Drive Thru: MINI Countryman Cooper S

MINI Countryman Cooper S

The new MINI Countryman; some strident MINI fans cannot warm to it. And they may never warm to it. Others are willing to embrace MINI’s move into four-door territory. Here at AUSmotive we’ve kept an open mind and, in photos at least, we reckon if MINI has to go forward by upsizing its range then the Countryman is a pretty good first up effort.

Now that the Countryman has arrived in Australia we can really begin to form a solid opinion. So, after seeing the car for the first time today, and enjoying a brief test drive, we’re leaning towards loving the love-or-hate four-door MINI. It’s not a full on love affair yet, but we’ve seen enough to warrant a second date.

We were granted time in a Countryman Cooper S fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission. Thanks to its 70kg weight saving over the All4 model, this is the fastest route to 100km/h in the Countryman range, with a claimed time of 7.6 seconds. The all-wheel drive version takes a further 0.3 seconds.

In truth, the Countryman Cooper S doesn’t feel that rapid. It’s not slow by any means and the 135kW 1.6 litre turbocharged engine, lifted from the regular Cooper S hardtop, is still refreshingly responsive, especially in lower gears. It’s economical, too, with a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.6l/100km.

We didn’t have enough time in the car to experience all of the Countryman’s handling characteristics in detail. However, we did learn that it is actually quite odd, at first, to be sitting so high in a MINI. Despite that, the Countryman still maintains a degree of the fun and lightness offered by its little brother. The laws of physics dictate the 1310kg Countryman Cooper S, with its 149mm ground clearance, will never match the now iconic 1140kg Cooper S for pure driving thrills. But, really, that’s not part of the Countryman’s brief.

2010 MINI Countryman

2010 MINI Countryman

With more time in the Countryman Cooper S, though, we expect we’d soon find it quite entertaining to throw it into a few corners. The ride is pretty good, although the run flat tyres will remind you of their weaker points over harsher bumps. Mind, it is possible to option the Countryman with regular tyres and a can of goo acting as a spare. That aside, the ride is a pleasing mix between comfort and performance.

It’s a MINI, so the steering is generally very good. It’s direct and well-weighted at all times. Alas, some of the magic has been lost from the first-generation R50/R53 MINI range. Today, if we’re being picky, the Countryman’s steering felt a bit too electronic.

As design execution we give the Countryman a big thumbs up. Outside, it doesn’t look as big as we thought it might. It’s clearly part of the MINI family, but there’s an identity of its own too. Inside, there’s plenty of room for passengers in all areas. Indeed, the legroom offered by the individually adjustable rear seats surprised with its generosity.

2010 MINI Countryman

2010 MINI Countryman

Remember, in standard format, the Countryman is a pure four-seater, with a central rail/storage device running between all four seats. The centre rail is one of those things that, while somewhat cool and surprisingly useful, it’s still a gimmick and we won’t be surprised if it’s not maintained in future generations.

Finally, a MINI with decent boot space! It’s still not great, it must be said, but it’s quite versatile and should cover most daily chores very easily. Four-up on a long trip, that’s when the Countryman’s boot space will be a problem.

To wrap up, then, the Countryman is a qualified success—more time in the car will allow for a more definitive opinion. We’d especially like to see how the Countryman can handle light off-road duties. For now, we reckon it looks good. We reckon it drives pretty well. And we reckon it’s reasonably practical, as well. As a very loose analogy, think of the Countryman as a baby Subaru Outback that is genuinely fun to drive.

Further reading

2010 MINI Countryman

Thanks to Rolfe Classic MINI Garage for their assistance.