Driving

Mini Countryman review

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Mini Countryman
Review continues below...
20 Jan 2017 12:39 | Last updated: 21 Aug 2018 16:18

In this review

Driving

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Mini Countryman hatchback performance

A range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are available, with power ranging from 134bhp all the way up to 228bhp. A plug-in hybrid is available in conjunction with the smallest petrol.

The cheapest option is the 1.5-litre petrol. Unfortunately, with only 134bhp and 243lb ft of torque, this engine feels rather underpowered. It may be gutsy enough to give the three and five-door Mini hatchbacks potent performance, but it makes the heavier Countryman feel rather languorous. Filled to the brim with kids and luggage, we really wouldn’t want to be tackling any steep mountain passes.

The other petrol motor is a 2.0-litre unit that can be found in the Cooper S and John Cooper Works. With 189bhp in the Cooper S, you might expect it to feel fast. However, the Countryman’s weight means that performance is actually lukewarm. It is at least flexible, making relaxed progress easy.

The range-topping JCW is noticeably quicker, thanks to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit that has been uprated with a new turbocharger and additional intercooler – the net result being 228bhp, 258lb ft of torque and a 0-62mph time of 6.5sec. That said, you never quite get that ‘pushed into the back of your seat’ urgency that you'd expect from a hot hatch – something we suspect is down to the fact that the Countryman weighs around 200kg more than an equivalent Mini Cooper S hatch.

If you’re after a diesel, you can have a 2.0-litre unit with either 148bhp in the Cooper D or 187bhp in the Cooper SD. The Cooper D offers very good performance – better than equivalent-priced diesel rivals. The SD is even quicker, but still doesn’t make the Countryman feel particularly sporty. Given that it is also significantly more expensive, we’d stick with the regular D version.

Mini Countryman hatchback ride

Understandably, the Countryman is set up to feel sportier than most rivals. Its suspension is quite firm and springy, so you feel like you’re always bouncing up and down in your seat; if you opt for bigger wheels or run-flat tyres (a no-cost option), you’ll add a harsh bump absorption to that, too. At motorway speeds, it does calm down a little, but you find yourself bucking down a typical British B-road and clumsily thumping through potholes and over ridges. You can add adaptive dampers to the Countryman for a very reasonable price, but even these don’t improve matters very noticeably. Rivals are far more cosseting.

For the hybrid Cooper SE model, the added weight doesn’t make the ride any better than the standard car. Even on seemingly smooth roads, the 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 Countryman

Mini Countryman hatchback handling

Mini prides itself on offering ‘maximum go-kart feel’ (as they would say) in all of its cars. To achieve that in a taller, heavier car, the Countryman has been set up to dart in to corners with very little steering lock. While that makes sense charging down a twisting ribbon of road, it can feel twitchy on the motorway.

Not only is it a little too fast, the steering is also very heavy, especially at speeds typical of town driving. This can make manoeuvring more of a chore than it really should be. Four-wheel drive is available, helping the car feel sure-footed in poor weather conditions, thanks to the added traction the system provides.

That all-weather traction is even more welcome in the prodigiously powerful 228bhp JCW. Point to point, this model is capable of troubling lighter front-wheel-drive hot hatches, although that heavy kerb weight blunts on-the-limit feedback. Ultimately, a similarly priced Volkswagen Golf R or Audi S3 would be more involving on a challenging country road.

Even without the added weight of four-wheel drive, the Countryman always feels slightly cumbersome in the bends, especially if you need to change direction quickly. There’s a surprising amount of body lean and it never feels as agile as the fast steering suggests it will be.

The worst of the bunch is the Cooper SE, because the hybrid system adds around 130kg to the weight of the Countryman. Although it is slightly better balanced than the regular models, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as agile in fast direction changes and so isn’t as much fun. And, due to that heavy battery pack, it leans in to faster corners more than the regular Countryman. At least the steering is a little less nervous.

Mini Countryman hatchback refinement

The petrol-powered Cooper S revs smoothly while emitting a sporty rasp in keeping with the badge (the JCW, with its sports exhaust, sounds even rortier, popping and banging when you come off the accelerator). The engine sounds a bit strained at high revs, but you won’t have to stretch the motor that far under normal driving conditions. The Cooper D actually has a smoother, quieter and more free-revving diesel engine than many rivals, making it our pick of the Countryman range.

The entry-level engine in the Cooper, being a three-cylinder, fails to match the Cooper S’s smoother four-cylinder motor when it comes to vibration and noise. And due to that lack of grunt, you have to keep this unit above 2500rpm to make meaningful progress, compounding its aural intrusion.

The Cooper D actually has a smoother, quieter and more free-revving diesel engine than many rivals, making it our pick of the Countryman range. Because the Cooper SD has a higher-output version of the 2.0-litre diesel, it’s noticeably louder.

As you’d expect, the Countryman SE All4 plug-in hybrid is the quietest of the bunch when it’s running on electric power alone, and even when its 1.5-litre petrol engine joins in, the sound isn’t gruff. In fact, the engine and electric motor work together very smoothly.

However, road and wind noise is still worse than rivals and the Countryman is harder to drive smoothly regardless of engine choice due to a heavy, springy clutch movement and gearshift.

As for the eight-speed automatic gearbox, shifts are smooth and well timed. It’s a big improvement on the old auto 'box.

 

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There are 12 trims available for the Countryman hatchback. Click to see details.See all versions
Cooper Classic
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Cooper
Entry-level Cooper models get alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, air-con, a DAB radio, a 6.5in colour infotainment screen and sat-nav. You might want to add a couple of options, but the basics a...View trim
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Cooper S E
The main thing you’re paying for here is the plug-in hybrid system complete with an automatic gearbox. You also get yellow accents inside and out, a bigger 8.8in infotainment system and switchable...View trim
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