First Drive : MINI Countryman Cooper S ALL4
The new five door MINI Countryman had its international launch in Hamburg, Germany last week. AROnline Contributor Adam Sloman was there to try it out.
At over four metres long, the Countryman is the biggest MINI yet, and it’s the first to be built away from the famous Oxford plant, with production being based at Magna Steyr in Austria.
The styling isn’t the car’s strongest point – it’s a further dilution of the MINI design formula and we’re still unsure if it works. Inside, it’s much the same as any other MINI, with the retro-style central speedo that houses sat-nav, DAB radio and the new MINI Connected system, which allows anyone with an iPhone to stream thousands of web-radio stations to the car’s impressive stereo system.
There’s a fair amount of space for four adults, while the new centre-rail storage system offers all sorts of options for sunglasses, music players, drinks and more. Boot space remains poor, offering less than that of the likes of the Ford Focus. Prices start at £16,000 for the cheapest 98bhp Countryman One, while the Cooper S with optional ALL4 4×4 system pictured here will set you back £22,030. Diesel versions will feature BMW’s new 110bhp engine.
With 184bhp on board, the Countryman is no slouch but, in comparison to its slinkier sibling, it can’t cope with the bends as well, the taller body meaning there’s evidence of bodyroll if you push on. Steering is artificially heavy and can become twitchy if you ask too much of it – it’s too keen to behave like the two-door and with the extra weight and that’s a tad unnerving.
MINI admits the Countryman is a soft-roader and the four-wheel drive system only really comes into play when the electronics detect a loss of grip. The test route included an off-road section through woodland but that didn’t really challenge the car’s four wheel drive abilities, truth be told.
It’s a pity BMW didn’t take more chances with the Countryman – bar the new centre-rail storage system and the optional four wheel drive, there’s little different to the regular MINI.
Boot space is still poorer than its rivals and it’s not as engaging to drive as some of the cars it will be pitched against. MINI are clearly keen to increase its customer base, but it would be great to see more innovation from the brand, should the Beachcomber concept (think new Moke) see production.
Despite its oddball styling, the Countryman will almost certainly be a huge success for parent BMW. The extra two doors are bound to bring people back to the brand or attract those who wanted a MINI with a bit more space. It’s not as much fun to drive as other MINIs, but it does offer something different to the normal family five-door.