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2023 Mini Countryman EV First Ride

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Autocar got a chance to take a ride in one of the Countryman EV prototypes.

They say that it feels "more alive" to ride in than the BMW iX1, which is shares a platform with.

First ride: Mini Countryman SE All4
The new Mini Countryman shares a lot of its underpinnings and powertrains with the X1 and iX1, so is it a case of ‘see our BMW X1 review’ for the way it drives? Mini’s engineers are at pains to point out that any Mini should feel like a Mini and have ‘go-kart feeling’.

The latter is likely to be a bit of an overstatement in what's likely going to be a two-tonne EV, but there's certainly room to make the X1 feel a bit more direct and engaging.

At a recent event, I got the opportunity of a short passenger ride in a prototype of the new Countryman. The big change is that it’s noticeably roomier in the back, and the boot space has been boosted too.

Even more obvious is the revolution that has taken place up front. The dashboard and centre console have lost nearly all their buttons, including the rotary infotainment controller. All have been replaced by a very large, very thin, circular OLED touchscreen.

The only physical controls that are left are confined to a small panel with a handful of shortcut buttons, plus the drive selector and the start-stop switch, which takes the form of a classic ignition key affixed to the dash.

The car still ran a prototype build of the infotainment system, with numerous unfinished features and lots of bugs, so it would be unfair to cast judgement on whether this move has been successful. After all, it's still roughly a year away from reaching customers. It seems substantially different from the current BMW iDrive system, however.

Although a lot of the interior was still covered in camouflage and there were plenty of rough prototype parts, I got a peek under the sheets, and one change that stood out was that parts of the dashboard were made of colourful woven fibres instead of the usual textured rubber. It should give the finished car quite a distinctive and cheery atmosphere.

On the road, the Countryman shares some characteristics with the iX1, of course. Having the same powertrain, it's more than quick enough, and it gets three normal fixed regenerative-braking modes, plus an adaptive mode and a one-pedal ‘B’ mode that will bring the car to a complete stop.

Despite that, it’s quite striking how different the chassis feels from the iX1's. Unlike that car, the Countryman runs passive dampers and fixed-ratio steering, and even from the passenger seat, there's something about its ride and roll rates that makes it feel more alive than the iX1.

This is designed to be a more comfortable car than the outgoing one, as befits its more family-friendly remit. Nevertheless, it’s quite firm-riding, which could prove too much in the UK, but it deals with potholes remarkably well.

The vehicle dynamics engineer who drove us around said the steering where most of the Mini character will come from, but that’s something to verify when we actually get behind the wheel – hopefully later this year.
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