Audi Q2 1.6 TDI Sport
List price £24,500
Target Price £23,738
An efficient engine and keen handling in a small premium-badged SUV? The appeal is obvious
Mini Countryman Cooper D
List price £24,425
Target Price £23,054
More practical than ever, and the fastest here thanks to a smooth 2.0-litre diesel engine
Seat Ateca 1.6 TDI Ecomotive SE Technology
List price £24,170
Target Price £23,235
Practical, well equipped, good value and a pleasure to drive, the Ateca is the current benchmark
You've got £25,000 – or £300 per month – to spend on car, and a child or two, so you need something that’s practical yet small enough to make easy work of school car park Tetris. But it can’t make you feel middle-aged or mumsy; that would just be depressing.
So, before you know it, you’re looking at small SUVs, and the all-new Mini Countryman will probably catch your eye. Roomier and more versatile than its predecessor, yet still full of that Mini joie de vivre, its appeal is obvious.
Muscling in on the Countryman’s claim of coolest in the class is Audi's Q2. It’s fashionable, with a cleaner, more modern look than the Mini. Or would you be better off with a Seat Ateca? It’s very practical but still compact, great to drive and remarkably good value. All of our challengers are tested here in their most frugal diesel form and in the cheapest trim that gets sat-nav.
What are they like to drive?
The Countryman has a clear advantage in the performance stakes. Fitted with a gutsy 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine, it makes the 1.6-litre motors in the Ateca and Q2 feel a bit weedy in comparison. Still, while the Mini is definitely fastest when you accelerate hard, all three cars have enough low-rev pull to keep up a good pace without you needing to change gear continually.
Mini often boasts about building cars with ‘go-kart’ handling, but it has fallen short with the new Countryman. Although it’s keen to turn in to corners at moderate speeds thanks to its quick steering, it also feels nervous and flighty, while the artificial feel to the steering inspires little confidence. The front tyres seem hell-bent on following every little rut and camber in the road, and if you try to corner quickly, they lose grip earlier than you’d expect.
The Q2 has variable steering (it gets faster the more you turn the wheel) to cut down on armwork at low speeds, and it certainly feels the most nimble through tight twists and turns, gripping hardest and staying most upright. Despite the fact that the Ateca leans most through fast corners, it’s still remarkably composed for a small SUV, and its fluid, precise and positively weighted steering actually makes it the most fun on a winding B-road.
The stiffer suspension of the Countryman and Q2 doesn’t do much for ride comfort. The Q2 thumps over potholes and fidgets a little in town, but it settles well on the motorway and won’t elicit many complaints from passengers.
The Countryman will. Its ride isn’t quite as bumpy as its predecessor’s, but it’s still not good enough – particularly in town, where the suspension amplifies coarse surfaces and small ruts. Even on the motorway you’re tossed around too much.
We’ve previously criticised the Ateca for having a slightly firm ride, but with the 17in alloys of this SE Technology model it’s actually quite pliant. Yes, the Nissan Qashqai’s ride is even more comfortable, but in this company the Ateca is surprisingly cosseting.
The Countryman has the quietest engine of this group, but it’s the noisiest cruiser, generating the most wind and road noise. Its heavy, notchy gearshift and stiff clutch pedal also disappoint. Smooth driving is much easier in the Q2 and Ateca thanks to their lighter, slicker gearshifts and more positively weighted pedals.
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