New Mini Countryman and new Volkswagen Tiguan vs Volvo XC40

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 vs Volkswagen Tiguan vs Volvo XC40 fronts static

The contenders

NEW Mini Countryman C Exclusive Level 1

List price £34,640
Target Price £33,368

Reinvented Countryman is significantly larger than its predecessor, making it more practical for family duties. It’s the most powerful and cheapest car here, too

NEW Volkswagen Tiguan 1.5 eTSI 150 Life

List price £36,720
Target Price £35,114

The latest iteration of Volkswagen’s family SUV builds on a successful formula, with up-to-date technology, refreshed engines and even more space inside

Volvo XC40 B3 Core

List price £36,685
Target Price £35,629

The XC40 has been around for quite a few years now, but it’s still one of our favourite family SUVs, with a classy and practical interior and a comfy ride

Forgive us if you think we’re stating the obvious, but sales of SUVs don’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, there are those who predict that up to three-quarters of all new car registrations will be SUVs in just a few years’ time. That could mean that there will be nearly twice as many British homes with an SUV parked outside as there are families with a games console.

Mini Countryman rear driving grey

Right now, we have two new arrivals in the family SUV class. First up is the Mini Countryman. While its predecessor was a rival for small SUVs such as the Volkswagen T-Roc, this latest iteration is significantly larger all round and, you’d imagine, more family-friendly as a result. That’s great news if you’ve outgrown the Mini Cooper hatchback. The entry-level petrol version (called the Countryman C) is powered by a 1.5-litre engine, and we’re testing it in our recommended mid-spec Exclusive trim with the £2800 Level 1 option pack included to cover all the equipment you’re likely to want.

In comparison, a more measured approach has been taken with the evolution of the big-selling Volkswagen Tiguan. This latest iteration features new technology and a little more interior space than its predecessor, while the engines are officially more economical than before. For its balance of performance and value for money, we favour mid-rung Life trim and the more powerful of the two 1.5-litre petrol engines available.

Among the key rivals that both of these new contenders will have to face is the Volvo XC40 – our 2018 overall Car of the Year and still one of our favourite family SUVs. For very similar money to the Tiguan, you can get this premium model in entry-level B3 petrol guise and in Core trim. The XC40 has repeatedly brushed off newcomers in our comparisons over the (numerous) years it’s been on sale; can it do so again?

Volkswagen Tiguan rear driving blue


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Although you won’t choose any of our contenders because you expect thrilling performance, they’re easily brisk enough for everyday driving. With its engine producing the most power (168bhp), the Countryman sprints from 0-60mph in 8.4sec – just ahead of the 161bhp XC40 (8.7sec) and 148bhp Tiguan (9.0sec).

The Countryman and XC40 also have plenty of mid-range muscle when you ask for a burst of acceleration (to get up to motorway speeds or overtake a slower car, for example), whereas the Tiguan’s engine has to be worked harder in the same situations.

To help compensate for this, the Tiguan’s automatic gearbox delivers snappier gearshifts than those of its rivals and is the most eager to change down when you press the accelerator pedal. Fortunately, it does so just as smoothly as the gearboxes in the Countryman and XC40. However, the Countryman and Tiguan can be slightly hesitant when setting off from a standstill, whereas the XC40 is more responsive and is therefore the smoothest and easiest to drive around town.

Volvo XC40 rear driving grey

Because the Tiguan’s engine visits the higher end of the rev range more often, it tends to be the most vocal of the three. Other than some turbo whistle filtering through, occupants are well isolated from the XC40’s engine, while the Countryman’s (which has three cylinders versus the others’ four) produces a distant thrummy note. The Tiguan generates slightly more road noise than the others at motorway speeds, but it’s not enough to have a huge impact on overall peace; all three are reasonably quiet cruisers.

Whether you’re running errands around town or heading out on a long journey, the XC40 is the most comfortable companion. It does the best job of isolating occupants from bumps and potholes to provide a calm, cosseting ride.

The Countryman isn’t far behind, although it’s slightly more fidgety than the XC40 at low speeds. While the Tiguan has the firmest ride of the three, it cushions bumps well enough to remain comfortable, and the upside is that it has the tightest body control over undulating roads, with little vertical movement.

The Tiguan’s well-weighted steering inspires confidence, and its tidy body control allows you to thread your way down a country road at an enjoyable pace. It feels the most agile of our contenders at moderate speeds, although its front tyres lose grip the soonest if you push it hard through a bend.

Mini Countryman vs Volkswagen Tiguan vs Volvo XC40 fronts

With the XC40 being the softest car here, it’s best enjoyed when driven smoothly at a gentle pace. There’s plenty of body lean in corners and nose-dive under braking, while the light steering doesn’t provide a strong sense of connection to the front wheels. While it has more cornering grip than the Tiguan, the driver tends to have to trust that it’s there. The Countryman is a mixture of the two, with more grip than the Tiguan and better body control than the XC40. However, the steering, although meatier than the XC40’s, is most prone to tugging in your hands when accelerating out of corners.

The mild hybrid electrical systems in all three cars will switch their engines on or off quickly and smoothly as soon as you stop, but the Tiguan also has a coasting function to further reduce fuel consumption (more on that later). All three use regenerative braking to harvest electricity when you press the brake pedal. While it’s easy to stop smoothly in the XC40 and Countryman (which also has the sharpest brake pedal response), in the Tiguan it can be tricky to judge how much pressure to apply to come to a smooth halt.

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