Our cars: Mini Countryman - August
Week ending August 26
Miles covered this week 105
I started playing with my Countryman’s Mini Connected feature the other day, which uses your iPhone to add features to the car’s ‘infotainment’ system as part of the optional Media Pack. I Promptly lost interest as, unlike my iPhone, the system was very user-unfriendly, either not doing what it looked like it should, or telling me I needed a snap-in adaptor in the arm-rest – an £80 accessory which should surely come as standard as part of the Media Pack. There is a handbook but, as a busy mum of two small children who has neither the time nor the patience for such things, it just ain’t gonna happen.
I reckon I can live without it. OK, so it allows you to use Facebook and Twitter via the Mini’s main screen, but it’s rare for me to be sitting traffic long enough to read status updates or Tweets, and once I’m on the move my eyes are on the road. The system can also use your phone to stream web radio from any international radio station but that would quickly eat up my iPhone’s monthly download allowance and I’m just as happy to stick to Radio 4 and Absolute on the car’s standard DAB radio. The Google maps features sound promising, but I already have sat nav as part of the Media Pack, which is presumably one of the reasons the Pack costs a whopping £1535.
The system offers a few other features too and I expect gadget fanatics (with time on their hands) will want Mini Connected for the sake of having the latest tech, but to me it comes across as a gimmick that’s too much like hard work. Good job the Media Pack also includes some much more useful kit, including Bluetooth, voice control and an on-board computer.
Week ending August 19
Miles covered this week 180
I took the Countryman out of town for the first time this week – just an hour’s jaunt on the motorway. One thing struck me over anything else: the sheer amount of road noise in the cabin. It reminded me of the motorways journeys of my childhood, where you had to whack up the stereo just to hear a few tinny strains from the speakers; and I could hardly hear what my toddler was muttering about in the back (which might be a selling point for some).
The ride was pretty tiring, too, with every detail of the road surface transmitted straight into the cabin. However, the drive out of town did give me the opportunity to drive more economically, getting the car’s trip computer reading up to an average of 28.2mpg by my return to London, where it had been hovering around 26.1 for the past few days. It’s a little way off the official urban fuel economy of 34.4mpg and the combined economy of 42.2mpg, but it’s a start. And once off the motorway, the Countryman made up for its noisy interior with an entertaining drive on twisty local B-roads, so I was smiling again by the time I reached my destination.
Week ending August 12
Miles covered this week 57
I ran a Mini Clubman a couple of years ago and fortunately the memory is fresh enough for me to be getting on surprisingly well with the Countryman's confusing switches and buttons – especially since I’ve run two cars in between that were infinitely easier to use (a Citroen C3 Picasso and Skoda Yeti).
There are switches that look too similar, switches whose labels are too small and switches far away from each other that you might think ought to go together – all, it seems, in the name of style. Anyway, the good news is that my past Mini experience is paying off and I’ve been able to find the controls I want without any trouble.
I’m also pleased to see that the central display has been improved since I drove my Clubman, including the sat nav route in white rather than blue (which was too easily confused with the colour for main roads and waterways) and the radio station display much more user-friendly too. This week's other discovery is how well the cloth part of the cloth/leather seats wipes clean with a damp cloth – you'd never know my toddler had christened it with an upset tummy. There isn't even a funny smell … Impressive.
Driven this week 46 miles
A Countryman has joined the fleet, ready for life as a family carry-allAny car manufacturer worth its salt now includes a crossover in its line-up, so it’s no surprise that Mini has followed suit with the Countryman. Its beefy styling is a turn-on for those who like a Mini with extra attitude, as is the fact that you can choose a model with four-wheel drive. More significantly, the Countryman finally makes a Mini a viable consideration for families with kids.
Families like mine, in fact. With children aged two-and-a-half and six months in tow, I’ll be spending the next year rigorously testing the Countryman’s ability to combine family transport with Mini style and driver enjoyment.
You can specify your Countryman’s rear seat in either a 50:50 split configuration or 40:20:40. I chose the latter, not because I expect (extremely slender) friends and relatives to sit between my two child seats, but because I wanted to allow as much space as possible to fit the seats correctly; what’s more, the rail running down the centre of the four-seater (to which you can attach an assortment of Mini storage items) would have become clogged up with toast and toys before I’d even got behind the wheel for the first time.
Since much of my driving involves dashing round town, I wanted a Mini that wouldn’t frustrate me in busy traffic, so I went for the Cooper S. The turbocharged 1.6 engine is punchy but smooth, so the Mini is easy to drive sensibly around town, and the light steering is a big help.
Readying myself for another Ice Age winter, I also chose the All4 four-wheel-drive system for when, inevitably, the gritter fails to make it down my street. Even with the 4WD gubbins, its official average economy of 42.2mpg is pretty competitive, as is its CO2 figure of 157g/km.
It’s hard to resist the lure of the Mini options list, so I didn’t, and included all three Mini options packages at a total of £3890. I also went for the electric sunroof (£795), heated front screen (£345), heated front seats (£250), and a flat boot floor (£155) to help with loading my heavy double buggy. The buggy fits the depth of the boot with a whisker to spare, and there’s space for a couple of bags on top. It’s enough for my needs on a day-to-day basis if I consign the kids’ clutter to their footwells. A promising enough start for this particul