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Steering, suspension and ride comfort

The Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4 comes with 17in wheels and low-rolling-resistance Bridgestone tyres as standard, and few savvy owners will be minded to upgrade either since doing so will shift its CO2-derived benefit-in-kind tax liability up by four percent (worth £500 a year to a 40 percent company car tax-payer).

Our test car was equipped with those standard wheels and tyres and, predictably enough, it was without the outright grip level and the handling precision that a keener driver or a Mini-brand regular might hope for from it.

Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system subtly contains power-on understeer as you accelerate away from tighter bends

The car’s dynamic repertoire isn’t all bad news, though. The extra weight in the back works quite well to soften the slightly tetchy, overly firm ride that we’ve reported on with other Countryman models tested previously, while the softer, taller tyre sidewalls of the PHEV’s running chassis make for a quieter, calmer and more absorptive secondary ride than on a run-flat-equipped, bigger-rimmed Countryman.

It’s worth noting, too, that the plug-in hybrid’s weight distribution is unusually well balanced for a compact hatchback.

All that really makes the car do, of course, is to slip with almost equal meekness from both the front and rear ends when you attempt to corner quickly.

The car turns in with Mini-typical directness but rolls harder than you expect it to and takes a long time to settle on its outside rear wheel. It then surrenders to understeer with little provocation.

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You have to disengage the stability control system to reach that point, mind – the system masks the chassis’s apparent want for mechanical adhesion very cleverly, keeping the car on line and stopping you from pouring on too much torque when it’s active.

In dry conditions, the handling seems game and direct enough at first, although ultimately underwhelming. It’s very competent and stable, governed cleverly and watchfully by a fast-acting and proactive stability control system.

But the initial bite you get from the steering isn’t ultimately matched to the outright body control and keen adhesion level you’re expecting.

In wet conditions on the Millbrook hill route, roadholding was slightly precarious, although its handling security was ultimately guaranteed with the electronics on. Turn them off and, if you try to drive the car briskly, it can break away quite readily from either axle. It does so progressively, though, and its limits are fairly clearly marked.

Look to the 70-0mph braking figure we recorded for objective evidence of that meek hold on the tarmac. Even though it was in moderately heavy rain, a 61.2m stopping distance is poor.