Our cars: Mini Countryman - March 2012
Week ending March 30
Driven this week 190 miles
Mini Countryman review
With good weather forecast, I joyfully borrowed the Countryman for a sun-drenched weekend.
The first thing I noticed was the rather rigid ride. Every hump and bump was noticeable, even on the short run from the office to home. Having seen how heavy set the vehicle was from the outside, I found it surprising. The gearstick was also a bit clunky, making smooth shifts harder than they needed to be.
The cabin's finish is excellent. There are lots of nice design features – if Apple made cars, they’d probably look a bit like this.
My kids are Mini-mad. The 'unveil' when they realised we had a Mini for the weekend certainly woke the neighbours. Our biggest journey of the weekend was down to the seaside at Hayling Island, which is a 160-mile round trip. The motorway was a breeze, although I found the decision-making on sixth gear tricky – do I shift up? Do I shift down? Is this hill too steep? Is the car struggling? A bit of clarity from the dashboard would have been a bonus – “Sixth gear now… IDIOT!”
My eldest son suffers badly from motion sickness, so I was a little concerned about the firm ride turning every bump into a trigger for a speedy roadside stop. Amazingly, he didn’t complain once on the whole trip – even with a belly full of candyfloss, doughnuts and sweets on the way back.
Week ending March 23
Driven this week: 481 miles
Driving the Countryman produced a (for me) novel experience this week: a complete stranger came up to me at a petrol station in Twickenham to talk to me. He loudly informed me the car I was filling up was a ‘beast of a car’, as it was very big for a so-called ‘Mini’.
Come to think of it, that wasn’t the only unprompted comment the car received while in my care. Two ladies at my Fives club reckoned it was ‘cute’, albeit with the proviso that it was ‘huge’.
Sadly, after a weekend in the car, that included a 220-mile round trip to Sherborne School in Dorset to run a Fives tournament, I emerged rather less impressed.
In fact, my disappointment started as soon as I got into the car. The ergonomics are nothing short of dreadful, so adjusting the ventilation to my liking and setting the stereo to blast out Cardiacs from the memory stick I’d plugged in took far more effort than I’d like.
I don’t mind BMW’s iDrive system in BMWs, but the Countryman makes do without the short-cut buttons you’d find in, say, a 3 Series, so most actions are rather more laborious than they should be.
Likewise, the Countryman isn’t that big a car, but it’s surprisingly hard to manoeuvre, thanks to its combination of poor visibility and an awkward gearshift. Swapping quickly between first and reverse gears – when parking, for example – I all too often found myself slipping into the wrong one.
Worse still, despite the car’s Cooper S badges, I didn’t think it was that quick. Well, okay, it was quick-ish, but only if you revved the bejeezus out of the engine – and that wasn’t terribly easy or pleasant because of the gearchange.
True, that was hardly a problem on the main roads that made up most of my return journey to Dorset, but they still didn’t show the Countryman in its best light. It suffers from wind noise at the motorway limit, while the engine produces a constant drone in the background.
Even on the brief cross-country blast from the A303 to Sherborne, I failed to fall in love with the car. Yes, it’s sure-footed and has decent grip through the bends, but there was a little too much body roll for my liking and the inconsistent weight to the steering discouraged me from pressing on.
To cap it all, according to the trip computer, I averaged just 31mpg for the whole journey – a disappointing return when I was certainly not driving the car hard.
Week ending March 16
Driven this week: 605 miles
I've spent most of the last week in our Countryman, driving to Devon and back and covering more than 600 miles in the process.
Has it grown on me? Not really. For starters, I found it uncomfortable on long slogs along the A303, M4 and M5. The driver's seat is a touch too small and unforgiving for my liking, so it didn't take long for leg ache to develop.
I'm not a huge fan of the Cooper S model's turbocharged engine, either. It provides a healthy 181bhp, but you need to keep the revs very high to maintain a good pace, which means working the gearbox hard. That, in turn, highlights the gearshift, which isn't very satisfying.
Push it hard and the Countryman acquits itself well enough through corners, but the steering has an inconsistent, unrewarding feel.
I didn't expect to get great fuel economy from a four-wheel drive compact SUV with a powerful petrol engine but, even so, average economy of 30.7mpg (according to the trip computer) is pretty disappointing.
Good bits? Well, I think the blue paintwork looks good, especially with a bit of Devon mud on it.
Week ending March 9
Driven this week: 310 miles
I must be jinxed. Last week I left our long-term Vauxhall Astra GTC in a Waitrose car park and returned to find a nasty ding in the front door; clearly caused by someone opening their car door into it.
This week I awoke to find our Mini Countryman with what looked like a destroyed door mirror – the white cover was nowhere to be seen. On further inspection I found the cover under the car, apparently undamaged, and the glass was intact.
I was in a hurry to get to Heathrow for a flight to the Geneva motor show, so I didn't attempt a fix there and then. Once I was back in the UK, a second was all it took to clip the cover back in place and the whole thing was as good as new. There's not even a scratch to show for it. Hopefully the jinx has now ended...
Week ending March 2
Driven this week: 300 miles
I took the Countryman on a couple of long-distance drives last week to see what the Mini was like on the motorway.
With just 300 miles to cover, I'd have expected to be left with some spare fuel from a brimmed tank, but this was not the case. One day’s commute followed by a jaunt up the M40 to Solihull and back was all it could manage before the fuel warning light flickered into life.
However, the Mini’s biggest issue on my motorway trip was its ride. Every little imperfection (of which there are plenty on the M40) was sent juddering into the cabin, which made the trip far more wearing than it should have been.