First Drive: 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman

Don Sherman

Chassis Details
The basic suspension layout parallels existing Mini models with struts in front, trailing arms located by two lateral links per side in back, and coil springs at every corner. The aluminum rear differential housing is rubber isolated while front and rear cross members bolt solidly to the unibody structure.

Electric power steering adds assistance via the rack-and-pinion steering gear's pinion shaft. Anti-torque-steer programming is new this year in response to perennial gripes on that subject by Mini critics.

Less Than a Full Dose of Driving Bliss
Given the promising exterior appearance -- read smaller in real life than photos would suggest -- and Mini's unwavering dedication to driving nirvana, our hopes were high that Countryman would burst out of the typical crossover mold in terms of speed, agility, and all-around exuberance. While the driving position is perfect for the mission, the initial steering response off the straight and narrow is encouraging, and the S edition's turbo engine is steeped in spirit, there are lapses in the Countryman's driving dynamics.

The elevated ride height results in tippiness never before seen in a Mini. Steering feel goes numb when you are in greatest need of feedback from the road surface. The extra weight and longer wheelbase slow reaction times from the go-kart-agile realm into the merely good range. Ride motions venture beyond well controlled to verge on harsh over rough pavement. In some instances, that can fill the cabin will booming reverberation especially in the back seat. Also, there's noticeable wind noise generated by the upright A pillars and large side mirrors.

The dynamic cloud's silver lining is a surprisingly affordable admission price. Including delivery charges, the well equipped Mini Cooper Countryman starts at $22,350. Loading up the CooperS with ALL4 traction and other goodies won't top $30,000 so this buggy is sure to be of interest to young growing families.

Ultimately, the satisfaction to be reaped from the Mini Countryman depends on your frame of reference. Moving down from a larger crossover or over from a Subaru Forester or Toyota RAV4, it's sure to feel fresh and lively, particularly in turbocharged CooperS trim. But graduating to the Countryman after a stint in any Mini Cooper hardtop or convertible, the joy of four doors and increased cabin space will soon be diminished by life's harshest reality: growing up is hard to do.

5 of 5

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