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Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4 (2010-2017) review

evo's first drive of Mini's SUV, the Countryman. Is it as fun to drive as a Cooper S hatch?

Evo rating
Price
from £22,030
  • Almost as fun to drive as a Cooper S
  • But it's too heavy to feel like a hot hatch

What is it?

The Mini Countryman, the SUV version of BMW’s small car. This is the current range-topper, the £22,030 181bhp Cooper S ALL4.  Technical highlights

Mini’s optional all-wheel-drive system, ALL4 – an electronic differential, essentially – sends 50 per cent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels in low grip situations, and up to 100 per cent should the diff sense ‘excessively sporty driving’. Around 15 per cent of buyers will go awd.

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Regenerative braking and stop/start technology are standard across the range, putting diesel Countrymans into the sub-120g/km tax bracket.

Inside, you can plug in your iPhone and connect to music and apps through the nav/media screen on the dashboard including – perhaps distractingly – access to your latest tweets. What’s it like to drive?

It’s a less frisky Mini Cooper S: good to drive, but with its key responses blunted compared to the hatchback’s. The steering is well weighted (albeit artificially) but not as pointy as before, the handling good overall, but turn-in not as keen, the car’s extra bulk making body-roll evident and giving a clear feel of weight transfer, especially through tight S-bends.

The engine is a new, higher tune of the Mini’s 1.6 turbo petrol, and is available in the hatch, convertible and Clubman estate, too. Here isn’t the best place to try it first: its extra power is immediately eaten by the Countryman’s 250kg weight-gain. But overall it has a different feel to before, a smoother, more torque-rich sensation, the turbo’s assistance less whizz-bang. With it fitted, the Countryman is a brisk car, a combination of mid-range torque and top-end power meaning safe and easy overtaking.

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The Sport button provides less of a transformation than in the hatch, but is necessary for some proper steering weight and a keener throttle. The downside? Unsubtle pops and bangs from the exhaust on even the smallest of throttle lifts. A novelty for two minutes, a pain for any length of time after.  How does it compare?

With fwd sales most abundant, Mini sees this car as a Ford Focus, Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Golf rival. It boasts more character than all three, but is less practical, though its low emissions and high mpg could well sway buyers. We’d take a Skoda Yeti, though: characterful in its own, boxy way and a bit more fun to drive than the Mini, with some cracking petrol and diesel engines to choose from. Anything else I need to know?

There are five engines, two gearboxes and front- or four-wheel drive options, before you’ve started picking colours, stripes and wheels. Top sellers will be 120bhp petrol and 110bhp diesel Coopers with two-wheel drive.

Wheel sizes range from 16 to 19 inches; our car rode pretty sweetly on 17s, and going any bigger could make rough roads an uncomfortable bind.

Specifications

EngineIn-line 4-cyl, 1598cc, turbocharged
Max power181bhp @ 5500rpm
Max torque191lb ft @ 1700-4500rpm (overboost)
0-607.9sec (claimed 0-62mph)
Top speed130mph
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