drive

Five reasons this is Mini’s next big thing

An extended wheelbase and increased legroom help make the new Mini Countryman a practical proposition for families. — TODAY picAn extended wheelbase and increased legroom help make the new Mini Countryman a practical proposition for families. — TODAY picCHIPPING NORTON (England), Feb 3 — Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional. Just ask your husband.

But the new Countryman from Mini is a great example of how growing up a little can broaden your appeal.

Due in Singapore in the second quarter of the year, the new Countryman looks unmistakably like a Mini, with its helmet-like roof design, upright rear lamps and big, gormless-looking headlights.

But it is now more maxi than Mini, and its size takes the brand into new market territory. Here are five reasons why this Mini could be a practical option for families.

It is the biggest Mini by far

The previous Countryman was already aimed at family buyers, and was the first one to exceed 4m in length, but this model is 20cm longer than before.

Of that increase, 7.5cm has gone into the wheelbase, so the space in the rear has gone from budget airline to premium economy.

If having tall kids was one of your reasons for avoiding a Mini, you can scratch that off the list. Adults fit comfortably in the back seats now, with leg and headroom to spare.

The Countryman has an optional new fold-out Picnic Bench that lets two people perch comfortably onto the boot’s sill. — TODAY picThe Countryman has an optional new fold-out Picnic Bench that lets two people perch comfortably onto the boot’s sill. — TODAY picIt has seven seats (sort of)

Well, not really. The Countryman still seats five, but there is an optional new fold-out Picnic Bench that lets two people perch comfortably onto the boot’s sill. Dog lovers will use it to let their canine chums scamper up into the boot without scratching the paint.

While back there, Rover has 100 litres more space than before, for a total of 450 litres. Folding the rear seats expands that to 1,309 litres. The rear seats also recline individually and can slide by as much as 13cm, which makes the Countryman versatile when it comes to allocating room between people and cargo.

It is a BMW underneath

Mechanically, the Countryman is a close cousin of the BMW X1, and behind the wheel, it feels closer to that than the darty go-karts that other Minis try to emulate. You still get a sometimes jiggly ride, but it feels much calmer inside than the previous Countryman.

Thanks to its high seating position and good visibility from the driver’s seat, the Mini does cajole you into tackling the corners playfully. When you do, the good body control and firmly-weighted steering come together nicely for a drive that does not thrill, but satisfies.

The only version they let us drive was the Cooper S ALL4, which was equipped with all-wheel drive and a 2-litre turbocharged engine producing 192hp.

Mechanically, the Countryman is a close cousin of the BMW X1. — TODAY picMechanically, the Countryman is a close cousin of the BMW X1. — TODAY picAlthough it accelerates to 100kmh in 7.2 seconds (0.9 seconds quicker than its predecessor), one still expects more urgency from something wearing a Cooper S badge.

The 1.5-litre Cooper variant is probably the one to go for, however. On paper, (it takes 9.6 seconds to complete the century sprint) it looks less energetic, but it probably suits the more mature personality of the Countryman better.

Cabin quality is better

Mini calls itself a premium brand, but the last Countryman’s cheap cabin plastics said otherwise.

Things are much better in this one, with a more solid feel to overall construction. Some pieces of hard, shiny plastic are still there, but generally speaking, higher-quality materials have gone into the new car.

Minis tend to have overstyled dashboards, with big toggle switches to pay homage to the brand’s Britishness, and the new Countryman is no different. It has banks of switches and buttons that seem to be there more for visual effect than anything else, particularly since...

The dash now houses an 8.8-inch touchscreen. — TODAY picThe dash now houses an 8.8-inch touchscreen. — TODAY pic…The Countryman has a new touchscreen

In the middle of the dash is what appears to be a frying pan. In the previous Countryman, it contained a speedometer, but it now houses an 8.8-inch touchscreen. This allows you to control the Mini’s entertainment and navigation systems with your fingertips, and comes with new graphics that go with the Countryman’s more upscale intentions.

All that said, the Countryman remains a Mini, which means that it has gained practicality without losing a built-in sense of fun.

That shows itself in features unique to the brand, such as Find Mate. It lets you attach Bluetooth trackers to loose items so the Mini can keep track of them for you.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about the Countryman is that it shows how you can still cling to your identity even if you are forced to grow up. To make that point, you could show this review to your husband.

Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4

Engine: 1,998, turbo in-line four, 192hp, 280Nm

Performance: 222kmh, 0-100kmh: 7.2s, 6.5L/100km (est.), 148g/km CO2

Pros: Spacious inside, versatile boot area, many thoughtful features

Cons: Not as kart-like as before, Cooper S lacks fireworks — TODAY

MORE ON MMOTV