One of Mini’s main aims was to create a more spacious, practical, comfortable, materially rich and mature-feeling interior than you get elsewhere in the model range. It has delivered in some, but not all, of those respects. The new Countryman is 200mm longer than the last one, with 75mm having gone into the wheelbase to the benefit of cabin length, and much of the rest into a bigger boot. The latter is now big enough, at 450 litres, so put a Nissan Qashqai to shame, and expandable via the standard sliding and folding 40:20:40 back-row seats.
There’s enough room in both rows of seats for proper adults, and plenty of headroom for taller occupants – although the car’s hallmark recumbent seating position and its thin seat cushions still make the cabin less comfy and convenient than is the crossover class norm.
Mini’s attempts to lift the Countryman’s cabin ambience to a more sophisticated level are also mixed. Cabin quality is impressive in places but the car’s plastics become quite hard and brittle at lower levels, while those illuminated dashboard and door trims don’t really add much.
To drive, the Countryman confounds your expectations of a modern crossover hatchback by its conformity to Mini’s own modern dynamic template. This is a firm-riding, direct handling, relatively highly strung prospect that feels less like any sort of jacked-up utility car and more like a typical hot hatchback. Mini’s chassis engineers may well consider this a roaring success, having translated the infamous ‘go-kart feel’ of its smaller models onto a taller car with a longish wheelbase. But if the intention was to broaden the dynamic reach of the firm’s model range here, the achievement’s quite plainly a lot less.
Even on optional-fit adaptive dampers, the Countryman handles anything other than millpond-smooth tarmac with a tiresome restlessness, suffering with plenty of headtoss, tramlining and bump-steer on quicker B-roads, and feeling wooden and unyielding on broken town roads. It steers very quickly and heavily; handles more coherently than the last Countryman on account of tighter body control and slightly improved steering feedback, but like so many of its siblings remains more compelling to drive when you’re just punting around than it is when you examine it at greater speed.
The Cooper S’ turbocharged engine feels quite strong and has useful accessible torque, but works better with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox when driven at a relaxed pace than in manual mode when pressing on. Mini’s ALL4 driveline, meanwhile, comes up with all the traction that the car needs even in slippery conditions, but isn’t clever enough to augment the car’s fundamental handling poise on the road, which could certainly be better balanced.