Bossman Mike Floyd (our Mini's usual chaperone) recently handed me the keys of our long-term 2011 Countryman S All4 for a nice 2500-mile jaunt up and down the West Coast for a flurry of press events, giving me plenty of time to get to know the Countryman better.
Though the Mini wasn't my first choice from our long-term fleet for the trip (hint: my first choice rhymes with "Badillac"), I'm happy I ended up with the Countryman. The Mini was way more comfortable on 10-hour-long stints than I'd imagined. The heated seats worked great to counter a numb backside, and so did Mini's iDrive-lite Connected infotainment system. It was easy to use, ergonomically friendly, and, as an added bonus, it even let me watch videos from my iPhone on the center-mounted speedo with the transmission in Park.
As much as I liked the Mini, it did have one major hiccup. And it happened twice. The first time was in Washington heading up a steep grade. I flicked the indicator to pass a Prius in front of me and moved into the fast lane, while rolling on the throttle. Just then the Countryman started violently surging back and forth like a bronco. It scared the crap out of me. I got off the throttle to get back in the slow lane and the shaking immediately stopped.
Try as I might, I couldn't reproduce the problem, though it did occur once more. Again on a hill, but this time the Mini hiccupped at city speeds. It was nowhere near as violent, and lasted about a second before the Mini resumed accelerating.
Despite the surging the Mini was a great companion. During my weekend downtime in Northern California, my girlfriend and I took the Countryman to explore the areas surrounding the local lakes. The Countryman felt decidedly Mini-like on the windy roads. True, you could feel its extra bulk compared to its smaller stablemates, but the Countryman still impressed with its quick steering and perky powertrain.
One area where I expected the Countryman to fall flat on its face was when we turned off the beaten path onto a dirt access trail. With its sport-tuned suspension, run-flat tires, and front-biased all-wheel drive system, I wasn't expecting much from the Countryman. The rutted and rocky roads wouldn't have made a Wrangler even break a sweat, but what about our Mini? Well, I'm happy to report the Countryman took to the dirt roads like the Secret Service to Colombian prostitutes. The Mini never once struggled for grip, and it took every ounce of will to resist rally-style hooning.
Not only is the Countryman fun to drive, but it's also fun to be in. A quick look through the log book reveals plenty of complaints by editors regarding the Mini's quirky interior, with words like "ergonomic disaster" frequently bandied about.
I made a game of it. I'd sit someone in the front seat, whip out a stopwatch, and ask the occupant to open either the driver or passenger window. The results were hilarious. The first participant took 34.6 seconds before she discovered the window toggle switches mounted low and out of sight in the center stack, just above the cupholders. The second participant took 48.7 seconds to complete the task, after he looked everywhere (including the glove box) for the Mini's window switches. The last participant was a solid DNF after more than a minute of searching.
|Our Car |
|Service life ||9 months/15,774 miles |
|Average fuel economy ||23.8 mpg |
|CO2 emissions ||0.82 lb/mi |
|Energy consumption ||142 kW-hr/100mi |
|Unresolved problems ||Occasional acceleration stumble |
|Maintenance cost ||$0 (1 x oil change, inspection) |
|Normal-wear cost ||$0 |