| 7.6°C Dublin

A Mini with love handles

I FELL in love the other day. Not with something beautiful, though there are possibilities. Rather, it was with an object that managed to blend dreams of youth, vitality and finesse with the practical realisation that something a bit meatier was needed.

I had just given back the Toyota Rav4, a doughty soft-roader that was crying out for a higher spec but just about passed muster for its very accomplished build quality, space and effortless driving despite its size. The compact SUV showcases Toyota's Easy Flat seating system. Prices start at €28,695 for two-wheel drive and €30,955 for four wheel. The Sol range is around another €2,000 while a luxury pack adds €3,500 to that.

As I drew near to Frank Keane's BMW dealership on Dublin's Naas Road, my heart leapt. Could it be, I wondered? And it was; the new Mini Countryman stood there in all her glory. Proper space in the back for adults, four doors, a good luggage area and off-road capacity. This is a Mini that has taken a whole medicine cabinet rather than just a few steroids. It has love handles to beat the band.

But for all that, it finally gives a real full-on, grown-up off-road approach to the way Frank Stephenson's design 10 years ago reinvented Alec Issigonis's Fifties' concept. There isn't any of the wood exterior of the old Countryman. This looks like a tin trunk.

On-the-road prices start from €24,400 but the ALL4, Mini's all-wheel drive option, will be available on two models, making the Cooper D €29,280 and the Cooper S €35,230. That's not cheap but this will be a must-have car for many. The spec is very good but as with all the Mini range, the customisation will make you dig deep into your purse.

Campbell Spray

Sunday Independent