It’s fair to say the Mini Countryman wasn’t met with universal praise when it was launched in 2010, but since then Mini has sold more than 350,000 worldwide, proving there's a big market for a more practical Mini.
So for its mid-life makeover, predictably, not much has been changed. All the engines in the range now meet the stricter Euro 6 emissions regulations, and all of them emit less CO2 than they did before.
The Cooper S ALL4 version we’re testing here has also been given a small power hike, taking its grand total up to 188bhp, shaving 0.2 seconds off the 0-62mph time, which now stands at a brisk 7.7 seconds.
There are styling tweaks of course, with optional gloss black inserts around the headlights and down the wings, a fresh grille design, and lighter alloy wheels.
Poor cabin refinement was a major issue on the previous car, but Mini claims to have solved this problem by adding extra padding to the roof, floor and front footwells, and changing the shape of the door mirrors.
What is the 2014 Mini Countryman Cooper S like to drive?
In a word, noisy. Despite the brand’s best efforts to stifle the wind and road noise in the cabin, the revised Countryman is still nowhere near becoming a refined cruiser.
Even at 65mph, wind noise rushes over the mirrors, the roof and windscreen, and it’s a constant irritant on motorway journeys. Combined with the loud roar from the tyres, and the keen drone from the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, the big Mini is probably one of the least relaxing small SUVs on the market.
Coarse road surfaces are particularly bad, forcing you to turn the volume up on the stereo or raise your voice over the din if you want whoever is sitting beside you to hear what you're saying.
The extra power has made little difference to the Countryman's real world performance, and although its claimed figures are impressive - especially compared with other small SUVs - the Cooper S still feels a bit lethargic compared with similarly priced hot hatches such as the Ford Focus ST or Skoda Octavia vRS.
You need to work the engine hard before it feels fast, and when you do rev it out to the redline the engine becomes very thrashy and strained.
Pushing the toggle switch marked ‘Sport’ sharpens the throttle response and weights up the steering, and the twin exhausts crackle and pop when you lift off. Yet, despite trying to inject a playful side to its character, the Countryman rarely feels sporty. Yes, the steering is well weighted and quick on turn-in, which makes the Countryman feel darty and nimble, and there’s plenty of grip too, as the four-wheel-drive system works well to distribute the power evenly, but there’s a fair amount of body lean in corners and you rarely feel encouraged to drive it particularly fast.
It rides on standard 17-inch wheels and tall suspension, so you might expect it to smooth out bumps, but no changes have been made to the springs or dampers, and the result is a ride that is firm at best. The alloys thump over sharp ridges and potholes, and scruffier B-roads will jiggle you about inside the cabin, and set the wheel squirming in your hands, following cambers in the road.
What is the 2014 Mini Countryman like inside?
The Countryman's cabin has been given a few minor updates for 2014. The dark grey speedo and rev counter from the hardcore John Cooper Works version are now fitted as standard across the range, and there are new chrome highlights on the air vents.
However, for a car that commands a premium price (without any options, the Cooper S ALL4 costs a hefty £23,125) the cabin materials don't have the same high-quality sheen as those in the latest Mini hatch. The retro design looks great, but the small buttons for the climate controls are pretty fiddly.
The plastics covering the dash are hard, and the vents feel particularly low-rent, especially when compared with the interior of rival SUVs, such as the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. The stylish seats have a stepped adjustment, so it's hard to find a comfy driving position, and they offer very little side or lower back support, and proved uncomfortable on a longer drive.
One plus is the amount of interior space, with plenty of head- leg- and elbowroom, and sliding rear seats mean you can choose between rear legroom and bootspace, although not at the same time. The load bay itself has a false floor, and the seats fold in a 40:20:40 split, but its shallow, and an odd shape, so the type of luggage it can carry is limited, and there's a big step in the boot if you take out the divider.
Standard specification for the Cooper S includes,17-inch alloys, DAB radio, Bluetooth, foglights, rear parking sensors, a USB port, sports seats, a leather steering wheel and air-con.
Should I buy one?
The Countryman may have been a global success, but it remains a diffcult car to reccommend, especially so in this high-powered, four-wheel drive petrol trim.
While its cleaner than before, the previous problems with ride and refinment still remain very much intact.
True, the Cooper S ALL4 has few natural rivals, except for perhaps the Nissan Juke Nismo, and if you have you're heart set on a high-powered petrol Countryman we'd go for this over the pricier JCW.
Still, rivals such as the Audi Q3 1.4 TFSI are similarly priced, better to drive and more spacious inside, albeit without the added bonus of four-wheel drive. If you need a Mini with a practical edge though, we would wait for the the five-door Mini hatchback to arrive in September.
If the new three-door hatch is anything to go by, that car will be a lot more refined, cheaper to buy and more economical than the Countryman thanks to its new 1.5-litre engine, and not far off in terms of practicality, eith, with cabin and boot space to rival hatchback stalwarts such as the Ford Focus and VW Golf.
What Car? says…
Cooper S ALL4
Engine size 1.6-litre petrol
Price from £23,125
Torque 192lb ft w/overboost
0-62mph 7.7 seconds
Top speed 134mph
Fuel economy 44.1mpg