What is it?
Loved by many, loathed by a few traditionalists, there’s no denying that BMWs MINI has taken the world by storm. Now with 5-doors and AWD, the Countryman pushes the marque forward into another category and joins the likes of the Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and the brilliant Mazda CX-5, amongst others.
With numerous interminable trips to Birmingham and Warwickshire under its belt, I began to appreciate the MINI as a quiet and comfortable motorway cruiser, outside noise was never an issue as we cruised along the M6 averaging 38mpg, according to the computer,
Without a doubt, to get the best out of your MINI you need to take it along twisty country roads where its true DNA reveals itself. The steering is quick and there’s lots of grip on offer, especially on wet and greasy surfaces after a huge downpour.
Corners aren't a problem either, the wider track means that it's very surefooted and composed, the ALL4 handled roundabouts and tight corners like it was on rails.
I’ll be honest, for some reason I wasn’t expecting much of the ALL4 in the rough stuff, but it surprised me. To be fair, it obviously isn’t a mud plugger, but it handled wet grass without any drama, neither was there any fuss getting it on 3, and then 2 opposing wheels, even on slippery rocks there wasn’t any drama.
The ALL4 handled everything I threw at it with ease, and during the little amount of abuse that it received, it felt solidly built and dependable.
So far, I’ve been utterly surprised by the MINI, and in a good way, but jumping behind the wheel for the first time I was quite disappointed. This particular press car had black roof lining, black door trims, black dash, black seats and a black carpet, add to that the MINI’s narrow windscreen and it was like driving the Bat Mobile, I’ll be honest, it felt a bit claustrophobic.
Continuing with its negatives, the centre speedo is pointless in my opinion as the orange numbers clash with the orange speed indicator and is only good for the passenger to comment on whatever speed you’re doing!
Things could be better thought out, for instance the USB ports are right beneath the handbrake and consequently difficult to access. The sunglasses case is a great idea, but it sits beneath the centre armrest, just behind the handbrake and is quite difficult to open with one hand. I couldn’t even open it properly whilst sat stationary, never mind when I needed protection from the sun whilst driving. The heater switches are within arms length, but are small and a bit fiddly.
However, it isn’t all negative, the seats are bloomin’ comfy, especially for long distances. This was the first of 26 press cars that I’ve driven since the beginning of the year whose heated seat went all the way up my back, which was nice. And on a separate note, if you check out our new Doon Beach Buggy review, it has the same BMW MINI seats fitted which gives it an incredibly nice ride - click link.
I liked the toggles and their protective guards, they give an aviation feel to the interior, though most of the buttons and switches are small and down near the base of the gear stick, a bit awkward for a 6ft 1", 19 stone bloke.
After a week and over 600 miles I’d got used to most of its foibles, but there’s one thing that I couldn’t let go was the size of the rear view mirror - it’s huge - and add that to a narrow windscreen, it restricted my forward view quite significantly.
Ok, so I’ve been fairly negative about certain aspects of the interior, but there’s no point in sugar coating things, and besides, these are just my thoughts, I know a few MINI owners who love their cars and have no idea what I’m moaning about! The moral of the story is, always go and find out for yourself, don’t take anyones word for it, especially mine, ‘eck, I like military Land Rovers!
Having said all of that, during the week I covered a total of 610 miles, and it was a comfy place to be. We did the school run, we loaded it up with BBQ’s we were testing, we played in the mud, we slogged it on motorways and had fun on country lanes, and not once did it complain. Now I understand why they’re so popular.