The fellows over at Winding Road had the opportunity to spend some exciting time behind the wheel of the new MINI Countryman. Due to launch later this year in Europe and early 2011 in the U.S., the Countryman represents MINI’s latest bet in the crossover segment.
Recently, our own Shawn Molnar had a chance to spend some one-on-one time with the MINI Countryman at a BMW event and shared his impressions with us.
“In person, the Countryman looks very compact and well.. MINI. In a group of surrounding Coopers, the Cooper Countryman blends in and is camouflaged by stylistic features pulled directly off of it’s smaller sibling. We will let you judge how the Countryman looks in photos, but allow us to elaborate that in person the Countryman looks the part and is not a “ugly duckling” of the family – rather an attractive compact cross-over vehicle the embodies all of MINI’s design trademarks and personality.”
So with the design outline out of the way, let’s have a look at how the MINI Countryman Cooper S handles on the road.
“We drove these drab grey versions—dotted here and there with electrician’s tape to cover zestier details—on wet and dry dynamic loops of the Wachauring test track outside of Vienna, and we were seriously shoving around these 3210-pound units. All our testers were top-trim Mini Countryman Cooper S models with the optional ALL4 all-wheel-drive differential mounted at the rear of the “R6x” chassis. The only serious option missing was the Aisin six-speed automatic with shift paddles included, but the Mini Getrag six-speed manual has certainly proven itself over these recent years, so no whining from Ypsilanti.
Our 184-horsepower Countryman Cooper S also had the Sport button, of course, plus the DSC/DTC stability control (the 121-horsepower Cooper cannot get DTC), and we toyed with all of it. In the wet parts, all is well, but we had dramatically quicker lap times with DTC left on. But switched off on water, there’s way more fun—on a closed circuit, that is. With DTC left on, there is still play time in the hotter S, but even the wettest slides involve more full-lateral than oversteer. Either way, though, the new, weightier Mini family member comports itself nicely, feeling in the hands and seat of the pants exactly as we imagined it might be at first sight.
The ALL4 system is a nice 243-pound, all-season add-on and is honestly for nothing more rough than relatively groomed gravel estate paths or well-plowed ski area access roads. Ground clearance, also, is not meant at all to give you the illusion of Rubicon trail-crawling, though we’re certain some inspired freaks will attempt such versions. The electromagnetic multi-plate clutch system by BMW working with GKN in Japan is neither Haldex nor Torsen, but something unto itself that is worked via the software programming of the DSC system. Default normal torque distribution is 98 percent front and 2 percent rear, though a 50:50 split is easily allowed under more stressful performance conditions like ours here. And then you can ask for 100 percent in back, too, if needed when you’re stuck, just by knocking out the DSC altogether and appreciating your ALL4 option’s raison d’être.”