MINI Countryman Cooper D

Four-wheel-drive Brit arrived on fleet just in time for big freeze – and there was ‘snow’ stopping it...

In theory, our first report on the MINI Countryman should be about the extras. After all, it has extra space, extra doors and extra legroom compared to the company’s more familiar superminis.
But after the winter we’ve had, the extra traction has been stealing all the plaudits...
You see, our Cooper D is an All4 model, and while I was pretty sceptical about a 4x4 MINI when it arrived, I’m evangelical now! When the Countryman turned up late last year, it won me over with its stylish looks and sharp driving dynamics even before the snow fell. When the adverse weather came along, the car proved to be worth its weight in gold.
You’ll understand why when I explain that the only two vehicles able to navigate my steep suburban street in the snow were a Seventies Land Rover and our Countryman. The MINI’s supreme traction and grip – even on summer tyres – was truly staggering, and I began experimenting in empty supermarket car parks to find out if it was possible to get the wheels spinning. It wasn’t easy.
Making life more comfortable still during the big freeze were the heated windscreen (£475) and seats (£250). The rest of the interior isn’t bad, either. The attractive layout features all 
the characteristic MINI design touches, and sets the Countryman apart from its mainstream rivals.
There are so many switches and toggles that at first glance I thought I’d need a co-pilot, but I quickly got used to them. Mind you, the huge central speedo, which doubles as a screen for the sat-nav and in-car information system, is a prime example of style over substance – only the passengers will ever use it to gauge velocity. MINI acknowledges this by fitting a small digital readout within the rev counter above the wheel.
Other touches are more intuitive. The BMW iDrive-style controller makes moving between DAB radio, iPod and sat-nav menus child’s play. In fact, it’s so easy that you need self discipline to leave it alone. But it gives you something to fiddle with in traffic, when the stop-start system kills the engine.
In terms of space, the MINI is mini no more. We selected the rear bench seat option rather than the more inhibiting 2+2 layout, and you can fit three average-sized adults in the back. My two young boys have loads of room and the boot looks smaller than it really is.
The rear seatbacks are split 40/20/40, while the base is divided 60/40, and the unit slides forwards if you need extra room. The MINI will never be much use for shifting furniture or clearing rubbish, but you wouldn’t want to in this model. It’s all about standing out from the crowd, not joining in. And the Countryman really turns heads. 
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve shown passers-by around the car – I really should be on commission! Not that the go-anywhere MINI needs my questionable sales skills; as soon as the snow comes, it sells itself.

Extra Info

“I grabbed the MINI Countryman to ensure I got to the church on time for a wedding last month. With most of Britain under a blanket of snow, I arrived at the rural venue amid traffic chaos. Sadly, many other guests were less successful – and missed the ceremony.” Pete Gibson, Staff Photographer

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