Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Cockpit is pure MINI with lots of character
  • Much easier to navigate than old model
  • Still fussy for some, driving position won’t suit all

MINI points to the strong degree of 'Britishness' it has been able to maintain in its interior design; referring to such details as the toggle switches, upholstery stitching and the overall dashboard shape as examples of detailing you'd never find in a German car.

That's all very well, but we wonder whether the haphazard feel to instrument and button placement isn't also something we wouldn’t find in a German car.

Gleefully shedding the plastic fantastic of old, the dashboard of the Mk2 Countryman is now laden with the latest-generation MINI model range kit. MINI aficionados will be delighted but, to the uninitiated eye, there seems to be very little homogeny here, as if individual components have been styled in separate rooms before meeting for the first time on board.

A pity, because the quality of fit and finish seems a significant step-change better than that of its predecessor, even if the quantity of things to press seems overwhelming on first contact.

Infotainment is slick and easy to operate (mostly)

That enormous central circle still dominates the dashboard, but no longer boasts a speedometer with a face that would pass muster on a grandfather clock. Instead, it plays host to the latest generation of MINI's infotainment screens; a 6.5-inch unit fitted as standard, and an option 8.8-inch unit, which, for the first time, features touchscreen operation in addition to the rotary controller, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The touchscreen is a blessing, because the central armrest makes accessing the rotary controller mounted immediately in front of it a tad uncomfortable, as it’s set low down on the centre console behind the gearlever.

However, spend a little time in the Countryman and you’ll quickly learn the ins and outs. The infotainment system is derived from BMW’s iDrive, meaning it’s easy to operate, despite the many menus, and you can forgive the amount of similar-looking buttons and toggle switches because, at least, they’re interesting. You can’t beat a starter button that glows red before you start the car.

Comfy apart from the firm ride

  • Lots of adjustment in the seats
  • Plenty of space to get comfortable
  • Firm suspension compromises ride

Once you've hiked the seat up a fair degree to see over that imposing cliff of a dashboard, the driving position, and the front seats themselves, are comfortable. The wheel adjusts for distance and angle, and is, if you can find a bit of it not littered with switchgear to hold, also a well-sized, comfortable fit.

Not all drivers will find it easy to get comfortable quickly, though - as we found out with our long term MINI Countryman. The pedals feel too far away for those with smaller legs – especially noticeable when you need to depress the clutch – that can lead you to feeling too close to the wheel just to be able to reach. In turn, you may need to move the seat up higher, which feels fine in terms of visibility, but then you’re jacked up high above the dashboard and centre console which makes things difficult to reach.

Take some time to adjust the seat, steering wheel and mirrors to find the perfect position though, because you may find yourself making small adjustments on the move if you do it in a hurry.

Plenty of space in bigger cabin

Some 75mm of extra length has gone into the wheelbase of the new Countryman, and most of that has been dedicated to welcome extra knee room for rear seat passengers. The sliding rear seat bench is split 60:40 while the folding seatbacks are split 40:20:40. MINI claims five-seat status for the Countryman, but possibly not ideal for long journeys.

The car's pretty while cruising, with road noise and - predictably given the upright stance of the windscreen - wind noise vying for dominance in a cabin which requires only a modest hike in voice volume to allow conversation at motorway speeds.

Harsh ride compromises comfort

All of which would prove more admirable were the car not let down by its ride quality. Every single version in the Countryman range is badged Cooper, leaving a nagging suspicion that everything has been wound a tad too tight in the undercarriage department to ensure a degree of handling worthy of the name.

And that's fine if you're zipping along on a respectable road surface, but at gentler, family car speeds the Countryman simply refuses to settle down. Even the fair degree of bump and thump over larger divots and ruts would prove acceptable were it not for the constant fidgeting of the body on anything but mirror-smooth surfaces. Irritating.