How far can a brand be stretched before it snaps? BMW’s Mini may be about to ﬁnd out.
Its new Countryman is a let-down on almost every level. When BMW relaunched the brand in 2001, I joined the cheers as it was cute, brilliantly engineered, great fun to drive and felt special even beyond its eye-wateringly high cost.
And with the Countryman the ability of its price to bring tears to your eyes is all that’s left. The top of the range Cooper S All4 I drove costs £22,030 or, put another way, about the same as an entry-level 3-series BMW.
For that you might expect it to be quick and fun, but it is neither. Its acceleration is mediocre and its handling ﬂawed by steering made horrid by its overly aggressive reactions and distinct lack of feel. Most notably the steering response is out of touch with its soft suspension, exhorting the car to change direction like a sports car, a command it is ill-equipped to obey.
The interior is an ergonomic mess, with that absurd central speedometer performing no function other than to condemn a whole raft of switches to a dark recess in front of the gear lever where they are difﬁcult to read and reach. Moreover there are details that you’d not expect any car, let alone a BMW, to get wrong. The sun visors, for example, are bizarrely inadequate, nor is it possible in the four-seat version I drove to conceal the contents of the boot from the outside world.
There are aspects of the Countryman that do impress: the engine is quiet and notably free of lag for a 1.6-litre motor giving 184bhp. I liked the ride quality, and reﬁnement levels are perfectly acceptable for this kind of car. Moreover the gearshift is pleasant and the quality of interior materials commensurate with its pricing.
Is this enough? Not even close. It is hard to see the Mini Countryman as anything other than misconceived. It’s a poor car and the wrong move for Mini. Let’s hope it impresses more on the special stage than it does on the public road.
ENGINE: 1598cc, four-cylinder turbo
TOP SPEED: 130mph
POWER: 184bhp at 550rpm
FUEL/CO2: 42.2mpg, 157g/km