MINI Countryman vs Skoda Yeti

MINI's new crossover takes on our Current car of the year in a shootout for class supremacy!

The wait is over! MINI enthusiasts who need extra space and practicality finally have an option. But the Countryman is a late arrival to the crossover party, and the Skoda Yeti has been enjoying itself for a while already...

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the MINI Countryman

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One tried-and-tested way of making a big entrance is to wear something controversial – and the MINI does just that. But the styling is questionable, as transferring supermini looks to a larger five-door model hasn’t been wholly successful.

Neat details such as the distinctive headlamps and swivelling boot badge (which doubles as a tailgate release) don’t hide its bloated shape. From the back and in profile, it is especially ungainly.

While the Yeti has its critics, it’s a much more cohesive design. It bears a greater resemblance to a conventional SUV than a traditional hatchback, but its chunky proportions and sharp styling are easier on the eye.

Our two protagonists adhere to their principles inside. MINI has stuck rigidly to the template laid down by its successful hatchbacks, so the Countryman dash is dominated by a large central speedo. The rev counter is fixed to the steering column, and round eyeball-style air vents continue the circular theme.

However, the quality of the plastics and execution of the interior are far from faultless. Our test car’s cabin was already emitting the odd creak and the flimsy handbrake feels cheap. There are also too many buttons cluttering the busy centre console.

By contrast, the simply designed Yeti is the model of clarity. Its smart instruments and high-grade plastics give the interior a premium feel. And in SE trim, the Skoda features climate and cruise control as standard. They cost £345 and £215 respectively on the MINI.

Switch to the back and the Skoda’s superiority continues. Its three independently sliding and folding seats provide more shoulder, leg and headroom than in the MINI. The Brit’s sliding back bench is split 60:40 (a two-seat set-up is also available – see Backseat Driver, Page 54), but it provides sufficient legroom for adults in the back only in its rearmost setting.

Behind the seats, the Countryman’s boot will seem generous to anyone trading up from an existing MINI, yet it is comprehensively trumped by the vastly more practical Skoda here. The Czech car’s 416-litre load area is bigger and more user friendly. A bulkhead between the rear wheels in the MINI reduces the extra space afforded by sliding the rear seats forwards, as the floor is still obstructed by metal framework.

These are all compromises we’ve come to expect from the style-led brand; they’re usually compensated for by the rewards from behind the wheel. However, the Yeti is equally as polished on the road, so the MINI fails to assert any authority and, if anything, falls further behind.

That’s partly down to straight-line performance. The 138bhp Skoda outguns its rival by 28bhp, and is not only faster off the line, but more responsive, smoother revving and quieter at cruising speeds. Yes, the MINI responds sharply to steering inputs, but the artificial feel through the wheel is disappointing; the Skoda set-up is more precise.

The nimble Yeti drives like a sporty family hatch, yet this doesn’t come at the expense of comfort. Fewer vibrations filter into the cabin over motorway expansion joints and the suspension copes with ruts and bumps more smoothly than the more firmly sprung MINI. It’s better under braking, too. While the Countryman’s firm pedal is reassuring, the taller Skoda came to a halt sooner in each of our three braking tests. Driving enthusiasts will appreciate the MINI’s perfectly placed pedals, but in every other respect the Yeti has the dynamic measure of its rival.

When it comes to style, practicality and dynamics, the Skoda is the clear leader, then, but the MINI regains lost ground on running costs. Unlike its rival, it’s equipped with stop/start technology, among a host of fuel-saving features. As a result, emissions and fuel consumption are better – at 57.6mpg and 129g/km respectively, compared to the Yeti’s 47.1mpg and 157g/km.

This has a corresponding impact on running costs, as the Countryman is cheaper to tax and, financially at least, more attractive for company car drivers. Then there’s the brand’s famed pre-paid tlc servicing packages and strong residuals to take into account. Both help to minimise running costs.

Not to be outdone in the aftersales stakes, Skoda took first place in our annual Driver Power reliability and satisfaction survey – MINI finished 19th.

It’s fair to say neither choice should leave you short-changed once you’ve taken delivery. For us, there can be only one winner, though, and for all of the MINI’s efficiency it simply isn’t as practical or good enough to drive to take victory.

Details

WHY: Having scooped the top prize at our prestigious New Car Awards, Yeti is tough to beat. Will it retain its crown?

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