If you were on the look-out for a car with the aesthetic refinement and elegance of one of those portable tool cabinets they sell at B&Q, the second-generation New Mini Cooper D Countryman or the All new Suzuki Swift might well catch your eye.
Neil Lyndon, makes a strange comparison, the New Mini Countryman and the All New Suzuki Swift
After borrowing both cars in consecutive weeks, however, I am pleased to report that the Mini Countryman is not nearly so unappealing as it looks and the Suzuki Swift is a whole lot better than it appears.
The Countryman has always been the most difficult of all Minis to like, perhaps because the very name sits so uneasily upon it its lumpy body. Over four metres long, with a roofline nearly as tall as my own six feet and bulging inelegantly in all directions. It would be nearer to the truth to call this car a Maxi (which was the name of the last car, also a five-door hatchback, designed by Alex Issigonis, creator of the original Mini). This, the biggest-ever Mini, is also the first of all Minis to offer four-wheel drive (though not in the car we borrowed) so the Countryman should actually be seen as belonging more in the category of a Yeti-size SUV than an urban nipabout.
Even so, this car nips about with a will, with a two-litre 150 bhp engine capable of 0-62 mph in 8.8 seconds. I came to enjoy hurtling my daughters on their 12-mile run to school along deserted and windy Scottish country roads so much that protests occasionally arose over our velocity through bends and in the face of overtakes which would might have led to the undertaker in a car with less oomph. The six-speed manual gearbox is one of the most positive and snicky in production (though my wife found it too stiff and heavy and needed two hands to engage reverse). Steering is delightfully alert, with two and a half turns producing a turning circle of just 11.6 metres. The ride can be unsettled over bumps and uneven surfaces, but handling and turn-in are as nifty as you could wish.
The Countryman really does serve as a more than adequate family car, which could hardly be said of the standard Mini. Five full-size seats with sufficient legroom are complemented by a loadspace large enough to take all the bags for a family of four setting off to the airport for a short break.
No future development is ever likely to lessen my dislike for the soup-plate affectation of the central instrument display common to all BMW Minis, but the introduction of touch-screen technology for the 8.8” screen slightly mitigates the irritation. The full connectivity pack in our test car added almost £4000 to the on-the-road price and helped to push it up to a throat-clutching £32145 all-in.
At which point, many punters might begin to wonder if they could manage with the All New Suzuki Swift.
And I am here to tell you that, yes, you probably could manage perfectly well; and you would have made a sound, sensible and prudent choice.
The sum total of the cost of extras on the 1.0 SZ5 SHVS Boosterjet version we borrowed was the £650. That was the price of the special paint job on our blue and silver test car. That sole extra took the total purchase price up to £15149. Everything else in an equipment list as long as the charge sheet against Lavrenti Beria (see Death of Stalin) was a standard fitting. Hearing a salesman ask for less than half the amount of money you would have to pay for a Countryman might allow you to release your grip on your throat.
Once you’ve started breathing normally again, you would find much to like in the Swift.
The little mild-hybrid one-litre, three-cylinder engine with 111 PS is a real stonker and turns out cracking performance for its capacity. Acceleration from 0-60 in little over 10 seconds with a genuine poke of torque allowed the school run to be enjoyed in the Swift almost as much as the Countryman and the ride, if anything, is better. Sharp steering, secure cornering, little body-roll – on all these points the Swift compared well with the Mini.
Only four, rather than five, adults might be carried comfortably in its little body, but the load space was more than adequate for all our family’s bags when we went away for a night in the Swift. My wife was disdainful of the unrelieved black plastics in the interior and also alleged that they put off a faintly unpleasant pong, but I was far too insensitive to notice such delicacies. Perhaps I was concentrating too closely on the mpg figures on the inboard computer which never went lower than 51 mpg now matter how hard I caned the car.
We all agreed that the Swift was an excellent little car and promised ourselves we really ought to keep it in mind the next time we have to buy a family bus.
Nobody even breathed that thought about the Countryman.
Car reviewed: MINI Cooper Countryman – Base Price On the road £25,030 with options on car tested £32,145 0-60mph 8.9 secs Top speed 129mph Fuel Economy combined 65.7mpg CO2 emissions 113g/km Engine 1995cc 4-cylinder diesel EU6 Max Power 150PS@4000 rpm Torque 330Nm@1750rpm Transmission 6-Speed Manual
Car reviewed: Suzuki Swift 1.0 SZ5 SHVS Boosterjet– Base Price On the road £14,499 with options on car tested £15,149 0-60mph 10.6 secs Top speed 121mph Fuel Economy combined 65.7mpg CO2 emissions 97g/km Engine 998cc 3-cylinder unleaded EU6 Max Power 111PS@5500 rpm Torque 170Nm@2000-3500rpm Transmission 5-Speed Manual
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