One thing I’ll never understand about car manufacturers is their total disregard for the female driver. No one, to my knowledge, has yet designed a car specifically with a woman in mind — and by that I don’t mean patronising nonsense like floral decals or eyelash add-ons for the headlights. I mean practical solutions for the everyday busy lady motorist.
Such as somewhere to put one’s handbag so that it a) doesn’t get trampled on by muddy football boots, b) do a triple salchow off the passenger seat the moment you so much as touch the brake pedal, disgorging its contents all over the floor or c) present an enticing target for passing motorcycle gangs.
And, while we’re at it, what about a handy shoe-rack in the boot for that essential pair of spare heels? Or a built-in emergency make-up drawer that slides out of the glove compartment? And, of course, the ChildBlock (patent pending), a prototype of my own consisting of a soundproof screen that unfolds at the touch of a button, thus separating those in the front from the carnage in the back. Husband-Block also available. I once explained all this to a nice gentleman from BMW at a car-oriented PR event, arguing that they were missing a trick here. He listened politely in the manner of one indulging a slightly dotty aunt explaining the importance of dahlias, then wandered off to talk to a blonde woman in a very small dress.
So imagine my surprise when I took delivery of a new Mini Cooper S E All4 PHEV F60 Countryman and discovered that, for once, someone appears to have been paying attention. No handbag holder, sadly; but arguably a more useful feature: a built-in smartphone charger on the lid of the central armrest and positioned so that, by simply raising the lid, the device being charged can double up as small-screen entertainment for the backseat. The slightest bit of trouble and you just stick on whichever ghastly serial your children are obsessed with and peace can once again descend.
Quite how it works remains a mystery. There’s no lead or anything — you just pop your phone in the cradle and, like magic, it charges. But then there’s a lot about this nifty car that is just a little bit magical.
It’s the perfect pairing of old and new, classic and futuristic, runaround and sporty. An example: it has a fearsome on-board computer that allows you to programme almost every aspect of your drive, but the dashboard switches and styling are pleasingly retro. Another: it is the first Mini to combine a turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor (PHEV stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle), reducing its combined fuel consumption to 113 mpg yet also enabling a 0-62mph time of just 6.9 seconds when you need it. Another still: you can easily fit three kids in the back and a week’s shopping in the boot, but the quality of the finish in the front is pure sports-luxe.
In other words, it retains all the charm and heritage of the Mini brand — the cheeky little runaround — but with the added muscle of BMW’s vast technical expertise. This is especially evident when you get it on to the open road. The pick-up is seriously impressive, hair-raising even, yet C02 emissions are as low as 55 g/km. And the all-wheel drive system provides impressive control and road-holding. I tried it out on my favourite tricky corner (Junction 3 off the M3 towards Chobham, a hairpin turn that, if taken inadvisedly, can cause serious wobbles) and it stuck to the road like a salamander on a hot rock.
Add to that the fact that it synchs effortlessly with Spotify on your phone so you can play your favourite music without breaking the law (the voice command function actually works) and I really cannot think of anything to complain about, which is rare indeed. Perhaps just the sat-nav, which, like all built-in sat-navs, is pretty useless, being as it uses Google Maps. Next time they upgrade, they should just synch to Waze — it’s the only thing that works.
But perhaps the most astonishing thing is the price. All of this starts at £27,495. The model I had, bells and whistles and all, costs £37,760, knocking pretty much SARAH VINEevery car in that price range into a cocked hat. They say today’s women can’t have it all; I say this car isn’t far off.
ENGINE 1.5 LT
PERFORMANCE 0-62 MPH 6.9 SECONDS
TOP SPEED 123 MPH
FUEL 113 mpg (COMBINED CYCLE)
CO 255 g/km
ROAD TAX BAND A