Britain’s roads today are a war-zone! If its not speed cameras offering to penalize you every 500 yards, the road itself is more than happy to begin its attack on your conveyance. Speed bumps the size of houses line the streets taking chunks out of cars that are too low and obliterating the suspension of those too high. However the biggest menace on the tarmac today is not one that has come into existence by means of the government (surprisingly.) I am of course talking about the pothole, those cheeky little blighters that attempt to swallow your wheels in one. Driving about the other day was like a series of small car accidents with some potholes being large enough to consume the entirety of Dorset.
This got me thinking, a dangerous thing to do I know, and I came to the conclusion that the often frowned upon “soft roader” may actually have a purpose on todays roads. You see these cars look like 4X4’s, drive similarly to 4X4’s but when it comes to the rough stuff they just cant hack it. But from what I’ve seen its Mum’s in just such cars that can make it to the shops with their spines still in place. Enter the Mini Countryman, a car that completely blows its namesake out of the water. This not so mini Mini could just be the solution to our rutted roads.
To be more specific this is the Cooper D Countryman. A 1.6 litre diesel Mini with seating for five and ample boot space, a first from a hatchback via Mini. There is an “All-4” four-wheel-drive variant of this car however our test cars configuration with front-wheel-drive coupled to this engine is by far and away the most popular. The base price for this specification is £19,210 making it more expensive than the cars closest rivals. However a few added toys pushed the price of our car up to £22,900, so what do you get for your hard earned pounds? Well; a car that can do 0-62MPH in 10.9 seconds, has 112BHP and a fuel consumption low enough to achieve 64.2MPG. So by my reckoning the cost benefit analysis is starting to tip in favor of the Countryman.
Inside it is your typical Mini retro styling with attractive features such as the centre speedometer encompassing the LCD screen on the dashboard. However styling is where the similarities end as this car is the most practical Mini ever produced. Its four conventional doors make slipping into the very spacious cabin a doddle. It is a strange sensation being inside a car that so indisputably a Mini but actually be able to stretch out in the rear. Cabin quality is right up there as well with even the rear seats receiving the bolstered treatment.The boot is of generous proportions allowing for everything from the weekly shop to the spoils from an Ikea trip to enter. The amount of natural light allowed to pass through the Countryman is another plus however we did find that rear visibility was a slight issue, much like many other cross-overs.
On the road the torquey 1.6 really shone through highlighting why this is such a popular model. Pulling away is effortless and the car soon surges through the gears. For a diesel the engine was rather pleasant when you let the rev counter out to play and the entire drive was involving from start to finish. Despite its hight and being front-wheel-drive the car handled well with minimum body roll thanks to its suspension. However this does make the ride a little firm, not uncomfortable, but firm. The steering was also not as light as expected but this is all part of Mini’s engaging driving ethos, something that despite being an all new model hasn’t been lost. The only other niggle was that some features of the cabin, though very retro, were much more a case of style over functionality. The speedometer requires you to look at the centre console and the Star Trek inspired hand break was not as comfortable as the trusty old leaver. Though buying a Mini is all about its individuality and so for some these things won’t bother them.
At first I questioned the cars exterior architecture sighting it as slightly disproportionate. However after spending time with it I must say that the design has grown on me, I now look at it and see that Mini charm that its garnished with and smile every time. Would I recommend the Mini Countryman diesel? I would do more than that… I would go out and buy one myself.