2011 Mini Countryman: Go Kart Handling
February 18, 2011
The striking thing about the Countryman is that it feels like a genuine Mini to drive. It may be less nimble and a bit slower than the Cooper hatchback, but every control feels as if it were lifted unchanged from its little brother -- the quick turn-in and hefty weighting of its steering; the mechanical clack of every gear change; the distinctive clutch action that takes some acclimation; the distinctive turbo snap of the S engine; and, yes, the firm ride. When people drive the Countryman, I guarantee a good chunk of them will use that trite cliche: "go kart handling."
This is why the Countryman will be a success.
Yes, it's a lot smaller than the way cheaper Kia Sportage or entry-level luxury SUVs that start at our particular tester's elevated price, but as I essentially said in regards to Cruze (yet never before in any other situation), "Size isn't everything."
See, I've known four people who bought Minis and didn't even consider something else. Regardless of whatever logical reasons there were to buy a cheaper, bigger compact car, it just didn't matter. The Mini character appealed to them in a way that only a Mini could, and that was it. It's the same reason I lust after an Aston Martin instead of a 911 Turbo.
Now, imagine how many people were kept from getting that beloved Mini (or were forced to sell it) because they needed to carry a child seat or child, period? They don't need something as big as Sportage, just something with four doors and a good-size back seat. The Countryman now provides that with the styling, character and "go kart handling" that makes a Mini.
Sorry, I think the Countryman makes a lot of a sense and it's indeed worth more than your average compact SUV. Is it worth that much, though? Well no, but then the Cooper shows people will happily pay for Mini's particular brand of character. I know at least four people who'd agree.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor