A bigger Mini. That has to be a bad idea. Or does it? We drive the Mini Countryman to find out

Ever since the Countryman was launched a few years ago, I’ve despised the idea of there being a bigger Mini than the Cooper. I understand what physics does to a car when you add some weight, and then jack up the ride height. Things could only go south. Then there’s the question of adulteration. Mini’s are pure-bread cars. As far as front wheel drive cars go, very few other cars come close to the “fun-factor” offered by a Mini Cooper. I’ve driven two generations of the Mini – the most recent Cooper D and the Cooper S before that, and both those cars left a huge smile on my face. They were special, had tonnes of character and brightened up your morning commute unlike any other car. The engines were spot on, with the diesel and the more powerful petrol in the “S” version offering enough punch. The diesel returned close to 13kmpl in the city, and could be used on a daily basis. Likewise with the petrol (though it was a lil less frugal – and a lot more fun). You see where I’m going with this conversation. As far as I could tell, the Countryman was everything that could go wrong with the Mini range. It was the anti-christ. For the longest time, I’ve avoided testing this car for precisely this reason. Until now. And I’ve been rather stumped over the last few days. The Countryman is a more rugged, off-roadish, family sized Mini.

It’s longer, taller, higher – bigger in virtually every way. It’s still front wheel drive only. And it’s powered by the same engine as the old Cooper D. It makes a healthy 112bhp and 270Nm of torque. It’ll sprint to a hundred in about 11s and it’ll go on to do a top speed of around 185kmph if you keep your foot down. Those numbers seem just about respectable for a mid size hatchback, which is really what the Countryman is. It’s no “go-anywhere” SUV. It’s an urban crossover of sorts.

A more grown up, more mature version of the Cooper. I’m going to cut out on the numbers here for a bit, because the Mini range is more than just numbers – they’re cars that offer so much more. Lets start with the design of the Countryman.

If the Cooper 3 door is what you call cutesy, the Countryman is more Hooligan-ish. It’s beefier and more muscular. It has a very different personality when compared to the Cooper 3 door.

Take the bonnet bulges that end in the headlights up front, the flared wheel arches, the blacked out alloys, the black eye brows that line the headlights, the bigger tail lights or the chunkier bumpers fitted all round. The Countryman is an out and out crossover.

On the inside, things are a lil more familiar. The design of the interior is carried over from the 3 door. It’s a fun place to be in, offering something very different as compared to most other cars. Being from the previous generation, the Countryman still touts the central speedometer, enveloping the central display that houses the media, telephone and car monitoring controls. It features Bluetooth and USB connectivity, but lacks a satnav system – quite a disappointment considering you’re paying upwards of INR 30 Lakhs for the car. What’s not disappointing is the space inside the cabin. There’s ample room for 4 adults. Yes, in a Mini! The rear seats are easily accessible via the rear doors. And there’s quite a large boot on offer too – enough at least for your weekend getaway. What I didn’t like about the seats was the fact that they aren’t electrically adjustable. But then, you wouldn’t want to let anyone else drive this car anyway. On the whole, the Countryman’s interior is a playful place to be in. Every dial, every knob, every grab handle is specially designed for the Mini series, and it makes you feel extra special. The dials look funky with the orange back lighting, the knobs on the centre console make you want to flick them on and off every now and then.

Even the seat adjust handles are crafted specially for the Mini range. In the era of standardisation, it feels nice using an interior that hasn’t been replicated across the entire range of cars.

Okay, so we know the Countryman is a Mini as far as its looks go. But how does it feel like to drive. It was always going to come down to this. The Countryman had to live up to the Mini legacy. Right off the start, let me tell you that it’s not as much fun to drive as the 3 door. But you probably knew that. What’s surprising is how good it is to drive as compared to any other hatchback based front wheel drive crossover. It’s about 80% as good as the 3 door, which puts it miles ahead of similarly sized competitors. When you chuck the car into a corner, there’s a hint of body roll, but it’s well contained. The suspension is very slightly softer as compared to the 3 door, which makes the car a decent drive on a daily basis on Bombay’s pot hole ridden roads. We also tested the Countryman on a small stretch of back road just off the old Mumbai Pune highway, and it didn’t disappoint.

Surprise surprise then! The Countryman actually impressed me on a number of different fronts. Yes, it’s not as good to drive as the 3 door. But it’s more practical. It’ll seat four and swallow their weekend luggage comfortably, it’s well behaved on the highway, the suspension is slightly softer – offering a better ride and the diesel engine is pretty well sorted for a daily drive.

The problem then, is the price. At over INR 36 Lakhs, the Countryman faces stiff competition from the likes of bigger cars like Audi’s Q3, Mercedes’ GLA and BMW’s own, brand new X1. But none of these cars offer what the Countryman can – loads of style and character. What price will you put on that?