Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL420 | 04 | 2011Scotcars rating

    Take a Mini Countryman, pump it full of steroids, throw in 4WD and you get a lot of fun


    Imagine a Mini, attached to a large air pump and inflated to one and a half times its normal size. That’s basically what you have got with the new MiniCountryman – the big, burly brother of the family who’ll come around and sort out the school bully for you. He’s not just big; he’s been on a course of steroids and has filled out in all directions. But you know what? I like the look of him and I’m clearly not alone. The car was launched in September 2010 but the initial allocation was sold out even before that. Within weeks there had been 30,000 sales enquiries at UK dealerships, so it’s not surprising that within six months orders approached 6000 and it now accounts for almost 30% of all Mini sales in the UK.

    It’s been an amazing success, mirroring the achievements of the original Mini when it was launched. One thing’s for sure – it is different. It looks like a Mini with all the styling cues, many of which have been stretched, elongated or modified, but at the same time it doesn’t. It sits high on the road and in fact looks bigger than many estate cars. Alongside a normal Mini it looks half as big again and the original Mini looks as if it would fit in the boot … which it wouldn’t because the rear loadspace is actually quite small.

    What you get is a very clever refreshment of the Mini concept by the designers who’ve taken the original idea and after the Convertible and Clubman, have come up with something completely different, while maintaining the style and character of what has been a huge success for parent company BMW. The test car was the Cooper S ALL4, the four-wheel-drive version, combining performance with extra traction if not huge off-road ability. It looked sensational with a white paint job (white is the new black, I am advised) and black leather interior.  

    On the road

    I don’t think it was me, or my style of driving but I found it more than a little lively on the road. Tricky and wayward would be putting it too strongly, but I certainly had to have my wits about me on several occasions when I felt the car reacted badly to changeable road conditions and surfaces. I have heard similar comments from others who’ve tested the car and whether it’s the ride height, the sensitive steering, the four-wheel-drive or whatever, it’s definitely a characteristic of the machine. There’s nothing wrong with this, you just have to be aware of it and I’m sure any long-term user would get used to the feel and work with it.

    It’s aimed at lifestyle users – whatever that means – but for sure it will appeal to anyone who likes the Mini but has felt restricted by the limitations of the previous models. I know one young mother who showed great interest in the test car, was gushing in praise of its looks and whose only detailed question was whether a folded buggy would fit in the rear. I re-assured her that it would and the last I heard she was checking out the phone number of her local dealer. It is most definitely a five-door car, with no quirky openings like the half size ‘clubdoor’ on the Clubman estate. The rear tailgate opens high and wide with the release built into the large Mini badge at the back, an idea already found on several others like Alfa and VW.

    The rear doors are accommodating and the back bucket seats in the test car were spacious and stylish. The six-speed gearbox was flexible but I found first and third were very close and on more than one occasion inadvertently selected third with a resultant stall. In fact, pulling away generally was a little tricky with a fine balance having to be struck on the clutch when the engine seemed reluctant to pull away. Once again I found the start-stop system deeply irritating so more often than not switched it off.  

    Comfort & Safey

    The stretched feel continues inside which is dominated by the enormous centre speedo, combining all the other functions of satnav, radio and the like, and controlled from a central knob between the gearstick and out of proportion, aircraft throttle-style handbrake. I felt it was fussy and tricky to find my way around, but again, with regular use, you’d probably find it a lot easier. The test car came with loads of standard equipment but then the base price was over £22,000, so you would expect something for your money, like electric windows all round, heated door mirrors, washer jets and a quirky, but fiddly centre rail system between the front seats and running to the rear.

    Even then the test car came with more than £6000 of extras, including the £2490 Chili pack; £995 for the navigation system and £345 for the heated front screen. It has scored top marks for safety, claiming the top 5 Star score in the Euro NCAP crash test which is now even tighter than ever. One of the factors which secured that is its pedestrian protection measures with a front end designed to yield and reduce injury to walkers and cyclists if they come into contact with the car. It also has all the standard safety features to give it the high crash test score.

    The Countryman is the biggest Mini there’s ever been or will be. The company’s designers admit the concept simply can’t go beyond the four metres length of this car. The Countryman has stretched the design rules to the limit, but in a clever way in the true spirit of Mini.  

    Should you buy one?

    Like the whole Mini concept, it’s stylish and dramatic but it’s also practical, if pricey.

    CLICK HERE to see our video of the Mini Countryman

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    Alan Douglas

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £22,505 / £28,895
    Engine / Power: 1598cc / 184bhp
    How fast?: 0-62mph 7.9 secs,  Max 130mph
    How big/heavy?: H1561mm, W1789mm, L4110 mm / 1455kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: Combined 42.2mpg / CO2 157g/km
    InsGP/Road tax: 28 / Band G 165
    Alternatives: Skoda Yeti; BMWX1; Audi Q5; Hyundai ix35

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