Despite its extra height and weight, the Clubman has much of the alert, lively response of other Minis, even if it doesn't feel as snugly wrapped around you. The electrically assisted power steering is among the best of its type, and gets even better given a bit more weighting with a push of the Sport button. Yes, the Countryman understeers, but stabbing the brakes can kick the tail out to aid turn-in, provided you've switched the stability control into sport mode or off completely. On the high-speed course, we found you can drift this Mini like a rear-wheel-drive car - provided your name is Jorg Weidinger. Mr. Weidinger has the benefit of being a Mini test engineer for chassis and suspension - oh, and a professional racing driver who has driven Minis (and other cars) at the Nurburgring 24-hour race.
The Countryman's big role
The fact that you can carry big drift angles on a wet racetrack is certainly good news for potential Countryman buyers, but probably isn't their primary criteria for choosing a new car. Instead, the folks from Mini say that interior and cargo space are mostly what these customers are looking for, and that previously they had to leave the Mini brand to get it. That might have been fine if most of them were marching across the street to their BMW dealer, but too many were wandering off to other manufacturers. Whether you think the big Mini is a major mistake or a big idea, that's the reason it's here. And once the Countryman reaches showrooms, it's expected that the biggest Mini will account for the second-biggest share of the brand's sales (after the hatchback).
2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman
Base price: $26,500 (estimated)
On sale: Early 2011
Engine: 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 184 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 192 lb-ft @ 1600-5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
L x W x H: 161.8 x 70.4 x 61.5 in
Wheelbase 102.2 in
Cargo capacity (rear seats up/folded): 12.4/41.3 cu ft