The Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) has always been the traditional failsafe for those in the countryside who need practicality and some off-road ability. However, not all SUVs fit the bill for country living.
Despite their bulky designs, many are built for city driving and struggle leaving the asphalt and heading for a rocky trail. You're more likely to catch them stuck in the mud than rolling over the British countryside.
There are some essentials for your country vehicle with reliability featuring highly. For those frequenting rocky country roads, the 4x4 option is also a must. In winter this becomes all the more essential when icy roads and snow drifts can pose a problem even on well-maintained motorway surfaces. By comparison a 4x4 fitted with winter tyres is nigh-on unstoppable and can easily work its way out sticky extreme situations.
Other practical features for an ideal country SUV include a good ground clearance for navigating rocky terrain, as well as diesel engines suited to hauling trailers and trucks.
The clue for the Countryman's unique selling point is in the name. The MINI Countryman has been a hit since its launch in 2010, and it's not hard to see why. All the looks and fun of a traditional MINI hatch have been transferred into a practical and spacious crossover.
Boot space is a high point, with a 350-litre capacity as standard which increases to 1, 170 litres when the rear seats are folded. A sliding rear bench ensures easy access and comfort for rear passengers.
The Countryman also benefits from a range of new MINI engines, the pick of which is the 2.0 Litre diesel in the Cooper SD. This provides the best in performance and pulling power, whilst still being economical enough to make it a smart choice. The engine has 143bhp and an impressive 305Nm of torque, all whilst managing around 59mpg.
There are a few points which make this a great country SUV. MINIs are a tried and tested brand which score high on reliability on quality - and the countryman is no exception to this with parts readily available.
The MINI also offers up a 4x4 version known as the 'All4', which is an option for the entire range and can adapt and be flexible dependant on your needs. Adding this will ensure great performance no matter what terrain you're riding over, splitting power between the front and rear axles to give the best performance. The system comes as standard on John Cooper Works models.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer
The 2-Series Active Tourer from BMW is a brand new vehicle, and in many ways is a first for the iconic German manufacturer. The first MPV that BMW have ever produced, it's also the first to offer front-wheel drive. Despite breaking new ground, the new 2-series is extremely accomplished, and ideally suited to an active lifestyle.
The Active Tourer has been built on a new platform which is also home to the new MINI and upcoming 1 Series and X1 models. This means it's highly adaptable and open to BMW's own xDrive system, which provides engaging and responsive all-wheel drive (AWD) ideally suited to light off-roading just as much as on-road driving.
Engagement is at the heart of BMW's philosophy, and no matter where the Active Tourer is being driven it has the agility and intuition to rival most seasoned hatchbacks, providing a real thrill from the available engines.
The pick of the range for rural driving is BMW 218d SE - there's enough grunt from the 152bhp engine but economy figures of up to 69 mpg which rival some of the best in class. The 2 Series should also be good for reliability too, using a popular and tested platform, as well as parts from existing models in the range. A boot space of 468 litres rounds off a practical yet sporty package with off-road ability.
Range Rover Evoque
The Evoque was designed by none other than ex-Spice Girl and iconic British style icon, Victoria Beckham, and like its designer, has garnered a lot of attention for its looks. Strong, muscular shoulders and a rising waistline make the baby Range Rover, which is the smallest SUV in the range, extremely imposing.
Bold looks are accompanied by an extremely attractive price point which made it popular across the globe. The Evoque is lauded for driving comfort, and a luxurious interior which make it an expert cruiser over long distances. However it's often forgotten what the Evoque really is - a compact 4x4.
At heart, it's still a Land Rover, and as such is also extremely practical. The five-door variant has a fantastic boot space of 575 litres which is more than enough for a few sets of golf clubs or suitcases, whilst 4WD if offered on all models.
The Range Rover's 4WD ability is borrowed from its Land Rover cousins in the range, making it simply imperious when it comes to driving off the beaten track. It'll handle anything thrown at it, making it perfect for snowy and icy conditions over the winter period.
The pick engine is the base 2.2 litre diesel, which comes with 147bhp and is more than adequate for most applications. Economy of 56.5mpg means the longest of journeys aren't a problem, whilst 380Nm of torque is more than enough to deal with necessary haulage. The true rural all-rounder.
The Mercedes Benz GLA really is a miniature SUV. In fact, it's shorter than a Vauxhall Astra in stature, with an unassuming look from distance that could have it mistaken for a family hatchback.
It's even based on the same architecture as the A-Class but a larger, wider body means that there's more interior space and boot capacity. The model also benefits from larger tyres - a small hint towards its SUV leanings- which also help with ride comfort.
All models bar the entry-level SE get Mercedes' 4MATIC drive system as standard, which gives significant traction benefits both on and off-road. There is the option to extend this ability for true rural dwellers, by adding the off-road pack which adds and additional 30mm to the ride height. This extra option makes it one of the most able-off roaders on our list.
In terms of engines there are four in total - two petrol and two diesel. Our best pick for rural settings is the 134bhp 2.1-litre diesel 200 CDI, which returns the highest mpg of any engine at 62.8 but still has an impressive output of 134bhp.
In terms of reliability, Mercedes ranked 9th in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey for 2014, ensuring that the GLA-Class should be completely reliable even when miles away from civilisation. It's also pretty generous with equipment as all models receive DAB radio, leather seats, collision prevention assist and 18 inch alloy wheels.
The Nissan Juke followed the extremely popular trend of crossovers in to the market. There are only two models within the Juke range which offer 4x4 compatibility, but with the relative success and popularity of Nissan's SUV they are worth looking at as viable options. Sharp looks and a raised-hatchback profile have made it a popular choice amongst buyers.
Models that support 4x4 are the Nismo Juke powered by a 1.6 litre turbo, and the top-drawer Juke 1.6 DiG-T model. Interestingly, these models are both petrol, meaning that there is no 4x4 diesel available. Out of the two engines, we recommend the 1.6 DiG-T as our pick, unless you have the need for huge amounts of power available in the Nismo (in which case one of our other picks could be a better option).
The DiG-T model comes with 184bhp, and a punchy turbo which offers peak torque right through the rev range up until 5200rpm. 240Nm torque is decent enough for most applications and will handle most countryside.
The 4x4 variant also borrows an independent rear suspension set-up from the larger Qashqai, meaning it soaks up bumpy country lanes with ease and makes a good job of smoothing out the road ahead. Ground clearance is also impressive, with a space of 180mm which is well suited to uneven terrain. It's best left to occasional off-roading, but even when it does venture from the path it manages to surprise.