A Mini estate with a room on top – neat?

There’s no getting away from the fact the Countryman is an expensive piece of kit, even without the tent in a roofbox.

However, it’s gloriously well equipped inside, with luxurious leather and trim worthy of, well, a car from parent company BMW perhaps.

Hard not to be seduced by such a swish package but just remember what else you can get for this sort of money – a proper-sized family car for example.

And somewhere along the way, Mini has lost the plot over styling. The interior is cool with ‘mood’ lighting but the outside is desperate. The ‘sad’ face front grille says it all. That’s ‘SAD’ in a Donald Trump tweet-type way.

The 181bhp petrol engine should give the Countryman plenty of shove but mated to an automatic gearbox, this particular Mini feels lacklustre. It’s well-behaved at cruising speeds though and feels like a much bigger car.

The roof tent? Well, it works if you enjoy a weekend away and there’s no reason why you can’t transfer it to another car because it rests on standard roof bars.

A neat lifestyle accessory for an expensive, pint-sized SUV.

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I don’t mind a stiff ride but… the Mini John Cooper Works is ‘hard’ work

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July 9 Skipping helter-skelter across the Cotswolds in the hottest Mini money can buy should be on every petrolhead’s bucket list. You can enjoy just as much fun in the original supermini as a Ferrari – the handling is that good.

And while I can appreciate what BMW has created with the latest JCW version, I can’t help thinking that they’ve slightly overcooked it.

The problem is the ‘Sport’ setting. It sets the car up for a more entertaining ride, tweaking the adjustable dampers. Yet combined with low profile tyres, the JCW just can’t cope with uneven road surfaces.

It hops and skips all over the place in what feels like a prolonged bout of torque steer. The solution is to play around with the different settings and find the right mode.

Now, that’s all very well and good but I’d much prefer the Mini to adjust to my style of driving, rather than the other way around…

A Mini, Jim, but not as we know it. The John Cooper Works…

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July 8 There was a time, at the launch of the new generation Mini in 2001, when BMW didn’t want their new car to be associated with the original, ground-breaking Mini of the 1960s.

Journalists were told they had to ‘cap up’ the word MINI when writing about the new generation car – old school Mini associations just weren’t welcome to the branding fest spawned by BMW.

Times change and somebody in Germany did eventually realise the benefits of being associated with an automotive icon. Which is why the company’s official Mini website has a page on the John Cooper Works car entitled ‘Inspired by a Legend.’

Jon Cooper developed a standard road Mini into an incredible rally car. And this week’s test car pays homage to that – albeit at a rather hefty price.

The new, JCW Mini goes head-to-head with the class-leading Ford Fiesta ST for the supermini crown. Most commentators think the Fiesta is better but I for one hope they have got it wrong.

Join us over the next few days to see how we get on with the fastest Mini ever…

Monday – I Lied…

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Yes, it’s true, I did. And it wasn’t in a bad way. Just a little white lie because I couldn’t own up to my rufty-tufty X1 NOT being a four-wheel drive.

I was filling up in Oxfordshire this morning when a woman in a Toyota RAV4 asked me if I liked my new BMW. She was looking for a replacement for her SUV and thought the X1 looked the perfect solution.

She lived on a smallholding near Chipping Norton and needed ‘something 4×4 for the lower field’ – whatever that means. Anyway, she wanted to know what the X1 was like on a muddy track and I just couldn’t own up to driving a car that looked like a four-wheel drive but actually wasn’t.

I advised her to avoid the two-wheel drive version (which is true!) for her muddy exploits and suggested the 4×4 model would be very suitable, if a little more thirsty.

I also raved about the driving experience, the beautifully crafted interior and a decent-sized boot. Which was all true too…

Sunday – Model of Refinement

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The X1 sits just a couple of inches higher than a 1 Series hatchback and it drives more car-like than SUV too. The steering is well weighted and precise (although some might find it heavy) – the brakes offer lots of feel and are reassuringly firm on the pedal.

I’ve been trying to find the X1’s Achilles Heel but I’m struggling to be honest. I can’t remember the last time I was disappointed by a BMW and the X1 is cut from the same cloth.

Everything inside the cabin is tasteful and beautifully laid out. Refinements to the rotary-controlled iDrive system mean there is no longer much need to reach for the handbook when you want to adjust the entertainment or sat nav system either.

For a small car with raised suspension, it’s remarkably comfortable. The seats are manually adjusted but with a bit of playing round you will find the perfect driving position, which leaves plenty of room for two passengers in the back as well.

Of course, all those extras fitted to our test car are expensive in a BMW – so choose you model and spec it up carefully. I can recommend the panoramic sunroof though.

 

 

Friday – Laughing Stock

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I think it was Richard Hammond who said the Mini was the saddest looking car on the road – thanks to the downbeat front grille. It’s a beautiful, sunny day here in Wiltshire and, as you can see from the photo, the 208 GTi seems to have plenty to smile about.

Peugeot hasn’t really modified the GTi grille much from the standard car but I wonder if a psychologist would say that driving a car with a cheery front end makes you feel better when you see it parked on your driveway in the morning?

It must do because yesterday I had a potential sense of humour failure when the passenger seat in the 208 decided to go on strike. The adjustment mechanism just packed up, so the neither the seat back or base could be locked in place!

It’s an odd feeling driving round with a ‘dead’ seat next to you. It rolls backwards and forwards at will whenever I brake or accelerate.

Who’s to blame? Well, it was that nice driver from Fiat who came to pick up last week’s 500, of course. I collected him at the station and, when he went to adjust the seat, well, we had a comical moment.

Obviously industrial espionage. Fiat 1 – Peugeot 0.

Tuesday – No Charge

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It’s one thing knowing that your car doesn’t qualify for the London Congestion Charge but quite another to actually enjoy driving around the capital without paying a penny!

I’ve spent most of the day in the city and you can’t help but notice how many TwinAir 500s are on the street. At Fulham Broadway car park I counted 11, plus one high performance Abarth. There were more Fiat’s than Minis – what does that tell you?

I suppose it is just a result of the zero Congestion Charge but the TwinAir is also a great car for city driving. Official figures claim 60+mpg around town – expect a more realistic 47mpg in reality.

The 500 is brilliant for squeezing into small parking space and it skips through narrows gaps in traffic that other supermini drivers just envy. It’s less enjoyable at high speed on motorways, jittery and susceptible to cross winds. That said, it more than keeps up with the big boys.