This little 4×4 took me 400 miles around Norfolk tasting cake, slowly traversing the tamest off road route I could find, and down some very fun country roads in and around Thetford. It’s a good looking car that’s fun to drive and practical too but I can see why Mini purists hate it.
This car is quite obviously bigger than your standard Mini (which are already quite large by traditional Mini standards) and has a raised ride height. The model I drove has these fierce black alloy wheels (which are also very light), a powerful looking front grille, wing mirrors that match the roof colour (in this case, black again), a large rear badge that doubles as a boot release, and the badge that declares its off-road capabilities to all who are willing to look close enough.
You get the standard Mini dashboard design with those big circular features. I do think this is very gimmicky because who really wants to look all the way to the middle of the dashboard to check their speed? Thankfully there’s a digital speedometer right in front of you in the middle of the rev counter.
One thing that took a lot of getting used to was the positioning of the buttons for things like air con, sport mode etc. Because the central console isn’t tilted upwards, it’s hard to see what buttons are there. If you do need to glance down, it’s not just a quick flick of the eyes before you get back to focussing on the road, you actually have to tilt your head down. This means it’s not really safe to switch on your heated seat while you’re travelling.
However, the buttons are all really tactile, it’s actually quite easy to feel what button you’re about to press. This means that while I struggled with the controls at first, once I’d been in the car for a while, I could go to the right button without even needing to look down. So while, at first glances, the dashboard looks impractical, there’s thought behind the madness and it (eventually) works quite well.
The sat nav had some problems too. It just wasn’t very intuitive, a lot of times it said to go one way when it meant another thing completely. You also have to be fully zoomed in for the map to be of any use whatsoever. I did a lot of driving down unfamiliar roads and got lost a lot more than I normally would when following sat nav.
Otherwise, the interior of the car is great. It’s nice and spacious with some lovely feature like little purple LEDs.
Practicality and comfort
The car was comfortable with plenty of room, even for tall folk sitting in the back. There’s also great visibility all round which makes parking a piece of cake (the rear parking sensors help too).
Those big wheels and fairly stiff suspension made the ride quite bumpy but it was mostly comfortable. Heated seats are a nice feature too for early starts when you’re trying to get around six different North Norfolk cafes to sample various cakes. The Mini Countryman also helpfully told me the temperature was low and that it might be icy (it wasn’t but the gesture was appreciated).
The 1.6 diesel engine is loud so if you’re looking for a something for a quiet Sunday drive, you won’t get it with this car. However, if you’re looking for a car that makes it easy to plug in your music and turn it up loud, the engine noise doesn’t really matter.
If you get one of the 4WD Minis then you’re getting a whole new level of practicality. Slightly bumpy farm tracks, no problem. Icy roads, no problem. Ford that might be a little too deep, maybe not. I came across an unbridged ford in North Norfolk on the cake trip and there was a larger 4×4 ahead of me, it had no problems. The water was way too deep to risk the Mini, which I’m sure is more designed for navigating unadopted roads than it is rivers.
My latest video will give you more of an idea of how the Mini copes on different roads and you get to see some epic(ly slow) off road driving.
I love cars that have very little overhang over the wheels and I really love cars with a punchy sport mode. Despite being a tall car, it sticks nicely to the road without too much sway. You can feel that 4WD helping too if you really push it around corner.
I’m no off road driver but I wanted to test the Mini Countryman’s abilities on muddier, bumpier terrain. I found a stretch of track between Thetford and Brandon and set to work. Anyone who has any real off road driving experience will probably laugh at my off road attempt (so slow) but this is a Mini, after all. I think if I owned one of these I might have been a bit braver but I simply wanted to show that it copes well with driving situations one might encounter on a day-to-day basis.
It was no match for the bigger 4x4s that trundled past at some speed but it made it and we had loads of fun!
While Mini purists will hate how this car has grown from being a go-kart with a roof to a fairly good SUV-cross over, us normal folk might look at this car as a viable option for a practical family car that has a spark of fun behind it too.
I enjoyed this car and the 4WD makes it a viable option for anyone who wants a car that can cope with all sorts of conditions but might not want a full size off-roader.
As far as road trips go, the Mini Copper D Countryman ticks all the boxes. It’s got great entertainment connectivity, is relatively comfortable, fun to drive, has good MPG and there’s tons of space too.