There was a moment. A slight moment (as they say on the track) that made two things suddenly very clear. First off the Cooper Countryman I was driving had all seasons on it. Secondly (and more profound) is that no matter the spec, the Countryman is a MINI at heart. The moment? The slight rotation and four wheel drift around a corner of a country road just outside of Kansas City. That’s the moment they so many of us love driving our R50s, R53s R56s etc. And it’s moments like that that show that MINI engineered what has to be the most nimble small crossover in existence today.

First off this is a lightening review of a car that most here don’t care about. But MINI enthusiasts should take note. This is the car that is going to turn thousands of MINI owners into car and MINI enthusiasts.

The steering isn’t as immediate as the R56 and the ratio definitely feels slower but it adds up to the feel of stability that suits the car well. The suspension (non sport on this Cooper) clearly had more body roll than any MINI I’ve driven but it had more composure than any mainstream crossover I’ve ever driven. Or to put it another way there was body motion but it the R60 was always composed and predictable when pushed.

But it’s slow. If you thought a R56 Cooper auto was slow, add a three other grown men as passengers and you get an idea of what the R60 Cooper auto has to overcome. Steering paddles would be welcome because I had to work the hell out of the gears in the hills to keep up with Todd in the 2011 MCS and Matt in a 2010 JCW Convertible. But in the end I pretty much did if there were corners involved. This is a surprising car.

The transmission (as we’ve previously reported) is identical to the 2011 MINI models in that it’s been refreshed. However the auto only gets one change called neutral control. At idle (with your foot on the brake) the auto equipped Countryman (and any other revised 2011 MINI) will subtly de-couple from the previous engaged gear. Once you lift off the brake the transmission re-engages with the previous gear. The net result is a subtle gain in efficiency. In sport mode this system is off for optimized (and more immediate) acceleration.

The engine gets the same subtle makeover as the rest of the range for 2011. It’s nothing like the changes for the MCS (2011 LCI section of course has all the details) and is hardly noticeable.

Inside the cabin is very close to the 2011 LCI with a few exceptions in the HVAC control execution (I assume MINI Design had parallel work streams with the two projects). The R60 is a but more bulbous than the R56 and featuring shiny plastic on both sides of the center controls that lets down the rest of the car (which has the highest quality plastics I’ve ever seen in a MINI).

The exterior demands larger wheels. 18″s are what you want to fill-out the wheel wells and give the car better proportions. Of course there’s nothing new here, the R56 demands at least 17’s as the R53 did before it.

This will be the bread and butter of the MINI range. The car that sells so we can have our coupes, roadsters and JCW. But it’s more than that. It’s an introduction into the world for people who may not even like to drive. It’s the trojan horse that could do what the R50 and R53 did all those years ago.

Tomorrow we’ll be driving the R60 Cooper S manual and look for our 2011 Cooper S review in the next few days.

Related: MF Review: MINI Countryman S All4