I’ve been wondering for some time whether the Countryman is deserving of such a rustic moniker – its maker, after all, is best known for re-inventing the small car.
So it was with this rather pompous postulation in mind I set off for my final day’s shooting last season in a brand new, very white, very conspicuous MINI.
For those who don’t make a habit of reading car magazines, or who wait for them to land in their dentist’s waiting room, the new MINI Countryman is a four-door, four-wheel-drive, distinctly Maxi-sized version of a beloved British icon.
Built in Austria in the same factory as the new Aston Martin Rapide, the Countryman has been designed to keep Mini enthusiasts with the brand even when their families get too big for its smaller siblings.
What it probably hasn’t been designed to do is to be taken shooting, but actually it doesn’t make a bad fist of it.
On the very icy back roads over the top of the fells it was beautifully sure-footed in the way that light(ish) cars with low(ish) centres of gravity and four-wheel-drive can be.
It is comfortable, brisk without actually being quick and has a genuinely different and stylish interior, which is dominated by a huge central speedo and row upon row of retro toggle switches.
The one I drove had all the gadgets that you could ever want, including an excellent stereo, dazzling high definition satnav system, heated seats and lovely soft leather seats.
But then it should, seeing as it had an extras bill totalling £6,390 which brings the on-the-road price up to £28,420.
The cabin’s contents and layout is quite quirky, but looks and feels special.
The Countryman didn’t, however, impress my fellow guns.
Alongside their customary Range Rovers and Defenders my big white MINI felt very small and very out of place.
I was subjected to a barrage of requests for shampoo and sets, renditions of the Noddy theme tune, and, in one deeply unpleasant moment, even a kiss.
With that sort of abuse being meted out I was quietly relieved no-one elected to travel from drive to drive with me, although there would have been room for them as it’s surprisingly spacious and certainly doesn’t feel any smaller inside than my wife’s old Land Rover Freelander.
Though the MINI might feel small next to its more serious off-road brethern, it actually sizes up rather well.
Stick in the mud
It dealt extremely well with some very rough tracks and a bit of a ford, and even some gentle off-roading.
Its completely road-oriented tyres meant it got stuck pretty much immediately when I tried to follow my host onto the softer stuff.
However, it does have a reasonably competent electronic systems and under half an inch less ground clearance than a Range Rover Sport’s normal ride height, so give it some sensible tyres and it could probably hold its own under a lot of circumstances.
The MINI Countryman will handle some light off-roading, but the adventurous amongst you should think twice before heading into the fells.
I came to respect the Countryman as actually a really good little car.
If its looks grow on people in the same way the MINI Clubman’s have I think it will do well, especially in its cheaper, lower-spec variants.
It fits its name rather well; it’s an ideal car for those who live in the country and want a stylish family car which can cope with bad weather and the odd bumpy track.
Just don’t take it shooting if you don’t like being called names.