MF Garage Update: Countryman Rides Harsh While Driving Smoothly

We can’t say it enough. BMW’s insistence on run-flats on their cars kills the ride. When an M5 rides better than a 6 Series something is wrong. In the Countryman it’s particularly a shame because MINI engineers have clearly done an admirable job in crafting the best riding MINI to date. When we’ve found (key word here is found) glass smooth roads, our sport suspension equipped Countryman exhibits an impressive balance between sport and comfort with minimal body roll yet a comfortable transitions over imperfect roads. But that’s only if you forget about the brittle quality of the ride thanks to the run-flats that wrap our R60’s 18″ wheels.

So why did MINI go with run flats in the first place?

It wasn’t for safety as some might assume. BMW decided long ago to ditch the spare tire to save weight in order to increase efficiency and of course save a little money in the process. At the time of the decision (dating back almost 15 years), the tire manufacturers promised dramatic cost and comfort increases for run flats, bringing them inline with normal tires. Alas that hasn’t happened and auto manufactures that have agreed to use the technology have been battling ride issues ever since.

Which brings us back to our All4 MINI Countryman. This is by far the best MINI to date in terms of soaking up road imperfections. Yet it trails some of the competition in ride comfort thanks solely to its expensive run flat tires. The fix? If you don’t need runflats, we suggest wear them down and contact one of our fine sponsors about getting non-runflats on your MINI. This is especially important for the R56 or R57 as the shorter wheelbase cars benefit even more from a flexible sidewall.

In our mind it’s an option that MINI should offer from the factory. Or in the case of markets outside the US, make runflats an option and offer regular tires for a few hundred less.

  • dumblikeyou2

    The handling is compromised when you go to non-runflats though. I did it myself, and while it was totally controllable, it did lose a lot of sharpness with steering feel. Plus, if you’re riding on the 16″ wheels, there aren’t any 195/55 non-runflats that are offered, or at least there weren’t when I did the switch, so you are forced to go to 205/50 instead. Not a big deal, but, I believe the extra sidewall softness combined with the increase in tire width, one, degraded my fuel mileage, and two, wore done my clutch because I was always working the clutch to get smooth launches and exits.

    A lot of car manufacturers are starting to go to the 195/55 and away from the standard 205/55 that so many have used for years in an effort, I believe, to help fuel economy, as you can now find non-runflats in 195/55 now.

    PS: the ride only improved marginally and once the non-runflats got older, they too were just as jarring and noisy as the runflats.

    I do have the sports suspension, so that is a factor as well. Avoid it, it only provides a slight bit more control with handling.

    • I’ve done it on all three of my own MINIs and never had a loss of sharpness at all. Although I was always going up a wheel size.

    • goat

      Many confuse the ultra stiff sidewall of runflats with “good handling”… it does provide super sharp steering response, mind, but actual handling will be greatly improved with a quality summer performance tire, which is what you would want to change to anyway if you are coming from the performance runflats that ship with the sport suspension cars. Selecting a summer sport tire with a firm sidewall rating will help keep the steering feel sharp (not quite as sharp as runflats of course) and suddenly you will have MORE grip, MUCH better breakaway characteristics (what I hate most about runflats as how they break away at the limit with little warning) and a more comfortable and quieter ride. Pretty much a win-win.

  • Anonymous

    I drove Chicago’s roads daily for five years (sales, I had the entire state), and can only imagine what it would be like to do that on run-flats. And on 18’s, no bloody way.  I recall moments when I would bet real money that my car (always just a year or two old at any given point) was falling apart slowly.  It wasn’t, of course, but the roads are that bad. 

    Regarding run-flats in general, I came to MINI not aware of BMW’s tire idiosyncrasy. While I get why MINI drivers dislike these tires, for some reason the 16″ Goodyear fun-flats that came on mine provide a ride and cornering experience I quite like compared to my 17″ Hankook evo V12s.  But on bad surfaces, I’ll pass on the run-flats entirely.

  • Anonymous

    of course base Coopers, Coupes, etc come with regular tires and the compact spare up underneath the car. Just ordered a Coupe with all-season tires.

  • mnicpt

    I thought BMW did away with Bridgestone.  Seems that the Continental run-flats aren’t as bad.  Any thoughts out there?

    • Guest

      I had the Contis on my 2011 R55 and they were so bad I didn’t even wait 4000 miles to get rid of them.  Can’t imagine ever going back.  They turned every pavement seam into what felt like an unmaintained railroad crossing.

  • The harsh ride, interior noise level, rigid run-flats and sports suspension all conspired to kill my enthusiasm for my 2009 Clubman S. We have some hideous roads around LA and while my MINI was tremendous fun to drive on a twisty road like Mulholland Drive, but in daily driving, with rough surfaces, uneven pavement and potholes, it wore me down.

    While I know the sports suspension was a contributing factor, I think it was the run-flats that sealed the car’s fate for me. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it (off lease) earlier this year. I didn’t replace the tires because of the expense and the relatively short term of my lease.

    Had the Countryman been around in 2009, I probably would have gone for it to get the extra room and the ALL4 option to smooth out some of the heinous torque steer.  It’s a bit disappointing to hear that even on the Countryman, the run-flats conspire to bring it down a few notches in comfort & ride quality.

  • Anonymous

    I had two Minis and now a 128 Sport (yes, with a manual). All had their runflats tossed within the first 3 months of ownership. My 03 R53 showed the most improvement of the lot. The 128’s ride turned into mush without the runflats so I installed Koni FSD shocks and bigger swaybars. The car came with 17″ runflats and even going to 18″ wheels and the mods, the ride is better with the regular tires.

  • Cinimin

    We have the Continental Runflats, 205 / 55 / 17 on our Countryman with Sport Suspension – and no complaints with ride or handling – Why would anyone get 18″ wheels on a vehicle like the countryman and then complain about the ride???

    • Because BMW makes cars that have 19″ and 20″ wheels that ride better. It’s the run-flats and not the size of the wheel that is the issue addressed above.

  • Wheatwriter

    “Wear them down as soon as possible and contact one of our fine sponsors about getting non-runflats on your MINI.”

    Gabe for those of us who don’t live in a sprawling metro area I have to take your comment as a naive, if not, arrogant suggestion.  Run-flats have saved my wife twice while driving from work because she picked up a road hazard along the way.  Sure she’s more than capable of changing a tire, and of course we have MINI Roadside Assistance, but pulling over on I-80 in the dead of winter doesn’t make for a quick, safe, or easy tire change on the side of the road.  I have enjoyed your articles and insight on many-a-things MINI and BMW but throwing out an order like “GET RID OF THEM THERE TIRES NOW!!” takes your professional “opinion” and review down a couple of notches in my book.

    • CharlieVictor

      As one who got rid of the runflats on my new Clubman a few days after I drove it off the lot, I must concur that the runflats do not make MINIs feel good on the road. So, from an enthusiast’s point of view, the runflats are awful. HOWEVER, from a practicality and personal safety standpoint, the runflats are a good thing. For some people, the security that comes from the knowledge that you don’t have to immediately pull over to change a flat tire is worth the additional noise and poorer ride quality. Some folks don’t even notice that the ride/noise are an issue – but they probably are not among the MF readership!

    • VanMINI

      Gabe’s comments are for those looking to improve the ride of their MINI. If family safety for your loved ones takes precidence, there’s no need to lash out at him. both points are valid, just different.

    • Dr Obnxs

      You are only seeing one part of the equation. Run flats only help with tread puncture, and maybe a mild sidewall puncture as well. They are screwed with serious side wall compramise and tread separaration events. You are also trading the ability to drive with a tread puncture for traction that effects both braking performance and traction limits, both of which can be much better with the improved compounds available in non-runflat tires.It is usefull to keep in mind all the facets of tire-derived safety.

  • R55RLS

    As fan to fan, let me ask you all your opinion on this:

    I have an R55 that, at one time, was stock with 16” runflats. 

    After 20,000 miles of painful “car breaking” potholes here in Southwestern Ohio, I decided to opt for regular performance Bridgestones. I have been happy with them, but I’ll be honest, there wasn’t much difference with the ride. It’s still incredibly harsh.

    And now,15,000 miles on the treat later, it’s now even more harsh than the runflats.

    Even with rotations, alignments, etc, I it has become so loud. The sidewalls have to be uneven, because my Clubman now sounds like a freight train inside the cabin. Every rotation makes my blood pressure go higher. By the time I’m at work, my eyes are bloodshot, and the entire office can hear my iPod because it’s cranked so high.

    I’m just wondering what I should do now, because, well, I really don’t want to buy ANOTHER set of tires… and the dealership, the tire store, and friends and family all say the tread is “normal”.

    Should I just buy a pair of Dr. Dre Beats to cover my ears?

    • MINImofo

      I asked the same thing on NAM and I kept getting responses for shocks/stuts to either lower my car or perform better. The ride is WAY worse than any of my Jeep Wranglers. All I am looking for is a good replacement to make the ride better. I could care less about taking a corner at 55 mph.

    • Anonymous

      See if you test drive a used R55 or borrow someone else’s car for comparison. It’s possible that something is wrong with your suspension, maybe a blown shock. On 16″ tires with fairly high sidewalls you car should not be that rough. Did you buy the car used, you may be driving on someone else’s modified suspension.

      • R55RLS

        I bought the car new in 2009, and even double checked the suspension when it was in Cincinnati MINI two weeks ago. They said that there was nothing wrong nor out of line with the suspension. 

        Really it isn’t terrible, it’s just the fact I live downtown in a pot hole stricken community. But still, the regular side walls should give more than the runflats. 

        Good idea with driving another “2009” R55, they gave me a 2011 as a loaner, and it drove awesome… Maybe I’ll scout out another one on the used lot.

        • Cincinnati roads are terrible in places. I hear ya. 

  • that.guy

    One thing to note is that all “non-runflats” are not equal.  There are significant differences in sidewall stiffness across even “performance” tires that can make a huge difference in ride quality.  Something like the Kumho Ecsta SPT or Hankook Ventus V12 are very soft in the sidewall and really take the edge off the ride (and take the edge off the fun, imo).  Dunlop Z1… very different story.  No edges removed with those.

  • Ayde_Bury

    Interesting in the UK you can now spec all new MINIs to come with or without the runflats. Runflats are now a £50 (about $75) extra when specified. Instead of the harsh ride and expensive replacement costs I now have a comfy ride and a small compressor and a can of MINI tyre repair gel.

    • Craig E

      I wish we could use the “MINI Mobility Kit” on our MINIs here in the USA.  However my understanding is that the tire pressure monitoring sensors that our Federal Government (in their infinite wisdom) require, preclude its use.  Apparently there is a risk that the goo will clog the sensor.

      • They’re available from your dealer. I’ve had one in each of my MINI’s.

  • Simbaloco

    I think the problem is the surface quality we “enjoy” in the USA and not so much the runflats. The article states that the ride is all “peachy” with “glass smooth roads”. But the fact is that there aren’t many of those here. The infrastructure in Europe is better engineered. The German autobahn, for example, has freeze resistant concrete with the roadbed and surface measuring about 27”. Maintenance is superb. Crews inspect every square meter of the system periodically using vehicles with high-tech road scanning equipment. If a fissure or other defect is found, the entire road section is replaced. I believe the thickness of the typical Interstate is less than half that number, and as for maintenance….. no comments.

    It is truly a joy to drive in Europe, even in the mountainous regions. The weather harshness there, with extreme night and day temperature swings, does not deteriorate road surfaces as much as, for example, New England weather.

    When I was in college at UMaine, the Civil Engineering Department conducted extensive research on “rubberized asphalt” road surfaces. The rubber came from recycled automobile tires. The advantages: increased weather resistance, increased material flexibility, increased grip, increased drainage, decreased maintenance and decreased noise. The disadvantage: the relatively high initial investment cost for the procurement of specialized equipment. Paving companies seem to prefer keeping their current status quo with subpar road quality standards and poor maintenance practices, all in the effort of keeping the cash flowing and us, the driving enthusiast, aggravated and disappointed.

    I live in the Boston area and own a Countryman S All4. Enough said. Cheers!

  • Beken

    My runflats kept going flat until they literally fell apart.    I have not had a flat tire since going back to regular non-runflat tires.  The ride was a bit harsh, but no different than the old bias play tires before radial tires came out (long time ago).   

    • that.guy

      That is some serious historical perspective you’ve got there. 

  • Anonymous

    I plan on selling my 17″ performance run flats as soon as I get my new JCW later this year. I live in a big city and carry a repair kit, slime and a compressor. If absolutely needed, I will call (non-MINI) roadside service.

    The Conti all-seasons on my just-Cooper are harsh without providing any additional handling improvement. When I had to replace a damaged tire, it cost me $225 at a cheap local shop ($400 MSRP at dealership!!). That is compared to about $100-125/tire for a standard performance tire. After only three summer seasons the tires are just barely within the limit for my end-lease return to MINI.

  • BilboBaggins

    My question why do people spec 18″ wheels and then complain about a rough ride.  Duh  Runflats or conventional tires the ride quality will suffer.

    A Countryman is an SAV so don’t give any grief about taller or softer sidewalls destroying the handling.  The handling was destroyed by physics.  You can not make something longer, taller and heavier and expect it to handle like an R53 that is shorter, lighter, and lower.  If you want taught handling it is going to be at the sacrifice of a boulevard ride.

  • M8oinc

    In regards to “At the time of the decision (dating back almost 15 years), the tire manufacturers promised dramatic cost and comfort increases for run flats, bringing them inline with normal tires. Alas that hasn’t happened and auto manufactures that have agreed to use the technology have been battling ride issues ever since.”

    …and the Music industry promised us the huge cost increase of a CD vs. a vinyl record would go down as CDs became more efficient to make and were more widely adopted.  Instead, they pocketed those cost efficiencies instead of passing it on to us.  Not sorry seeing record company’s having tough times … not at all.

  • pw4

    Runflats are now optional on Australian MINIs.  If you don’t specify them, you get a can of goo and a very impressive MINI-branded battery-operated tyre pump.  Still no spare or jack – I’m sure the MINI people in Germany and UK have no idea how remote the places are that MINIs can get to in USA or Australia!

  • I don’t mind the ride as much as the lack of confidence I have taking a long trip with runflats.  What are the chances of finding a run flat on the Pennsylvania Turnpike ? Answer: none. I’d rather take my chances with 4 conventional tires where I have a chance of finding a replacement or using a reinflation kit. Why can’t MINI/BMW offer the buyer a choice when the order is placed so we don’t have to burn up the runflats to get to the tire we wanted in the first place? My winter tires are conventional and I have a much greater sense of security when they are on.

    • Randy

      My new Countryman has 18″ pirelli centurato run flats, and it rides sooo harsh, that is can be unenjoyable to drive it.  They are a new tire for the countryman, and I hate the ride.  I also have 2009 MCS JCW stage 1 convertible.  It came with dunlop sp sport 01 runflats, and they rode very harsh also.  Replaced them at 23,000 miles with pirelli pzero runflats, and, surpisingly, they ride good.  Pretty smooth, not too rough, night and day improvement over the dunlops.  They are of course 17″.  I think it has more to do with the tire than the size.  I do not think 18″ make a difference.  Case in point, is my 2011 BMW X5 50i.  It has bridgestone dueller 20″ rims and tires, and it rides FANTASTIC!  I wish the tire companies could concentrate on making smoother riding run flats, and do it soon.

  • Minimodder

    Actually the decision to go with runflats WAS for safety reasons not weight……

    When you add up the additional weight which runflats adds to a MINI or any import car for that matter. The runflats exceed any addional weight savings you would have over a donut spare.  

    Your typical runflat tire weighs in at 29-30lbs…..your typical tire of same size about 19-20 lbs….that averages about 40lbs of added weght to the MINI USING runflats….The weight of a donut spare doesn’t even come close to that…….

    Runflats were pioneered for the highways, especially the Autobahn’s to maintain control of your car in the event of a blow out at high speeds….

    IMO, if you have a choice…ask for Continental runflats.  Superior ride, comfort and handling and no wheres near as noisy especially after the tread depth has passed 6-7 32/2.

    • Conti run flats definitely kinder on my 08 R56 than the original Goodyears. That said, disappointed with ride and definitely would not do sport suspension again.

    • MINImofo

      My wife told me that if I wanted to lose weight in the MINI that I should go to the gym……

    • BilboBaggins

      Not sure I agree with the numbers you are using.  According to Tire Rack for Dunlop SP Sport HPAS conventional tires in 195/55R16 the weight listed is 19lbs.  For the Dunlop SP Sport DSST run-flat in the same size the weight is listed as 23lbs.  A weight differential of 4lbs per tire, or 16lbs for a full set.  That is less than the weight of a “doughnut” spare including wheel and tire.

  • Got about 13,000 miles on a pure red All4 Countryman. Runflat all seasons on 17’s. I was going to order Sport suspension until my dealer warned me that I’d hate it on regular roads. I listened. Boy am I ever happy. Here you are complaining about ride. Car and Driver has been complaining about their Sport-suspension equipped Countryman All4 too. I have no problem with the ride – seems great, and passengers love riding with me. I even filled the tires into the mid-40’s to improve mileage. Handles great – I drive back and forth over the legendary Highway 17 from Santa Cruz 4x per week, plus forays into the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Countryman rocks it all, in comfort.

    • Let me be clear… It’s not the suspension we’re concerned about but what the run flats do to the ride. The sport suspension is a must have IMHO.

      • Anonymous

        The sport suspension with runflats is unbearable. Without the sport suspension, it is firm but comfortable. On a Countryman, a car designed more for practicality than sportiness, I see no reason to get a sport suspension. Heck, even with a Cooper S there’s no need for it, the standard suspension is already stiff, and provides stunning handling.

        Every professional review I’ve read of a MINI has recommended avoiding the sport suspension, and after driving a car with it equipped, I can see why. MINI should warn you that with the sport suspension, your butt will be numb. Forget any unpaved roads, the Cooper S suspension can’t even handle them.

        • Dlpruk

          I’m glad I tested an All4 on 17in Bridgestone Dueller run-flats and sports suspension – both on and off-road – before reading this pontification or I might not have discovered that it rides better in all circumstances than my previous Clubman, without sports suspension. did on 16in wheels and conventional tires.

  • woodnick

    Doing several back to back test drives in 2005 with the Cooper and Cooper S, the roughness of the ride in the S with its’ runflats was noticeably distracting for me. This difference in the test drives, along with the almost double replacement costs for the runflats vs. the nons at that time became the deciding factor in my not purchasing the S model, which I originally was seeking. Since then, I have repeatedly heard this difference being a factor from other Mini owners as to why they did not select the S as well.

    It seems ridiculous to me that with Mini’s selling point that one can individualize and build their own ‘unique’ optioned car, that they do not give the buyer a choice of tires. Seems like with the increased cost of the S model, that Mini is probably losing money in the long run by selling less S models to those customers turned off by the runflat rough ride.

  • Ghillie

    I had a 2007 R56 “S” w/sport suspension; it handled like a roller skate. However, on bumps and pot holes, it would knock the fillings out of your teeth. I traded it in June for the F60 “S” w/sport package and the difference in ride quality is amazing. It’s still a firm ride; but, not bone jarring. Remember, Minis are a different breed, if you want a cloud soft ride buy a Lexus!