Strengths and weaknesses:
- small trunk space
Peak performance from Mini crossover
If the Austrian Alps were a car, they wouldn’t be a 2012 Mini Countryman. They would instead be a full-size SUV or quad-cab pickup truck — grand in stature, slow to manoeuver and rugged where it counts most.
That said, the Countryman has plenty of room for four and enough space overall to question the concept of it truly being mini — in size, of course. Plus, driving the Mini S ALL4 Countryman in Austria is a far superior experience to what you could expect from a much larger vehicle. It handles the road with ease and confidence.
Power comes in the form of a turbocharged 1.6-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, Matched to a six-speed manual transmission. An available 181 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 177 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,600-5,000 rpm take this Mini from zero to 100 km/h in 7.0 seconds. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it sure is the most fun you will ever have in just seven ticks on a clock. Top speed is limited to 215 km/h.
The handling is superb, as we find out driving the back roads and mountain passes near Kuhtai, Austria. Equipped with what Mini terms ALL4 technology, torque is split front to back based on several factors including speed, steering angle and rate of acceleration.
We employ this system in various settings including a specially built ice and snow trail. Other than the odd stalling by the driver, ALL4 proves to be nearly unstoppable, a quality I come to respect later in the day as we head out on snow-covered twisty roads at high altitude.
Stopping power is improved with standard ABS, Brake Assist and Cornering Brake Control which keeps the car stable under braking while turning. Also helping maintain the stability of this 1,455 kg “mini” four-door are the additions of Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control.
Leading the pack on our drive through the Alps is none other than the renowned “Flying Finn” himself, Rauno Aaltonen, in an original Mini from the 1960s. I thought I was a capable driver at high speed on tight roads in bad weather. Rauno quickly takes the lead in a 50-year-old car and makes my driving prowess look completely ridiculous. I guess rally drivers really are the best racers in the world after all.
Creature comforts abound in the Mini S ALL4 Countryman. Climate control air conditioning, a superb dash layout with power functions for all major items, excellent seating for up to four comfortably and a truly funky interior make this, in my opinion, one of the best automobile interiors whatever the price. Reaching the end of a long day, we arrive at our hotel for an evening of Austrian fun and dining.
Hotel Alpenrose Kuhtai is situated 60 minutes outside of the former Olympic city of Innsbruck, Austria. It possesses the charm of a mountain chalet in a sophisticated setting with all the amenities of a first-class ski resort.
Hotel rooms are sparsely decorated but comfortable, with warm duvets, a large bathroom with shower and a work desk with Internet access. The LCD TV in my room has little to offer in the way of English programming, but this is typical throughout Europe and something you get used to very quickly. Besides, who needs TV when the ski lifts and sledding trails are steps away from the front door.
Dining takes place in the main hall, which serves a buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Spa highlights a large indoor swimming pool, Finnish sauna and steam room, everything needed to recuperate from a hard day on the slopes. Our evening dinner is held at the top of the mountain in traditional Austrian style, which includes a late night sled down the mountain to return to the hotel.
Driving through the snow in the Mini S ALL4 Countryman is equally exhilarating as we stretch the capabilities to the maximum and are left wanting more. Roads are ice covered in sections, and on several occasions we wonder aloud if we will make the tight turn or crash off the mountain.
The ALL4 system responds with authority, and I watch once again as the Flying Finn blazes a trail towards the next mountain. “Wait for me!” is all I can say.
He sure knows how to drive that antique. Imagine how far down the road he would be if we switched cars. Then again, maybe not!
Where to Stay
Hotel Alpenrose Kuhtai