MINI Countryman Cooper D

Kids grow up fast – and the MINI has too since we first tried one. Now, the Countryman is a fine travelling companion...

  • One of the real joys of this MINI is driving it. But when you get stuck in traffic, the entertainment system gives instant access to DAB radio, iPod, sat-nav and Bluetooth on a display panel so well designed that you forgive the oversized speedo that encases it. MINI design at its ergonomic and stylish best!
  • Colleagues have suggested the Countryman is an ugly car. I disagree and like the Tonka-toy look. Plus, it’s so much more practical than the Clubman and hatch that I’ve been completely won over. Mind you, while the cream leather heated seats are comfortable and stylish, they’re tricky to keep clean!

Eight years ago, I was given the keys to the first MINI One to grace the Auto Express long-term fleet. It was only for a long weekend, but the intention was to gauge its practicality as a standalone family car, rather than judge its status as the coolest new supermini around. 

Back then, I was one of the few staff members with children, and while the baby BMW had received universal praise from colleagues, I found its boot space and rear legroom left a lot to be desired... 

Fast-forward nearly a decade, and there are no such worries with the latest MINI to park on my driveway. Our all-wheel-drive Countryman has already proven itself in the snowy conditions of winter. And now, as sunshine approaches, size matters – with holidays and longer journeys on the horizon. So is the newcomer living up to its family car billing?

Back in 2003, my eldest son George struggled to fit in the MINI One with his obligatory child safety seat. But despite growing into a hefty lump of a lad, he has a wealth of room in the Countryman. 

The luggage area is also far superior in the five-door. Looking back, space was at a premium in the original. I had to use MINI’s optional designer baggage to get the most out of the tiny boot, while George’s lightweight buggy needed to be  stowed behind the driver’s seat.

The Countryman proved its worth last month, as we departed on a family holiday. We easily fitted two decent-sized suitcases in the 350-litre boot, with room for all of the assorted bits and bobs for the trip to the airport.

It’s an absolute pleasure from behind the wheel, too. I split my commute between driving and cycling, and the bike has spent a lot of time in the shed of late. With its steering, ride and level  of excitement, the MINI eclipses any of the long-term cars I’ve run over the past few years. 

It did take a little while to get used to, though, as plenty of revs are required to pull away smoothly in the Countryman. Still, once you’re moving, it’s a lot of fun – and several passengers have commented on how much enjoyment I’m having. That might account for our relatively poor 36.7mpg fuel return. 

In truth, the car has hardly escaped the confines of South London, and I expect the figure to improve before my next update, as we have a few longer journeys planned over the Easter period.

The Countryman fits the bill as the more spacious model I longed for in 2003... If only I could go back in time to refuel it – eight years ago, diesel was 81 pence per litre!

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