MINI Cooper D Countryman

The MINI Countryman has been improved, with an efficient diesel and interior tweaks

What the Countryman lacks in refinement and ultimate practicality it makes up for with superb driving dynamics, strong efficiency and fantastic residual values. It also benefits from an affordable pre-paid servicing package and a wide range of personalisation options.

The grown-up MINI Countryman recently secured a road test victory over the Vauxhall Mokka, but the family-friendly Fiat 500L is a very different challenge. This is also our first chance to try the facelifted Countryman after some subtle tweaks were introduced at the end of last year.

However, there’s no need to strain your eyes searching for any new exterior design flourishes, as almost all the changes are on the inside. And although there are more strikingly styled crossovers out there, the Countryman looks considerably less awkward and ungainly than the 500L.

Unlike the Fiat, the contrasting roof colour and door mirrors are standard, and the wide chrome grille and £95 optional bonnet stripes give the MINI a more aggressive stance. The contrasting plastic body protectors also help it conceal the extra bulk better than the Fiat does – although options like chrome trim and bigger alloy wheels are a lot more expensive than the equivalent items on the 500L.

Climb inside, and it feels more confined than the Fiat’s bright interior, but some common-sense changes have made it easier to use. Window and mirror controls are now located on the armrest, which has freed up space for extra kit on the centre console.

Yet even this mid-range Cooper D model doesn’t offer much equipment to play with. The standard stereo system is fiddly and difficult to use on the move, while MINI cheekily charges £105 for a leather steering wheel. Helpfully, the company bundles its options in packs, but even the cheapest of these (Pepper) is hardly a bargain at £1,140.

Build quality is equal to the 500L’s, but the low driving position means it’s not as easy to see out. Like the Fiat, the rear seats slide to adjust boot capacity and legroom – athough there’s more of both in the 500L.

As a result, the Countryman trails in terms of practicality, and around town the firm suspension and gruff-sounding diesel engine make it less comfortable.

However, at the track, the MINI reveals the same strong grip and sharp steering that make the hatchback version so much fun to drive. Body roll is well controlled through corners and the six-speed manual gearbox is wonderfully precise.

And despite having the least torque here, the Countryman was the quickest of the trio from 0-60mph, taking just 9.9 seconds. This extra turn of pace makes it the most rewarding to drive – but if comfort is a priority, avoid the optional 17-inch alloys.

The car’s real trump card is ownership costs. Its 1.6-litre diesel engine is the cleanest here, with CO2 emissions of just 115g/km, and it returned a respectable 41.1mpg fuel economy on test.

Throw in predicted three-year residual values of well over 50 per cent and MINI’s tlc five-year pre-paid servicing pack, and the Countryman starts to make an awful lot of financial sense – even though it has much less equipment than its rivals.

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