"Oh my god, is that for real? It's like a grown-up Big Wheel." "It's a Mini monster truck." The Mini Countryman elicits all sorts of responses from bystanders. So far, they're only positive, but at the same time you get the feeling no one takes the pint-sized crossover seriously. Other companies might cringe at the thought of their products being compared to toys, but Mini revels in it. A vehicle like the Countryman was never meant to be just another car; it's all fun all the time.

Like other S model Minis, the Cooper S Countryman is powered by a 181-horspower 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4. Even with the added weight of All4 all-wheel-drive, the little crossover is still relatively quick. The six gears are a true pleasure to shuffle through and the tiny turbo keeps the car from ever feeling out of the power band. Testing shows a 0-60-mph time of 7.3 seconds, but the Mini is limited to 4500 RPM with the clutch in. (Apparently drivetrain preservation is a higher priority than rally car-style clutch-drop launches.) It can also run the quarter mile in 15.7 seconds and hit 89.1 mph in the traps. Again, impressive for such a small engine, but the time could be better if a more aggressive launch were allowed. The EPA says it will return 31 mpg on the highway, which is surprisingly high for a crossover, if that's what you consider it.

Mini has always been known for building cars that are giant-killers on twisty roads. The Countryman may not chase down ZR1s with such ferocity, but it still feels like a Mini. Maybe more appropriately it feels like a Cooper S wearing Rollerblades. The steering feel and eagerness are recognizable from the smaller models, but everything is elevated. Not more or better, but literally elevated-by several inches vertically. Body roll isn't drastically increased, but because the center of gravity is higher everything is amplified. It just won't change directions as fast as a standard Cooper. The mass is always moving through bigger, higher arcs, and the longer wheelbase takes more space to rotate. Everything happens slower; it's a Cooper S on decaf. During figure-eight testing we steady-state lateral acceleration measured 0.86 g while recording a circuit time of 26.9 seconds, less than a half-second slower than a Volkswagen GTI and almost a half-second faster than the Nissan Juke.