Enlarging the Mini

The new Mini Countryman might have ‘Mini’ emblazoned front and back, but there’s nothing small about it. The second generation of Mini’s chunkier compact crossover is larger and wider than its predecessor, though it’s a little sharper and leaner on the outside.

Looks might be subjective, but I think it’s fair to say the new Countryman isn’t good-looking in the traditional sense. Like all Minis since 2000, the Countryman has a bulbous air about it, like someone who’s overindulged a little too much at dinner. Having said that it’s got a nice stance on the road, and if you’re opting for a colour beyond the usual black or red, Island Blue with the go-faster Cooper stripes lends a great degree of attractiveness.

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From Tokyo to Turin: Meet the Fiat Fullback

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If you think that Fiat’s new Fullback is familiar, you’re not wrong. Essentially speaking, it’s an Mitsubishi L200 with a bit of a nose job, a case of what’s known as badge engineering. It’s the first entry from Fiat in the mid-size pickup segment, going head to head with the likes of the Toyota Hilux or the Nissan Navara, as well as the aforementioned L200. I test drove the L200 last year and was really impressed with it, from its handling on the road to its comfort, so I expected great things from the hulking black Fiat that served as my test model for the week. It didn’t disappoint.

Two things in particular impressed me about the Fullback, not counting its muscular and flowing physique, which I found a little more appealing than the L200. Firstly the acres of space, both inside and out. It’s a big machine, with a wheelbase of 3 metres and an overall length of 5.3m. Inside there’s comfortable seating for four adults and a skinny teenager, though it could do with a few more cubbyholes for storage, while the glovebox is a little cramped. Headroom is in abundance – you’d need to be pushing 7 feet to feel claustrophobic. Secondly, the fuel economy. Combined driving (with a less than light foot) resulted in an impressive 41mpg (6.9L/100km), which is by no means terrible for a beast with a kerb weight of 1,860kg and propelled along by a 2.4L diesel engine producing 180hp. If you tend to drive fast and without regard to your fuel spend, expect somewhere in the region of 34.7mpg (9.1L/100km).

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A Renegade Life

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The new Jeep Renegade represents a number of firsts for the US carmaker. It’s their first entry into the miniature SUV market for one thing, while it’s also the first Jeep to be exclusively built in Europe and then sold in the US and other markets, instead of vice versa.

To look at, the Renegade is very much a blend of European and North American influences. It’s got the iconic Jeep grille and headlights, for example, and various nods to its heritage around the cabin, though it’s not quite as square as the Wrangler. Style-wise, I still find it hard to say whether I like it or not. The front grille is fantastic – pure Jeep (and chrome) – while the rear, including the lights, is certainly interesting. When you look at it from the side, however, it does seem a little squat, like the offspring of the aforementioned Wrangler and a Skoda Yeti. It’s more adorable than macho.

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Driven: The Game Changer? Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV

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There’s no doubt that we live in an age of motoring evolution, watching history unfold before our eyes. Hybrid and electric vehicles were once the butt of many motoring columnists’ jokes, discarded as a waste of time or, at their worst, as something which threatened the joy of true motoring. In a way it’s an ironic viewpoint, considering that electric cars have been around almost as long as their counterparts which rely on miniature explosions for propulsion. But they’re steadily gaining a foothold in the modern era, thanks in part to government schemes, the interest of early adopters and increasingly efficient technology.31

Nissan’s Leaf is an affordable electric car which has got a lot going for it in terms of comfort and ease of use, even if it isn’t the best looking vehicle on the market. Ford have an electric Focus which doesn’t look altogether different from the outside. Mitsubishi’s i-Miev might look a like a bug which has crashed into your windscreen at speed, but it’s a useful city car and isn’t all that bad to drive. Even BMW have got in on the act, with their luxury i3 and the electric sportscar, the i8. And eventually we’ll see Tesla’s beautifully crafted Model S reach European shores, looking for all the world like the offspring of a Jaguar and an Aston Martin. For the electric car enthusiast there’s quite the range of options, a list which continues to grow.

These vehicles have one thing in common – they’re all road cars, designed for smooth tarmac, urban (and rural) roads. And if you want to delve deeper, off road, via battery power? The options are limited. There’s Toyota’s RAV 4 EV, but that’s only sold in California. Porsche, meanwhile, have launched a hybrid Cayenne, although that is likely to be out of reach for the ordinary EV driver. You could always try to manoeuvre a BMW i3 around a muddy track, but you’re not likely to get very far. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle) is another story, however.

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