Maximising the Mini

The Cooper Works versions of any Mini never disappoint. The Countryman, thankfully, is no exception.

There was a time when Mini was just a car. You know, that brilliantly small hatchback penned by Alec Issigonis in the late Fifties. It was and remains one of the greatest examples of industrial design ever and, without a doubt, a landmark of automotive ingenuity.

Still, although it is a lot of fun to see an original Mini go by, it is also undeniable that a car of such proportions is not what people want these days. Cars are getting bigger with every passing generation and the Mini is now bigger than the original Golf, the first compact family car.

So, is the Mini a family car in this day and age? Well, not the three-door hatchback, I don’t think. But Mini is no longer just a car, it is a whole brand, consisting of a growing line-up of models, of which none is quite, well, mini. Although the three-door hatchback is still a relatively small car by modern standards, the other members of the Mini family are all pretty maxi.

The five-door hatchback is big. The Clubman is bigger. And the Countryman is positively gigantic for a Mini. But that’s today’s market and instead of whining about how great it was when the Mini was a car you could park on your hallway, it seems more productive to look for the great things that have come with a whole series of different cars and body styles.

Last week I drove the new Countryman John Cooper Works. One step above the Cooper S versions on the brand’s sporty scale, Cooper Works cars are for those who want the ultimate performance from a Mini, a kind of a no-compromise way of enjoying everything the car has to offer, including more power from the engine and an even sportier chassis set-up.

The Countryman is a big car, a real family-oriented model. There’s lots of space everywhere, the boot is big enough for all the kids’ stuff, the dog and that beach chair you just couldn’t do without, and the comfort is on a whole new level compared to the previous Countryman. It also has the highest quality interior ever put to a Mini, great seats, a funky layout and that typical Mini irreverence. I think it’s safe to say the Countryman has come of age, without losing its childish temperament at times.

The Cooper Works’ treatment, however, is not for everyone. A harder suspension set-up means you have to sacrifice some comfort for enhanced performance and driving involvement. Is it worth it? Well, to me, absolutely. The handling, already pretty good on lower models, is amazing. There is still a little bit of understeer – not a bad thing really, it makes the car safer and more predictable for go-fast albeit inexperienced daddies – but you can neutralize it by sacrificing corner entry speed and making up for lost time on the exit, where most of the times the Countryman can deal with full throttle without breaking a sweat. That ALL4 four-wheel drive system isn’t there just for show.

Brakes are good and can take up a lot of beating, while the 2.0 litre engine, although lacking some vocal qualities, howls the Mini forward with ease. The exhaust makes some funny noises on the overrun, just so you don’t forget you are probably going above the speed limit already.

The press car I drove came with the excellent ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, but I would commend you for going with the six-speed manual. Either way, the Cooper Works sprints to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds and reaches a top speed of 240km/h.

I liked it, I really did – and I’d love to see more of them on the road. But I think I know why I don’t: €50,000. Yup, after you spec a Countryman Cooper Works in the way it must be specced, you are looking at a 50k car.

Man, I hate our tax system. The government hates cars and so every year car taxes get higher and higher. It was 3.5% this year, another 1.4% in 2018. The result is purely emotional cars like this Countryman remain just a dream. What a shame.

By Guilherme Marques