Paul Horrell13 July 2010

Mini Countryman: is it any good?

Is Mini’s first-ever four-door a proper Mini? TopGear’s resident Foreman finds out

Mini Countryman: is it any good?

The pre-launch hype had it that Mini had miraculously invented a whole new species of vehicle. But privately, the Countryman's designers say they simply made something for people who want a car that looks like a Mini but need more space. And in that respect it's a success.

The Countryman's engineers say they made a car that drives like a Mini. Unfortunately, they couldn't.

Because it's higher than a normal Mini and has more supple suspension, the Countryman rolls more in corners and feels comparatively soggy. Oh, it's a lot better than most crossovers, but the agility of the normal Mini hatch is just a distant memory.

And the extra height and width and complication increase the drag and weight. Sure enough, even the Cooper S version doesn't have the get-up-and-go you'd expect. It has a bit of a drink problem, too.

Ah, but what about the 4x4 version? Well yes, for an extra grand or so you can have drive to the back wheels, too. The test car came with that box ticked. It doesn't alter the look or the height of the car, so you have to go badge-spotting. It's good for powering out of wet roundabouts, no doubt. (Can't verify this because our test drive was dry.) And, if you fitted all-season tyres, it would be reassuring if you live somewhere snowy. But really the 4WD option doesn't do enough to turn the Countryman into either a great on-roader or a great off-roader. 

Whether it's the 2WD or the 4WD, the Countryman's long-travel suspension means it's got a pretty supple ride. Especially over crappy town streets. And the faux-SUV styling - wheel-arch protectors and chunky bumpers - mean you'll be well insulated against car park knocks.

So it's going to be the car for the image-conscious urbanite with kids. Or someone who lives up a farm track and needs a bit of extra ground clearance. But not the person who loves driving.

Paul Horrell, Consultant Editor of TopGear magazine

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