Mini Countryman 2.0 Cooper S Sport Premium ALL4 5DR Auto
Let’s discuss the Cooper S ALL4 auto. It's 1,530kg, which is 165kg more than a three-cylinder FWD manual - and that’s a significant amount of extra doughnuts. And so the 192bhp engine has to work pretty hard, and never manages hot-hatch performance despite the Cooper S badge. It sounds pleasant enough at higher revs, but the auto shifts up early and normally you're assailed by a droning sound that never quite quietens.
Sorry, that’s probably being a little harsh. The steering, even in non-sport mode, is surprisingly heavy. But it's geared sensibly and weights up off-centre appropriately. So it tracks well on a motorway, yet goes into corners willingly enough. (That's an improvement on the old Countryman, which had over-quick initial steering response to simulate 'Mini go-kart feeling' but which then got confused by its own body-roll.) Push harder in the new car and you find there's actually some feel here too.
Our first test was in the wet, and the Countryman would understeer strongly in slow bends, even with the DSC in sport mode. The idea is that the ALL4 system sends drive rearwards in those circumstances, but it takes a little while to wake up, so you can get a mixture of understeer and mild oversteer in the same roundabout. On faster corners, and as the roads dry out, it becomes a lot more predictable and actually reasonable fun. Though fun only in the context of crossovers; a Clubman is better, a three-door Mini hatch greatly better again.
The suspension manages to absorb big bumps decently enough, but there's a lot of lateral rocking, as is standard for crossovers. And it's busy on easier surfaces that should be more placid. Still, at least the chassis is quiet. That, and the tight flex-free body helps add to the impression of strength and refinement.
Off road? It'll do that too. We had a go through some oozing rutted mud. It clawed its way along pluckily. This was on winter tyres. Not an aggressive off-road tread, but neither was it the performance tyre we used for the road test. Mind you, as it was wet and not a lot above freezing, the winter tyres would probably have been ideal for the whole job.
The other car we’ve tried is the JCW, which is a strange mix of hardcore fast and practical. The ride is hard and feels short-stroked, but there’s no getting away from the fact that 300bhp, a willing and slightly prescient eight-speed auto and four-wheel drive means this thing will get down a road faster than most would believe. There’s little turbo lag, the steering is slightly slow but accurate, and the brakes do a good and tireless job. It’s not got ‘Mini’ handling, but it’s one of the best small SUVs if you want to actually go somewhere fairly rapidly. Just remember to drop the dog at home first.
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