This ought to be the closest thing to a luxury car Mini has yet made.

Okay, so that’s a bit like saying the Spruce Goose flying boat was the closest thing to a submarine ever built by the Hughes Aircraft Company, but it illustrates the point about the Countryman.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
I’ve tested Cooper S and D versions, and in some ways the latter is a much calmer drive. They’ve nailed the D’s steering and handling, but I’d want more ride compliance to use it daily

If Mini is ever going to show us it can balance its trademark darting dynamic energy against some more supple compliance, a smoother ride and a more surefooted feel than it usually manages, well, now would be the time.

Has all that been achieved? Well, partly.

Not far enough to make this car feel like anything other than a sporting option among softer and more stodgy medium-sized five-doors, even in bottom-rung diesel, non-sport-suspended, front-wheel-drive form – which, we’d concede, is probably all well and good.

But neither is it far enough to give Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen or Volvo a serious fright that Mini is about to start vacuuming up customers out of the ‘compact premium’ automotive mainstream.

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The Countryman isn’t quite that comfortable, quiet-riding or easy to rub along with.

It steers well, with pace and incisiveness just striking enough to make the car seem agile and willing, and with decent on-centre stability, precision and feel. It handles with a vigour that is rare among other full-sized hatchbacks and only matched once you’re well into warm hatch territory.

Level, direct, tenaciously grippy, balanced and encouraging through corners, it’s the last car you’d label as a pseudo-SUV if you’d been blindfolded and put in the driver’s seat.

However, the comfort and isolation the average driver would want from the ride of his everyday-use hatchback still isn’t quite present.

It wasn’t in the Clubman, either, but the fact that Mini has again missed the target while having the Countryman’s extra wheel travel to take advantage of is more of a disappointment.

It rides more than well enough to avoid annoyance while you’re enjoying the keenness of its handling, but there’s little lope or cushioning either in town or out of it. Body control is fidgeting and excitable over uneven B-roads, while the coarse roar given off by those run-flat tyres over rougher surfaces makes it a tiresome car in which to travel when you’re not in the mood to be entertained.

The Countryman takes as well to Millbrook’s Hill Route as you’d imagine any hatchback tuned for sporting tastes might.

Here, grip levels that felt more than sufficient for spirited road driving proved to be high enough to carry the car through testing corners in fast, poised and compelling fashion and certainly engender a more encouraging fast driving experience than you’d expect from a standard diesel five-door.

The Mini has a stepped electronic stability control system that’s subtle enough even when left fully on but can be switched half out (into Dynamic Traction mode) or fully out.

You can leave it on and still drive the car up to the limit of grip without feeling too many interventions; switch it off and there’s a bit of adjustability to the handling on the limit, although not quite as much as you get in smaller Minis

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