BMW WOULD prefer MINI and mini to be separate in the dictionary these days but driving the new Cooper S Countryman, you can’t escape the same comment over and over: “it’s not very mini, is it!” And true, it would be comedy to park the Countryman next to an original BMC Mini. Yet MINI, the brand, is increasingly standing for a premium compact car a bit alternative to the homogenised offering from most other car makers. Like all other MINI models, that’s what the Countryman reliably dishes up with its funky, oddball styling inside and out, and the added practicality of usable rear seats and doors. It also drives surprisingly well – surprising because we’ve not been very fond of the new F56 Mini compared to the cracking old R56.
But the darty front end of the new-gen MINI – which makes the three-door feel flighty and nervous – works a bit better with the longer wheelbase of the Countryman, lending this MINI a more secure and stable handling personality and making it more fun than scary to drive at a clip. It also has enthusiastic and eager, if not exhilarating, acceleration, the inside front wheel spinning up excitedly out of tight turns. And the eight-speed auto works well with the perky turbo engine, swapping gears quickly and with a polite brap on upshifts – even some burbling on the overrun. Ultimately this is a tame car from a performance perspective, and people keen on mixing practicality with driving thrills are better served by other cars at this price. But the Cooper S Countryman, while not crazy fast, drives well and is good fun. And if it’s clearly no longer going to be about size, fun is what modern MINIs should be all about. – DC