New Mini Countryman and new Volkswagen Tiguan vs Volvo XC40: interiors

Mini and Volkswagen have conjured up new models to take on Volvo’s family SUV stalwart, the XC40. Let’s see if this spells a changing of the guard...

Mini Countryman dashboard

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

Each of our contenders provides a commanding driving position that allows you to see clearly over the dashboard and bonnet. In terms of all-round visibility, the Volkswagen Tiguan is the best; the Mini Countryman and Volvo XC40 have chunkier rear pillars that make seeing what’s over your shoulder a little tricky. Thankfully, all three come with rear-view cameras and rear parking sensors to help with low-speed manoeuvres. While the Countryman and Tiguan also include front parking sensors, you have to step up to Plus or Ultra trim to get these on the XC40.

There’s plenty of seat adjustment in each car to allow you to get the right distance away from the pedals, but the Countryman (unlike its rivals) is short on steering wheel reach adjustment. The Countryman is also the only car here that doesn’t come with adjustable lumbar support (it’s available only as part of the £7500 Level 3 pack, and lower back support is poor without it). What’s more, the combination of a fixed headrest that pushes your head really far forward and a steering wheel that’s slightly offset to the right means it doesn’t take long for the driver to become restless.

Volkswagen Tiguan dashboard

The XC40 betrays its age somewhat with a fairly basic digital instrument panel that doesn’t offer a choice of layouts. True, the Countryman doesn’t have an instrument panel at all, but in that car you do get a head-up display (which projects key information such as your speed onto a perspex panel in your line of sight) if you specify the Level 1 pack. It’s just a pity you have to look over to the circular infotainment screen to see most other things. Meanwhile, the Tiguan’s digital instrument panel stands out for being sharp and highly customisable.

We’re pleased to see that our contenders all have physical steering wheel controls that are intuitive to use, but physical dashboard controls are few and far between. Most functions are located on their infotainment touchscreens (or are performed via voice commands), including those for the air-con in the Countryman and XC40. And while the Tiguan has separate touch-sensitive sliders for temperature adjustment just below the screen, these are no less distracting to use while driving than prodding the touchscreens in the others.

Volvo XC40 dashboard

The XC40 can still teach its newer rivals a thing or two when it comes to interior build quality, with dense-feeling, soft-touch materials covering most of the surfaces on the dashboard and doors. The door bins are lined with rattle-reducing felt-like material, and cheaper, scratchy plastics are better concealed than they are in the Countryman and Tiguan.

While the Tiguan makes an effort to cover the upper levels of the dashboard and doors with a leather-like material, it applies them only to the front doors (whereas the XC40’s doors are just as plushly trimmed in the back).

The Countryman’s interior looks plush, with knitted fabric introducing some colour, but it doesn’t feel all that robust, while the textured plastics struggle to disguise their hard nature. 

Infotainment systems

Mini Countryman

Mini Countryman infotainment touchscreen

The circular 9.6in touchscreen looks sharp, with numerous brightly coloured themes to choose from, but it’s more style than substance. It’s extremely busy with so much information on display at all times, and the menus could be more logical to help you find what you want. It’s a shame phone mirroring occupies only a small section of the screen, and even the upgraded sound system that you get with Level 2 or Level 3 sounds a bit flat. We haven’t tried the standard system.

Volkswagen Tiguan

Volkswagen Tiguan infotainment touchscreen

The 12.9in touchscreen comes with the brand’s latest software and is a big improvement over older Volkswagen systems in terms of usability. It’s clear and quick enough to respond, plus you get customisable icons to take you swiftly to your most-used functions. If that’s not enough, you can opt for a larger, 15.0in screen as part of the £1100 Infotainment Package Plus.The audio system is punchy, but the sound quality is actually quite muffled. A Harman Kardon upgrade is available for £1420.

Volvo XC40

Volvo XC40 infotainment touchscreen

Although the 9.0in, portrait-style touchscreen responds quickly enough to inputs, seeing what’s on it can be a challenge, because everything is rather small, and the icons are tricky to hit while driving. Still, it has one of the best (Google-based) navigation systems around, and the voice control is the best here at recognising speech.The standard audio system sounds rather flat, and you have to go for range-topping Ultra trim to get an upgraded Harman Kardon set-up.

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