Roadtest: BMiniW Countryman Cooper

As the Germans discover a new shade of colour for their marketing pie charts, the latest Countryman now attempts to marry the practicality of a BMW hatchback/crossover chassis with that ever-so-popular Mini charisma. Sports saloons cook a similar recipe, but can that go-kart feeling really apply to a compact SUV? And when does the X5 based Mini Mountainman come out?

As it is, the BMW X1 turned Mini ticks all the intended boxes for that slice of hip, young family market. The cabin space, generous in legroom, luggage and oddments storage, is comfortable and robust in feel. While part of test car’s luxury comprised optional extras – a storage pack, heated & sports seats, a rear bench that for £300 can recline by roughly 5 degrees… – you needn’t worry about paying extra for the central armrest and ambient mood lighting in any version. Electric windows, floor mats, and the world’s most frustrating indicator stalk are standard too.

For when the interior lighting can’t quite reflect the deep melancholy from spending £27k on a suitably spec’d up base model, a rear bumper cushion will allow you to sit and stare out in contemplation at that generic marketing brochure-esque country park. This is until you realise you’ve just played into the hands of the requisite Adventure pack (£850). It’s in the smaller things, though, that you do start to find value. Three-way split seats fold with satisfying ease, if not perfectly flat, and there’s a permeating sense of thoughtful design all round.

Outside, too, with a tapering window line and chrome detailing immediately generating that Mini character which, while beginning to stretch the theme a little far, results in a car far better proportioned than the X1 and 2 series cars on which it’s based. It’s once on the move that the size of this car really becomes apparent though, and particularly so in town, at which point the high body blinds you to curbs and road markings. A Mini Mayfair it most certainly is not.

However, you will certainly feel the curbs – and no, that’s not a Chili pack option. The slightly punishing ride sustained over speed bumps and broken town streets is unfortunately not offset by superb countryside handling either. While there is a feeling of that trademark Mini agility, and sure it darts from corner to corner with the same enthusiasm as its indicator does from right to left to right, it can too often feel like it’s skipping over bumps at speed. Instead of working with the road, its stubborn, crank the spring rates up denial of being a crossover results in a roll-free but slightly disconcerting drive when pressing on.

Except for when the front end throws in the towel on a bumpy corner entrance, the Cooper – that’s the base model now – is playfully neutral on the limit, consistent too, and its three cylinder turbo really does have a lovely cultured warble to it. Even during normal driving, the refined drivetrain will have your passengers beginning to genuinely believe you are in fact that sophisticated adventurous type depicted in the brochure. They’ll think maybe they could be too. For £23k, and the more realistic £27k of the test car, it bloody well should have that effect though.

As a family car, a spacious and practical one, it’s ahead of the £2k cheaper as-equipped Audi Q2, but this promise of a Mini Go-Kart feeling is lost through some frustrating faults. The gearbox offers you only two optimum gears up to 70mph, by which time you wonder about your license and hopefully your family, instead of past models’ close ratios that send you into a hilarious frenzy of revs and gear changes all under that important slow down dear, I mean it now point. Third gear, if selected too early bogs the car down like quicksand, and even in accurate anger from second you’re reminded of not having the (£25k+) Cooper S as it struggles to lug you towards 100mph. During this dogged climb, you also realise that there’s quite a bit of road & wind noise, and the already subdued engine note is being drowned out completely. There are still three gears to go…

Adopting BMW’s 2.0 turbo, the Cooper S is like a ‘Countryman20i’. +£2k for the S, further £2k for all-wheel-drive.

So while its 6th gear will cruise you along nicely – it’s tall enough to need 4th gear up some hills; whoever devised this car’s pointless 5th gear needs a good cogging – it’s not a pleasant noise compromise. Mechanical vibration and harshness are excellent, however, for being unnoticeable. That suspension, as mentioned, remains a flaw particularly for UK roads, and there is a stiffer sports set up which my spine wishes not to experience. Still, its control inputs and drive modes are judged rather well, and the three-stage traction control works nicely with its inability to be switched off completely rarely an issue.

Of course it was never meant to be a revived Monaco rally icon, and it certainly drives with more verve and involvement than the omnipresent Qashqai, but to justify that Mini Cooper badging and pricing it needs some fettling, particularly for UK roads. As it is, something in the driving seems to be lost with each generation of new Mini and this car is the worst yet. But it has a good excuse. It’s a family sized car that makes a reasonable go at being fun to drive, is practical ahead of much of the competition, and characterful enough to interest you slightly. I think I’ll be waiting until the next one before I pry the Mini badge off.

Mini Countryman Cooper 1.5 turbo
Price as tested: £27k
Additional equipment: Chili Pack & Sports Seats
136hp, 220nm @ 1400rpm
0-60: 9.6s, max 126mph
Claimed 51.4mpg combined, realistically 40mpg
1,365kg curb weight


Stripy fabric a nice touch Certainly looks like a Mini from here
Plenty of room, and a good view too BMW & Mini switchgear together


Photography credit to G. Evans, find him on Facebook or Instagram

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