Mini Countryman: driven - What's it like to drive?
It's the tallest Mini yet, plus the ride height is 10mm loftier than the hatch's. Despite that, though, body movements are still incredibly well controlled. Corners cause a fraction more body lean than they do in the hatch, but the Countryman still scampers through a set of bends with complete composure.
It feels totally stable when the plentiful grip runs out, too, not least because the Countryman follows Mini's ethos of placing the wheels as close to the four corners of the car as possible. The short overhangs also make the car feel eager to change direction, and the super-quick steering helps on that front, too.
The steering is also well-weighted, and offers some useful feedback.
The turbocharged 1.6 petrol engine in the Cooper S version we drove is just as sensational. Not only is it powerful with 181bhp, but it's also flexible and smooth.
For those who don't need quite so much pace, the Cooper's normally aspirated 1.6 gives a more modest 120bhp, while the One has an even more conservative 97bhp. Diesel buyers choose from two turbocharged 1.6s – the One D has 89bhp while the Cooper D has 110bhp.
Like most crossovers these days, the Countryman is front-wheel drive, but some versions can be had with an optional four-wheel-drive system. We didn't take our car anywhere near the mud (and neither will most buyers), but the system gives strong traction in wet conditions, and the transition from front-to four wheel drive is so quick and smooth that you'll do well to detect it.
The ride felt smooth on the flawlessly surfaced racetrack we drove on, but whether that'll be the case on Britain's battle-scarred road network is still open to question. We'll have to reserve judgement until we've driven the car over something that resembles a bump.
The One models are the only Countryman variants that won't come with the option of Mini's new ALL4 four-wheel drive-system.
At launch, it'll be available on the Cooper S for £1220 extra, and on the Cooper D for £1605. A Cooper version will follow in 2012.
Even ALL4 versions are front-wheel drive most of the time, which minimises the system's impact on fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
When slippage is detected on the front wheels, the system improves traction by sending a portion of the drive to the rear wheels via an electro-magnetic clutch on the rear axle.
The size of this portion is infinitely variable – up to 100% of the engine's torque can be sent rearward if needs be – and, because the propshaft that runs from front to rear is spinning constantly in readiness, the transformation from front- to four-wheel drive happens almost instantaneously. Brilliant.