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.
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…
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
The original Fiat 500 was launched in 1957 – I think my father was involved in the Suez Crisis a few months before that! One of the crazy facts that resulted from the launch of the new 500 is that prices of the original have gone sky high. I recently saw one advertised for £7,000!
And while change isn’t always for the better, the new version has brakes that actually stop the car and airbags from all angles. It also boats hazard warning lights that are activated automatically when the brakes are applied hard. Clever.
I genuinely like the 500 and if I could find an excuse to to buy one as a city car it would beat the Mini and the Vauxhall Adam (also tested on this site). The styling and interior are just a cut above and give the 500 a genuine feel-good factor.
My choice would be the top-of-the-range Lounge version because it adds alloy wheels, glass roof and Bluetooth connectivity. The Colour Therapy has neither and even with air conditioning and electric windows, it does seem a little expensive compared to some other city cars out there.
An example? Well, if you can live with the styling, the brilliant new Hyundai i10 starts at around £8,200 and is superbly equipped. It just won’t put a smile on your face, that’s all…
Wiltshire was gridlocked last night. A major downpour in this country and everything comes grinding to a halt – not much fun in a little motor like the Fiat 500. We arrived at the exquisite Pembroke Arms in Wilton (www.pembrokearms.co.uk), parked the car in a puddle and dashed in.
The hotel has a first floor ballroom that comes straight from the pages of a Jane Austen novel. In the nineteenth century guests would have arrived by carriage, which made our entrance in a brightly coloured supermini even more comical.
However, don’t be fooled by the size of 500 or the TwinAir’s 875cc engine. What it lacks in stature it makes up for in style and performance. It’s the only retromobile that has an interior which puts a smile on your face – every time you get in. Much more exciting than a Mini.
It’s quite simply a masterclass in cool, even if our Colour Therapy model lacks steering wheel-mounted control buttons for the entertainment unit, plus a seat height adjustment lever mounted on the left of the seat that could easily be grabbed instead of the handbrake!
And if two-cylinders and 85bhp don’t sound much, in the lightweight 500 it adds up to a whole lot of fun. The engine note under acceleration sounds like a World War Two bomber coming into land – it would be rude to say sewing machine.
You have to work through the five-speed gearbox a bit but the results are amazing. The TwinAir just loves a sound thrashing and responds with loads of heart. Not only that but we’ve driven 65 miles around Wiltshire today and the fuel gauge hasn’t moved yet!
So what’s missing? Well, just a trip computer to tell us what the economy is – we have to be averaging more than 60mpg and I’m not exactly holding back with the right foot! More tomorrow…
The fact that I’m already looking for reasons to drive the 500 and it’s only Friday speaks volumes. A 875cc car with modest performance and a wacky paint job might not sound that exciting. However, the appeal of this tiny Fiat – based on the same running gear as the Panda – is much greater than the sum of its parts.
You don’t need to be a fashionista to be seduced by the retro curves and gorgeous interior either. Just look at the huge number of 500s there are out there. Fiat has taken a healthy slice of Mini sales from BMW and is now copying the German manufacturer with a stretched version and the racy Abarth too.
True, the 500 lacks macho appeal but it does put a smile on your face every time to climb inside. It’s not just ‘a girls car’ either, although you can sort of understand why hairy-armed blokes wouldn’t be seen dead driving one.
I’ve got an open mind on the supermini. I want to know if it’s a practical alternative to the lower-priced Panda and whether it’s worth the £12,000 price tag too.
Today Jessica and I will head down to the Pembroke Arms in Wilton, Wiltshire, with a large Hungarian Viszla on the back seat. Not sure many dog owners would choose a 500 for transport but nothing ventured!