Live from the launch: Mini Countryman


It might have been widely derided for its looks, but we were really looking forward to driving the latest member of the ever expanding Mini range, the Countryman.

Essentially a mini SUV, the Countryman looks a bit like someone has taken a bicycle pump, shoved it up the exhaust pipe and swelled it out a bit.

We won't tell you what to think of the looks as everyone will have their own opinion one way or another. Besides it was the driving experience that we were really looking forward to assessing.

Mini hatchbacks are renowned for their precise handling, meaning they are often described by lazy hacks as feeling like a go kart. Naturally by making a car that is taller, wider, longer and heavier, some of this was going to be lost, unless you stiffened the ride up drastically.

Thankfully that hasn't happened and the Countryman dealt admirably with the few potholes we have found so far on our German test route. The unfortunate offshoot of this is that there is more body roll that you would hope for from a brand that prides itself on such good corning cars.

Add in that the fact that the steering is almost too sharp and changing direction is an experience that needs a little adjusting to. We wouldn't normally criticise a car for being too responsive, but this is a baby 4x4, and you don't expect something of this size to react so rapidly when you tweak the wheel at speeds. Still, it does make lower speed corners a little more enjoyable, which is presumably what the Mini engineers were after – a little off-roader that is fun to drive.

We are not sure yet whether it is that, but it is certainly somewhere between the two extremes of languid and sporty.