Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Of all the engines offered in the Countryman, the 150hp 2.0-litre diesel of the Countryman Cooper D is our pick – t’s decently quick yet also good on fuel. By comparison, the cheaper 136hp three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol feels rather underpowered in what is quite a big, heavy car, and is best avoided.
At the other end of the scale is the turbocharge 2.0-litre petrol of the Cooper S and Cooper JCW, producing 192 and 306hp respectively. However, neither feel quite as fast as their power outputs might suggest. All4 four-wheel drive is available with any of the engines, and most are available with a manual or automatic gearbox.
The automatic-only Cooper S E plug-in hybrid is the exception to the above. It combines a three-cylinder petrol engine with an 86bhp electric motor that’s located on the rear axle. In all-electric mode, off-the-line performance is very brisk, but tails off at around 50mph. Officially, it’ll cover 26 miles before you need to switch to petrol power, but don’t expect it to manage that distance in reality. As is usually the case, the plug-in hybrid makes most sense for company car drivers (thanks to the effect its low CO2 emissions have on Benefit-in-Kind tax), and those who regularly tackle a short urban commute in stop-start traffic.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Countryman has a firm suspension set-up to make it feel agile in corners, but you end up spending more time bouncing up and down in your seat over poor roads than actually enjoying the sporty setup. It gets worse if you go for optional bigger wheels with run-flat tyres.
At motorway speeds, the bounciness calms down a little, but you can still feel the car bucking on a typical British B-road, clumsily thumping through potholes and over ridges. You can add adaptive dampers for a very reasonable price, but even these don’t provide a smooth ride. Rivals are far more cosseting.
The hybrid Countryman is even worse – its added weight doesn’t do it any favours. Even on seemingly smooth roads, the hybrid Countryman picks up surface imperfections and never fully settles down, while on rougher roads (those we’re used to in the UK), the firm suspension struggles even more, with a particularly unforgiving ride over harsher bumps.
Mini prides itself on offering ‘maximum go-kart feel’ in all of its cars. What they mean by this is a minimum of body lean in fast corners and precise steering to help you position the car on the road with confidence. In the slightly portly Countryman, though, a steering set-up that lets you dart into corners with very little steering lock also leads to the Countryman feeling twitchy on the motorway.
Not only is the steering a little too fast, but it’s also very heavy, especially at speeds typical of town driving. This can make getting in and out of a parking spot more of a chore than it really should be.
Out of town, though, the extra traction of the optional All4 four-wheel drive system helps the car feel surefooted in poor weather conditions, but adds even more weight to a car that already feels slightly cumbersome in corners. This is especially true when you need to change direction quickly; there’s a surprising amount of body lean – despite the stiff suspension – and the Countryman never feels as agile as the fast steering suggests it will be.
The plug-in hybrid system of the Cooper S E adds around 130kg. Although, on paper, it is slightly better balanced than the regular models, its extra weight causes it to leans into faster corners more than the regular Countryman. It doesn’t feel anywhere near as agile in fast direction changes and therefore isn’t as much fun.
Noise and vibration
The three-cylinder entry-level engine in the Cooper can’t match the Cooper S’s smoother four-cylinder motor when it comes to vibration and noise, particularly because it needs quite a lot of revs in order to make swift progress. The more powerful Cooper S revs smoothly while emitting a sporty rasp that’s thoroughly in keeping with the badge. It does sound a tad strained at high revs, though.
The Cooper D actually has a smoother, quieter and more free-revving diesel engine than many rivals, and is our pick of the Countryman range. You’ll like the standard manual gearbox, too, because it slots into gears nicely with a pleasing, if rather heavy, action. Of the two automatics, the traditional 8-speed found on All4 four-wheel drive models is smoother than the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic used by two-wheel-drive models.
As you’d expect, the Countryman S E plug-in hybrid is the quietest of the bunch when it’s running on electric power alone, and it remains quiet even when its 1.5-litre petrol engine joins in. However, irrespective of engine, road and wind noise are more apparent than in rivals; the roar from the tyres can resonate loudly through the car on certain motorway surfaces.