BMW clearly wanted the Mini Countryman yet to share the dynamic DNA of its siblings. As soon as you turn the steering wheel, the Countryman feels instantly keener than most regular hatchbacks, and that despite the semi-elevated driving position.
Much of the alertness comes from the remarkably quick steering ratio – 2.4 turns providing a turning circle of just 11.6 metres. Yet despite this and heavy self-centring, the steering set-up works well in the majority of circumstances. The caveats are that over some challenging road surfaces the lack of bump absorption can make it difficult to avoid unwanted steering inputs, and that in more spirited driving it can be easy to introduce too much steering angle on turn-in.
Given the highish centre of gravity, roll angles are kept surprisingly flat; driven gently, or at least with an effort to stabilise the car on the way into a corner, the overall impression is of relatively flat cornering. But when tipped into a corner briskly – easily done with the steering – an initially quick roll rate accentuates the Countryman’s tall proportions.
While the driven back axle can be felt helping out through longer corners, when simply chucked at a tight bend the initial tendency is for the Countryman to wash wide.
The Countryman’s ride follows the same broad template we have seen with other recent BMW Group cars. In many ways the ride is pretty good, but when faced with the combined challenge of bump absorption, cornering forces and/or camber change, the picture deteriorates markedly. This manifests itself in two particular problems. The first is that some impacts resonate through the rear suspension; the second is that over a bumpy road the primary ride is not sufficiently well controlled.
Unfortunately, in a bid to provide a more sporting drive, the lowered ride height of the JCW Countryman provides a ride that borders on the intolerable.
Overall, the Countryman is a car more adept at giving the sense of being driven briskly than actually doing so.