Mini Countryman review - Mini looks, but where's the Mini fun? - Mini Countryman ride and handling

Mini’s new SUV has grown up, but it’s lost the Mini fun factor along the way

Evo rating
Price
from £22,465
  • Refined, comfortable, quality cabin, effective all-wheel drive
  • Grown up at the expense of enjoyment, grabby brakes

If you’ve not got over a brand called Mini making larger cars by now you’re probably also one of those tedious sods who still mutter about Marathon being rebranded as Snickers.

However, you’re fully entitled to believe that Minis should at least drive like Minis, even if they’re not particularly mini. And the Countryman... doesn’t. There are vestigial Mini characteristics, but they don’t flow strongly enough through the Countryman’s behaviour to make it feel like even the current-generation Mini hatchback. It’s just a mildly enthusiastic Mini-shaped crossover.

Subscribe to evo magazine

evo is 21 and to celebrate, we're returning to 1998 prices! Subscribe now to SAVE 39% on the shop price and get evo for its original cover price of £3.00 an issue, plus get a FREE gift worth £25!

> Mini Cooper review - retro hot hatch is as fun as ever

Much of this stems from the steering. Classic Minis were defined by an immediacy and eagerness as soon as you turned the wheel, and it’s a characteristic that BMW managed to carry through to its modern models. It still exists, albeit in a less tactile form, in the current Mini hatchback. In the Countryman, it’s nowhere to be seen - the steering rack itself is quick enough, but the car’s responses have been dulled around the straight ahead. It feels great on the motorway, where the Countryman is stable and refined, but there’s no enthusiasm to the way the Countryman dives into corners and no immediate feedback as you start to turn the wheel.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The steering is also unnervingly light at first, though that improves when Sport mode is selected. You get used to its rate of response and it soon starts to feel a little more natural, allowing you to adopt a flow down the road.

As you learn to trust the front tyres, the decent levels of grip mean you can make rapid progress down a country road. In the Countryman’s credit, the ride is also good - there’s an underlying firmness (definitely a Mini characteristic) but it’s also supple over all but the harshest of bumps. Balance is good, albeit defaulting to understeer, and combined with the all-wheel drive system you can clip along at a good pace. Traction is strong even on slippery surfaces, but there’s one significant element missing: Fun.

Of course, the flip side to this is that the new Countryman should find even more fans among families, as it’s quieter, smoother to drive and simply more grown-up feeling than before. As previously alluded to it’s at its best on the motorway, where the engine fades to a background hum and wind noise is minimal despite the traditional upright windscreen. Here the Countryman feels planted, and visibility is pretty good despite some thick pillars and mirrors that appear to collect dirt and spray quite easily.

We’ve so far experienced the Cooper S Countryman with all-wheel drive and the automatic transmission. It’s probably not the combination we’d choose, mainly thanks to the auto. As with smaller Minis, the gearbox is smooth but detracts from the car’s character, and kickdown results in a flare of revs (and noise) but not a great deal of performance. In fact, the Cooper S never feels particularly quick, perhaps thanks to a kerb weight the wrong side of 1.5 tons. The SD is a little better, and feels well-matched to the automatic.

The all-wheel drive system is even better suited to the car. It has no problem dealing with either 2-litre engine's power, keeping wheelspin to a minimum out of tight corners. There’s not the rear-biased feel of some sportier systems, but it’s effective and should suit the needs of most buyers.

The Mini's brakes aren't ideal either, if you prefer feel and progression over outright power. The Countryman’s brake pedal response is so severe that you invariably slow the car down more than you want for a given corner.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Most Popular

Visit/porsche/911/201958/porsche-911-gt3-vs-gt3-rs-vs-gt2-rs-track-battle
Porsche 911

Porsche 911 GT3 vs GT3 RS vs GT2 RS - track battle

Porsche’s GT3, GT3 RS and GT2 RS are the most hardcore of the 911 breed, but pitched head‑to‑head which will we crown champion?
15 Nov 2019
Visit/buying-advice/19675/used-car-deals-of-the-week
used cars

Best used cars for sale this week

We’ve delved into the classifieds and chosen our favourite cars for sale this week
15 Nov 2019
Visit/ford/mustang/201952/ford-mustang-mach-e-uncovered-as-all-electric-suv
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Mach-E uncovered as all-electric SUV

The Mustang has been hit with the all-electric, SUV treatment
18 Nov 2019
Visit/hyundai/i30-n-hatchback/201775/hyundai-i30-n-versus-hyundai-i30-tcr
Hyundai i30 N hatchback

Hyundai i30 N versus Hyundai i30 TCR

Can Dickie Meaden beat Steve Sutcliffe in a straight(ish) race? We sent them to the Circuit Nuvolari with a pair of Hyundai i30 Ns to find out.
20 Sep 2019