One day Africa, the next day Dublin’s Naas Road.

I was going to write about travels in darkest – actually desertest – Africa this week and the impressive new Toyota Hilux; but space and the fact that two of my colleagues have ploughed that sandy furrow already last week in half-page pieces dissuaded me. I will return to it in a couple of weeks with a more individual take.

Recently I had back-to-back driving of two cars. One I knew I would love, the other I was testing more out of duty than conviction. How wrong I was about the second. Of course the first car, the five-door Mini Countryman, was brilliant to drive and has not lost any of its go-kart feel with the longer body and more room. It really suited my physical needs and the emotional one of recovering my youth.

This was to the point of going to an adjacent Mini showroom after I had dropped off the test car. I thought we should own one – and there’s the rub.

For the most basic model we were looking at more than €25k and were encouraged to keep on adding. The automatic was another €4k, and various packs could add the same again. This wasn’t even the Cooper model, which we wanted in British Racing Green.

I left a quote on the kitchen table for my partner to digest with her porridge. She liked the idea, but thought at around €11,000-€20,000 more than the new Hyundai i10 she covets at the moment, it was “something we can’t afford”. She also rightly asked if it was the same as the car I had tested – of course not.

That one was so loaded with bells and whistles that it would be at least another €5k. I still might do it, but mind may rule over heart.

Just before going into the Mini showroom, I had picked up the SsangYong Tivoli.

I had been previously put off the marque as it had managed to produce some of the ugliest cars ever – remember the odious Rodius – of the recent past. For some time its cars were so far behind its Hyundai and Kia colleagues that the vehicles looked like they had come from North rather than South Korea.

Yet within seconds of picking up the Tivoli I was totally captured by the mid-sized SUV/Crossover.

It was absolutely brimming with extras, had 4WD and the level of finesse, comfort and real value that totally blows models like the Dacia Duster out of the water and could give real competition to the more established crossovers, if the company had a larger distribution network.

It was pleasant to look at, competent if a bit harsh to drive, but incredibly comfortable and definitely not bargain basement. Prices start at a cappuccino under €20,000, but the test car had everything including an auto box and AWD, 5-year unlimited mileage warranty and 5-year roadside assistance – and was €30k in ES trim and €34k in EL.

It’s not a Mini but amazing, practical and could at last help the marque really break through. But it should be cheaper.

Sunday Independent