It would be easy to say Mini has lost the plot when it comes to the Countryman, its self-proclaimed crossover. Mini comes to America and fattens up like the rest of us instead of staying small, lithe, and true to its roots. But after wheeling our Countryman S ALL4 around L.A. for the past several months, I'd liken it more to a sports superstar at the edge of their prime: bigger, thicker, and a little slower, but with more than enough guile and experience to make up for it.

Mini's been building fun-to-drive cars for more than a decade now, and of course the Countryman has most of that DNA, which came in handy the other day. I was ripping along on SoCal's infamous I-405 when suddenly a gangly body-panel piece appeared directly in my lane after coming around a corner. Instead of clipping it, I was able to quickly flick the heavy, but responsive wheel while still in the lane and dart around it. Whew. The Countryman's steering feel is one of its best qualities, I'm a big fan. Far from sluggish or sloppy, you turn it, the car responds in a hurry. Things sharpen up even further when you press the sport button - the wheel gets a little heavier, gears hold longer. Yeah, a manual would be better, but I have to admit, the six-speed auto is responsive and gearing has never been an issue - other than when trying to work the relatively weak paddle shifter setup. I've found it's better just to drop it into sport and let it hunt for the optimum rev range on its own.

As I've previously outlined, the Countryman S is also the only Mini I've ever driven where torque steer doesn't really come into play. Like a veteran who knows how to finally hit the curveball, the ALL4 system's best on-road quality is mitigating the wheel from pulling in one direction, an Achilles heel of the higher-powered John Cooper Works cars especially. I'm going to be really interested to see how the Works Countryman feels with the added power and especially torque routing through the ALL4.

Much as the big-time baller who's lost a step, the Countryman's a couple of ticks slower than its other S-badged stablemates, but it still blasts out of the gate quickly and it hits the on-ramp gaps. Roll hard into a corner, and you will notice its heft and a fair amount of body roll, but you feel in control of the car, there's predictably less understeer than other Minis. You're not going to be able to toss it around as much on an autocross as its small fry Cooper kin, but you wouldn't embarrass yourself either.

There is room in any lineup for a bigger, more experienced star who can handle still their business and deliver when called upon, and the Countryman's it for Mini. It's the designated hitter for Mini fans looking for that big bopper option.


Our Car
Service life 9 months/15,774 miles
Average fuel economy 23.8 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.82 lb/mi
Energy consumption 142 kW-hr/100mi
Unresolved problems Occasional acceleration stumble
Maintenance cost $0 (1 x oil change, inspection)
Normal-wear cost $0