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Car Review

Mini Countryman review

£29,025 - £45,625
710
Published: 25 Mar 2024
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Interior

What is it like on the inside?

This is where the new Countryman stakes its claim for class leadership. Mastering the complexities of connectivity and digitalisation has wrong-footed some of the big names, but Mini’s design team has nailed it. The Countryman is wildly clever, imaginative, and crucially given the technology it deploys, simple to use. A digital quantum leap, no less.

Although the entire cabin architecture feels genuinely fresh, the focal point is the central OLED display. It’s now 240mm in diameter and packed with so many features it’s difficult to know where to begin.

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Start with the easy bits.

The upper half of the screen shows your speed and other vehicle-related info. Tap that and it can be displayed full screen. At the bottom sits a little menu bar that houses the controls for climate, audio, navigation or phone, with a home button in the middle. Driver and passenger temperature controls are on the lower left and right portion of the screen.

Swipe up from the lower edge of the screen and you’ll call up a ‘tool belt’ where you can store your favourite functions. This can also be accessed using the star button on the steering wheel. The wheel itself is new, a touch chunky perhaps but nice to hold, and with a textile strap on the lower part rather than moulded plastic. It’s a lovely touch.

Beneath the dash is a row of controls – Mini calls this a toggle bar – that houses the parking brake button, the gear selector, a cute little start-stop ‘key’, the ‘Experience’ mode switch, and, praise be, a physical volume control. Underneath that is a smaller row of switchgear, including the magic button to call up the various driving assistance features so you can turn them off, hazard warning, and max front and rear demisting buttons.

And underneath that is a wireless charging area and storage space. Then you’ve got cupholders and a cubby. It all works seamlessly, and appears to have been designed by some actual human beings who haven’t let the razzle dazzle of the new tech overwhelm basic ergonomics.

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Excellent news! What else do I need to know?

We need to talk a little more about the Experience Modes. There are eight on the Countryman: Core, Green, Go-Kart, Personal, Vivid, Timeless, Trail and Balance. Each one has its own specially designed background on the central display, and a specific sound signature. Choose Go-Kart, for example, and you’ll be greeted with a hearty ‘woo hoo!’ Balance turns the car into a kind of mobile spa. Personal mode allows you to set your own background image via the Mini app, the dominant colours extending across the dash. It risks being utterly ridiculous but it’s so well done that you would have to be an irredeemable grump not to appreciate it.

Mini says we sense sound faster than we see and has developed a range of 30 ‘ear-cons’ to accompany information and warning functions. Again, could have been overkill, but actually works really well.

What else? Oh, lots. The dashboard curves gently and has a knitted textile two-tone surface that’s made entirely of recycled polyester. Choose between Classic, Exclusive or Sport trim to alter the feel of the interior. The air vents and interior door handles are vertically aligned. In the JCW, Sport trim combines a multi-coloured textile effect and black synthetic leather with red stitching. Most of this is sustainable material, rendered here in unique fashion. A panoramic roof is an option, as are massage seats. If you get fully connected, there’s a range of ever evolving apps, including the Air Console one that allows occupants to stream games and play them via their smartphones.

The Countryman also introduces voice recognition for most major functions. Simply say, ‘Hey Mini’ or push a button on the wheel and issue the command. A little guy called Spike appears on the central display, although the system also works without him (one for the kids, perhaps). It’s undoubtedly clever but based on our experience only works about half the time, despite apparently recognising multiple languages and difficult dialects. Be warned, you might end up ordering a pizza to be delivered in Bratislava.

You're going to mention AI now aren't you?

We are. The Mini Intelligent Personal Assistant uses AI to learn regular routes, and can draw on geo-based data to open a window, for example, when it recognises the car park you’ve just driven into. Tech nerds note: the new car uses a new Mini OS9 Android-based software stack developed by the BMW Group, with cloud-based navigation and the option of 5G.

The Countryman’s increased size yields a noticeably roomier cabin, front and rear. There’s 460 litres of boot space with the seats in place, 1,450 with the rear seats folded flat. The rear row can also be adjusted in length by up to 130mm, for more legroom or luggage space. The rear seat backrest can be adjusted through six positions up to 12 degrees. The Comfort Access feature means you can use your smartphone as the key.

All in all, the Countryman has a world class interior. Even if it handled like a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel, we’d still be tempted.

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