Are You the One? Maxed-out MINI is a ‘roid-fueled beast
One year and six months ago, I lost the love of my life when my faithful 1996 Saturn passed on. Instead of jumping into another “relationship,” I opted to spend a year off-road and, for once, take my time choosing a nice, new vehicle. In the months ahead, I’ll be reviewing the cars that are vying to fill the shoes my Saturn left behind. I hope you’ll come along for the ride . . .
You’ve seen that trick where a tiny car pulls up and about eight dozen clowns get out? That’s what I think of every time I see a MINI and try to picture myself driving it.
Because although I may look perfectly normal in photographs, I probably tower over you in real life. I’m 5’8″ … but I wear heels. Big ones. Five-inch ones, usually, which put me at about 6’1″.
I like cars with a lot of heel room, so when I heard that I was being sent on a blind date with a MINI, I was leery. Size does matter, if the size is too small.
But here’s what I didn’t know: MINIs are a lot bigger than they look. And the MINI Countryman with the John Cooper Works package, which is the tricked-out, beefed-up, ‘roid-fueled big brother of the MINI family, is practically a giant.
My first clue that I was going to love this car was the colour (I know. But it’s true): hot chili pepper red with red calipers, black hood, racing stripes and 19-inch rims. I felt an instant rush of excitement.
And it just kept getting better.
If you’ve never seen the inside of a MINI Countryman, you’re in for a shock. Everything about it is different, from its racing pedals to its round red speedometer display to its functionality, and clearly designed with youthful edge and energy in mind.
It’s like being with an entirely different person after years of dating a dullard; it’s fresh, it’s exhilarating and it’s a heckuva lot of fun.
For all its offbeat tendencies, it has the traditional bases covered: rain sensor with auto headlamps, heated leather seats, shift paddles — we’ve come to expect these little luxuries and the MINI does not disappoint.
Above all, it’s unbelievably roomy. “Wow,” one of my delighted passengers said when he first got in, eyes aglow. “What a car! Look at all that stuff going on on the dash! And I’ve got leg room!” (By the way? He’s 74. The folks at MINI might want to adjust their target demographic.)
But so far, we’re just talking looks.
How does this little bad-ass perform where it counts, I wondered. The answer to that became heart-poundingly evident within minutes. Within hours, I was sold: this car is loaded with power, it’s got the heart of a lion and the soul of a hotrod. It handles corners like it wants to eat them alive, and speed? Yikes. I scare myself in this car. In a good way.
The ride is, not surprisingly, a little stiff. (If you’re in the backseat, you’re gonna want a cushion.) The mighty engine is, not surprisingly, a little loud. It’s hard-wired for sport mode and if you’re not hard-wired the same way, this car will be too much for you.
I also found the offbeat approach to some of the gadgets a bit annoying. The oddball navigation system, for example, makes you spell out every letter of your destination by scrolling a too-small knob on the centre console: it’s frustrating and a little too clever for its own good.
It’s also a heavy drinker — apparently power and speed use a lot of gas — and the transmission does an odd little hiccupy thing every now and then.
Nevertheless, after a week of tearing around southern Ontario with the bodacious Harman Kardon stereo system pounding (you find yourself just looking for an excuse to go for a spin when you’ve got one of these in your driveway), I decided I love this little maniac. It’s small but mighty, and above all, it’s just pure, undiluted fun.
Would I buy one? That’s a tough question. It’s on the high end of the price spectrum but it’s a lot of car for the money
The bottom line for me, though, is that it feels like a young adult’s car. It is designed to appeal to that crowd and it does it very well. I, on the other hand, am at the stage where a smooth, quiet, luxurious ride is hugely appealing.
Me hitching up with a Countryman at this stage of the game would be like Demi Moore hitching up with Ashton Kutcher. And we all know how that ended.
Heart score: 8 out of 10. Super-fun, but in the end, just a fling.
Price: $38,500 base, $49,285 loaded
Follow Wheels.ca editor Marie Sutherland’s reviews online at Wheels.ca
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WheelsMarie