It's not a Mini, but we can see why it holds so much appeal

What is it?

It's Mini's new Countryman, on public roads at last (albeit in Germany). This is the car which, Mini believes, will attract people whose lifestyle just didn't allow the style/packaging trade-offs of the original 'new' Mini, or its oddball Clubman brother.

Indeed, the Countryman is aimed so squarely at trendy, affluent families that it's the biggest Mini there will ever be; the firm itself says that it doesn't think the brand will stretch beyond the 4.11m length of this car. And it’s a true five-door; no ‘Clubdoors’ here.

The Countryman comes in three states of 1.6-litre petrol tune - 97bhp One, 121bhp Cooper and 181bhp, turbocharged Cooper S - and two diesels, the 89bhp D and the 110bhp Cooper D. It’s the Cooper S we’re trying here, in range-topping, four-wheel-drive ALL4 spec. All of the petrol models are available with an automatic option, but our car had the six-speed manual - standard fare across the range.

See exclusive test pics of the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4

What’s it like?

An odd’un. First off, it feels noticeably bigger than a regular Mini, and the square corners can make it strangely hard to place during tight manoeuvres. You do feel like you’re sitting in a higher position than in even a regular hatch like a Focus or a Golf.

It sits on slightly taller tyres than a Mini Cooper S, so the ride is a little more compliant (and yes, we did find some urban potholes to see if the Countryman allow as many crashing intrusions as its siblings). And the engine is a willing companion - although the extra bulk of a four-wheel-drive Countryman is enough to make the 181bhp unit feel more like a smooth, healthy powerplant instead of the ultra-torquey role it plays in the regular car.

It seems more grown-up, in fact. And that, you may well argue, is no bad thing.

Yet in some areas - notably the steering - Mini’s engineers have tried to dial in some of the characteristics of the regular car. So around the straightahead the Countryman is pointy - nervous, even. And when you get further round the rack it becomes apparent that this trait has been programmed in; it’s as if the Mini brand book demanded it, so the Countryman got it.

Likewise the switchgear, which is more trinket-like than ever; the speedo is enormous, the rocker switches are located right at the bottom of the centre console and the handbrake - styled like an aircraft throttle - is a pain to use. Anyone considering graduating from a Focus will be bemused - if impressed, rightly, by the quality of the materials.

Is it more practical than a Clubman? Absolutely. Four big blokes can squeeze into the cabin and travel for a reasonable distance without too much discomfort. Headroom and shoulder room are excellent; only six-footers will complain about knee and legroom in the rear, too.

Luggage space is likely to be more of a problem, mind. Mini has clearly traded off the boot to create a cabin for four, so the chances of them all getting suitcases in are minimal. In this area more than any other, the Countryman is a notch adrift of the Focus and Golf.

Should I buy one?

More of you will probably be thinking that of this Mini than any other, because while the styling has split opinion, there’s no denying that this car does answer questions that the Clubman totally ignored.

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It’s not a perfect family car, by any means. And in dimensions at least, it’s not a Mini. But we can see why the Countryman will have appeal.

John McIlroy

Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4

Price: £22,030; 0-62mph: 7.9sec; Top speed: 130mph; Economy: 42.2mpg; CO2: 157g/km; Kerb weight: 1380kg; Engine: four-cylinder, 1598cc, turbo, petrol; Power: 181bhp at 5500rpm; Torque: 177lb ft at 1600rpm-5500rpm (191lb ft at 1700rpm-4500rpm with overboost function); Gearbox: six-speed manual; Fuel tank: 47 litres; Boot capacity: 350 litres

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theonlydt 20 July 2010

Re: Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4

dutchmaestro wrote:
Rather an educated imbecile than a hate driven, blinkered, uneducated moron like yourself. £5500 price difference. What's the difference between a Golf and a Passat? At £5500 you're talking about different markets and segments - despite outwardly "resembling" each other in design brief. Personally I'd not only save £5500 by not going for a "countryman", I'd then save another £3000 and go for a proper estate car, but then neither of these cars are aimed at people who want boot space, who care about driving - they're all about image.

theonlydt 20 July 2010

Re: Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4

Interesting - our resident German lover (is it the leather shorts?) has provided us with a link where the verdict is that the Mini is slightly better to drive and the plastics are slightly better quality - all for £5500 more. From my reading of that review it strikes me that the Mini product is not worth £5500 more, £2000 more would be the maximum any sane person would pay for a marginally better drive and "soft touch plastics" around an insanely large speedo...

Wait a minute, which of these cars is German? Ah yes, now I know why "Dutchmaestro" (we all know who you are - if you're so much smarter than everyone why is it you can't get a hint on being banned repeatedly, or come back and not be found out within 12 posts?) goes in to his bedroom (in his mum's house) with a picture of the Mini for some "private time".

Ski Kid 20 July 2010

Re: Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4

This looks like the runt of the litter and horrendous and that is being very kind in deed, a base Freelander is a much better proposition if you need 4x4.