Mini can finally compete in the four-door market thanks to its new Countryman, on sale this month. It’s been a long time coming for this quintessentially British brand and means Mini has more weight to lure fleet buyers into its cars.

Mini cars have traditionally sold to retail buyers, with petrol engines accounting for the majority of sales at 87%. The split is expected to be very different for the new crossover, with diesel set to take at least quarter of registrations. Business drivers are predicted to make up around a third of buyers compared with a fifth across the brand as whole.

The Countryman is proving to be popular – UK allocation for 2010 has sold out, which means those that order now won’t receive vehicles until next year. Lee Connolly, Mini product manager, says the Cooper S ALL4, the high-spec petrol four-wheel-drive version, is doing particularly well, but it is hard to predict whether this will continue as these buyers are “early adopters”.

For businesses, the most popular iteration will be the Cooper D, with a P11D of £18,755. CO2 emissions are 116g/km, making benefit-in-kind tax payments a fleet-friendly 13%.

On the road the diesel was better than expected: the 1.6-litre 112hp engine is surprisingly nippy. The Mini’s “go-kart handling”, though, is slightly awry on the Countryman, which isn’t surprising considering it’s bigger and taller than anything the brand has ever done before. However, add responsive steering and a suspension that almost absorbed the awful roads it was test-driven on and the car is a pretty good proposition.

Connolly says Mini is mostly pitching the Countryman against Nissan‘s successful Qashqai, while other rivals, based on size, include the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Yeti. Both the Countryman and Golf have identical boot sizes – 350 litres – but the former is delivered in a narrower more upright offering. The Qashqai, meanwhile, has 410 litres and the Yeti 416.

As always, Mini’s residual values are superb. On the Countryman Cooper D, the RV is 47.1%, compared with 36.6% for the Golf and the same for the Qashqai.

Along with its admirable CO2 emissions, the Countryman easily beats its equivalent model rivals on total running costs. The Mini comes in at 38.9 pence per mile, with the trusty Golf coming second at 42ppm.

By all criteria, then, the new Mini Countryman makes a lot of sense for fleet buyers. For all those bored with a Golf and want for something different without compromising quality, then the Countryman is a good bet.

Mini Countryman Cooper D 1.6 4dr 6sp
P11D price £18,755
Model price range £16,000-£22,030
Fuel consumption 64.2mpg
CO2 (tax) 115g/km/(13%)
BIK 20/40% per month £41/£81
Service interval Variable
Insurance group 18
Warranty 3yrs/unlimited mls
Boot space (min/max) 350/1170 litres
Engine size/power 1598cc/110hp
Top speed/0-62mph 115mph/10.9secs
On sale September 2010
Score 8/10
Verdict An exciting arrival into
the safe lower medium sector