes, it’s a Mini, a Countryman, but what does that bring to the party? It’s not an entirely easy question to answer.
One look at it tells you this is a tough crossover, capable of scooting down the byways as well as the highways. Look at all those SUV bits, like the raised ride height, the butch wheelarches and so on. That’s obviously what it is. Or is it that? Or is it something else?
Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4 auto
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 138mph
Fuel economy: 44.1mpg
CO2/tax band: 150g/km, 29%
The thing is, it’s the size of a family hatchback, so it’s pushing the whole ‘mini’ idea from the outset. The new one is even larger, being 20cm longer, with 7.5cm extra in the wheelbase. The boot is the size of a proper SUV, like a Nissan Qashqai, so that seems a good thing, but obviously it all adds to the size and weight.
Naturally, it’s not just the luggage that gets more room. Everyone else does, in a cabin that mixes the rather idiosyncratic Mini look with some efforts at real practicality.
It’s a perfectly pleasant and reasonably spacious place to be, but then you start the engine and go somewhere. The range starts with a 134bhp three-pot turbo in the Cooper, but in this Cooper S it has a 187bhp turbocharged petrol four-pot. There’s an enjoyable amount of both power and torque on call, which works well with the eight-speed automatic gearbox. That might be an option, but it is one we’d go for as it works better than with the manual box.
Add in ALL4 all-wheel drive and you have decent traction on virtually any road surface, and another nod to the crossover vibe. However, the four-wheel drive doesn’t really add to the handling package, which is a shame. Because it could do with a bit of assistance.
The Mini engineers are clever people, that’s for sure. They’ve taken a reasonable-sized car which has a relatively high centre of gravity and they’ve managed to make it handle like any other sporty Mini. While that’s clever, it means the handling is firm, and a bit likely to dart around, and really more like a hot hatch. And is that the handling you’re looking for in a crossover family vehicle?
The downside continues with a ride quality which is niggly and jiggly on anything other than a billiard table – and the car doesn’t even fit on a billiard table. If you think you’ll get round this by fitting the optional adaptive dampers then think again I’m afraid. It only really works when you back off and take it easier, which somewhat negates the point of buying the Cooper S version in the first place.
At the moment this seems like an attempt to offer a trade-up for when the laughing young couple with perfect teeth you see in car ads decides to be all grown-up and have children. While still laughing happily every few seconds, they need a bigger car and, rather than leave the Mini family that causes them so much happiness and laughter, they can trade up to the Countryman.
However, as a crossover vehicle taken on its own merits we don’t quite see the Countryman Cooper S as a cause of that much happiness. We’d look elsewhere, dour curmudgeons that we are.