- Published: Friday, 21 April 2017 02:26
Mini reckons you should consider the new Countryman if you're on the hunt for a family car. Should you?
SINGAPORE — The new Mini Countryman is here, and its arrival means one thing: it’s much harder to outgrow the brand’s products now.
There are just some things you can’t do if you’re well along the road of family life, after all: living like Amy Winehouse, for example, or driving a Mini — at least until today, given that the new Countryman has officially gone on sale in Singapore.
If that’s grabbed your attention they way your wife sometimes grabs you by the ear, read on...
Wasn’t the Countryman already the Mini for family men?
Yes, but this one takes things up a very large notch. It’s bigger than before, so there’s 100 litres more boot space (at 450 litres) and the cabin isn’t tight. In fact it’s spacious not just by Mini standards but by normal ones.
But most, if not all cars grow bigger with time. So what’s the big deal?
True, cars get bigger with every generation, but it only takes 20mm to get the press kit writers excited — the new Countryman is all of 20cm longer than the last one, so just imagine the chaos that must have caused at Mini’s press department.
Phwoar! To be fair, that’s a lot. Where did all the added length go?
Good question. 7.5cm went into the wheelbase. But a better question would have been, where did all the extra size come from?
Eh? Explain yourself
The new Countryman is a platform sibling of the BMW X1, so the two cars actually have the same wheelbase. Their cabins offer similar tricks, too. The rear seats slide fore-and-aft up to 13cm, for instance, and they can be reclined.
Insert grumpy teens...
They fold down as well, naturally. Do that, and you end up with 1,309 litres of cargo room — way more than you get in, say, the new Audi Q2. Bottom line, if you have kids who tend to whine about cramped seating, or plenty of family stuff to haul around, this Mini is the answer.
That sounds handy, but does it still feel like a Mini?
Hmmm, tough question. In the sense that you expect go-kart handling from a Mini (mostly because Mini itself makes that promise), no. The Countryman isn’t a lumbering elephant to drive, but it’s no gazelle. I'd say it's capable, but borderline dull.
There’s firm damping, so it’s all quite tidy around corners, but there isn’t the sense that it’s just waiting to pounce at corners, the way a Mini hatch is. That’s pretty much the case, whichever version you choose.
And the available versions are?
Top of the line is the Cooper S Countryman — that’s got a 2.0-litre turbo and eight-speed auto. We drove an all-wheel drive version at the car’s UK launch, but it’s here with (sensibly) front-drive only, and has a price tag of $186,000 with COE.
Then there’s the Cooper Countryman, which costs a good 21 grand less.
What do I forego if I decide to save the money?
Well, there’s straight-line performance, for starters. The Cooper Countryman has a 1.5-litre turbo with a relatively modest 136 horsepower, and a six-speed auto. It chirrups along amusingly, thanks to a three-cylinder voice, and it feels quicker than the 9.7-second sprint time to 100km/h suggests, but the Cooper S punts you in the kidneys noticeably harder.
This is all you'll need. Or want
But the 1.5-litre is a decent match for the way the car feels. Because the handling doesn’t get the blood up, you don’t feel like you want an engine that does.
OK, and I’m guessing the Cooper version isn’t bare bones inside?
Right you are. It has electric front seats, funky displays, a comprehensive trip computer, automatic lights and wipers, automatic climate control, all-important rear air-con vents and so on.
It’s worth pointing out that the Countryman in general also feels like it’s graduated from finishing school, with posher plastics than before.
For the extra money, the Cooper S does offer bigger wheels outside and a bigger infotainment display inside (it’s also a touchscreen one, the brand’s first). There’s GPS navigation as well, although with Google Maps in every pocket now, that is no longer the draw it once was.
But I reckon I could get more size and equipment for the money. And if it doesn’t drive like a Mini, then what’s the point?
In a word: style. Well, how about an extra word: playfulness. It’s nigh on impossible to climb aboard the Countryman and not feel primed for a jolly time (unless you’re a curmudgeon to start with, in which case you would have bought something dour, like a Peugeot). That’s because the displays are cheerily circular, and there are lighting effects to entertain the eye — twiddle an air-con temp knob, for example, and watch the colours dance on the rim of the central display.
Then there are the chunky toggle switches, the cheeky computer graphics, and stuff that makes you sort of stop and scratch your head, such as the fold-out cushion that lets you use the boot sill as a picnic bench.
At least it isn’t boring, then.
Exactly. And it still looks like a Mini. Not easy to do, since it’s so maxi, but the headlight shape, the draped-on look of the roof and the taillights are just about enough to pull it off.
But why couldn’t Mini just stay, well, mini?
Let’s not be naïve. Ignoring the needs of family buyers is just lousy for business. And anyway the previous Countryman was already the brand’s second-best selling model worldwide, and people bought it for its size, not in spite of it. So here the thinking here is, more size equals more sales — if you always fancied a Mini but needed a full-size car, the Countryman gives you something to consider.
Or if you have a smaller Mini but your needs have expanded, you don’t have to jump to another brand. People need to stop living like Amy Winehouse at some point, but maybe they don’t have to stop driving a Mini.
NEED TO KNOW Mini Cooper Countryman
ENGINE 1,499cc, 16V, inline three, turbocharged
MAX POWER 136hp at 4,400 to 6,000rpm
MAX TORQUE 220Nm at 4,400rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic
TOP SPEED 200km/h
0-100KM/H 9.7 seconds
FUEL EFFICIENCY 6.0L/100km
PRICE $165,000 with COE
More power! Bigger wheels! Satnav! You get those with the Cooper S Countryman!
Want the size but not the height? There's this, the Mini Clubman!
Frenemy, platform sibling, sister-car... call it what you will, but the Countryman has an in-house rival, and it's the BMW X1