I had my first experience of the MINI Countryman just over a year ago, and as you'll see from the review published back then I quite liked it once I'd climbed inside and could no longer see how ugly it was. The Cooper SD version is another matter.
Even in manual form (the optional automatic transmission makes everything worse), the Countryman ALL4 is the slowest and least economical of all the MINIs fitted with the company's recently introduced 143bhp diesel engine, for which you can blame its weight and aerodynamic deficiencies compared with the hatch, Clubman and Convertible and the complication of the four-wheel drive system which isn't found in the non-ALL4 Countryman.
Despite that, the figures are pretty good. The 0-62mph is under ten seconds, it should be easy enough to average over 50mpg (the official combined figure being 57.6mpg) and 130g/km of CO2 emissions mean relatively modest annual tax payments of £95 per year.
But I wouldn't have one. Or, to be fair to the engine (which is strong, though also quite noisy), I wouldn't have a car in this exact specification. That would mean deleting the Chili Pack from the options list - an unfortunate move, since it's said that MINIs without it are much harder to sell secondhand than those with it, but necessary in this case because it includes an upgrade from 205/55 tyres on 17" wheels to 225/45s on 18s.
The lower-profile rubber makes the car turn into corners very sharply, with the enthusiastic support of the finely-tuned suspension common to all MINIs. The only problem with all this is that the Countryman's centre of gravity is very high, and it doesn't take much of a tweak on the steering wheel to send the body leaning alarmingly.
The Cooper D I drove in 2010 wasn't like this at all. On exactly the same Yorkshire roads it handled as well as could have been expected for a car of its shape. The SD verged on being scary. I can only hope it's better on more sensible wheels and tyres.
As mentioned in the Cooper D review, the Countryman is by far the most practical of all current MINIs, offering 350 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place and a height-assisted 1170 litres when they're folded down. There's a great deal of space for front occupants, and this is the only MINI in which I can even attempt to sit in the rear, though it's not really suitable for anyone more than six feet tall.
Some of the design details are infuriating. The handbrake lever, front central armrest and a sunglasses holder are all placed very close together, and you can't fully engage the brake if the armrest is down; nor can you properly open the sunglasses holder if the handbrake is on. This is just careless.
The fact that MINI has placed a digital speedometer right in front of the driver seems to be almost an admission that the huge iconic analogue version in the middle of the dashboard is there for little more than stylistic reasons. Most UK-legal speeds are on the passenger side of right-hand drive models, and there's no needle because that would obscure other instruments on the vast disc.
Instead, there's a pointer which moves round the perimeter, but it's not obvious at a first glance. Your best bet is to guess at the speed you're doing and check if that's where the pointer is. Or, rather, your best bet is to forget the whole business and use the digital speedo instead.
The Chili Pack mentioned above was the most expensive option on the test car at £2515, but there were many others - enough, in fact, to boost the price from £23,190 to just over £30,000. You have to pay £795 for an electric glass sunroof, £740 for a Harman Kardon audio upgrade, £250 for front seat heating and £1035 for the Media Pack which includes Bluetooth preparation and satellite navigation, but at least all the active safety equipment (much needed, bearing in mind the handling peculiarity mentioned above) is fitted as standard.
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