When we last left off with our Mini Countryman, New York Bureau Chief Jamie Kitman was about to set out in it on his annual family pilgrimage to PNC park to see the Pittsburgh Pirates. He reports:
"Well, the sales figures are in, and the Countryman is a winner, accounting for a third of Mini's worldwide volume, almost instantly. The purist in me is mildly offended -- the thing weighs 3300 pounds fer chrissake -- but I can understand why it's so popular: four doors, four-wheel drive, and the sort of usability that buyers of ordinary Minis and even the Clubman forego. As easily accessed back seat made possible a trip to Pittsburgh with my octogenarian parents (also Mini owners) in tow. And we averaged 30 mpg on the trip home, which is not too bad for a crossover with all-wheel drive."
Kitman gave props to the powertrain ("peppy and tractable, acceptably linear for a turbo"), the seats ("pretty supportive and comfortable"), the brakes ("peachy"), the roadholding, and the economy. In the debit column, he put the steering ("eager at first swipe, but in fact over-eager -- too alert"); visibility ("you'd have thought the extra height would result in improved visibility, but no"); the dash design ("Mini keeps mixing it up, but it's not getting any better"); the L-shaped handbrake ("pointless"); and, of course, the ride quality.
Oh, and the Pirates won both games, beating the Saint Louis Cardinals.
After Pittsburgh, the Countryman went on another road trip, this time to the Adirondacks, to escape the impending hurricane Irene (a plan that ultimately didn't work out so well). We had the car packed pretty full with three people, two coolers, and all the attendant luggage. There's a handy bit of extra storage space under the cargo floor and we also folded down one of the rear seatbacks (they do not fold flat). The biggest road-trip packing challenge, though, is up front, where there's almost nowhere to put anything.
On the empty rural roads in the Adirondack foothills, the Mini was really in its element, barreling up and down the inclines and zooming through the sweeping curves. Not so fun was the oxcart ride quality, which requires the driver to keep an extra-vigilant lookout for even the slightest road imperfections. When the rain finally arrived, we were impressed with the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system's ability to apportion the torque, such that we never saw the flashing indicator of the traction control system.
Back home, we gave the Countryman a well-earned wash in the driveway, and discovered that the chrome beltline molding isn't really chrome at all. It's plastic with a chrome-colored sticker on it. That sticker is too short in places, doesn't sit flush around corners, and is already coming unstuck.
Over the next few days, we made a couple runs into the city, where the Mini's tidy size was, predictably, a boon for slipping through Manhattan's clogged streets. Rear-seat riders continue to be impressed with the space back there, but the rear compartment would be more comfortable if the door armrests weren't molded plastic.
Finally, we handed off the keys to assistant online editor Donny Nordlicht, who would be taking the Countryman west to Ann Arbor, where it will spend the next ten months of its yearlong stint. Check back to hear how the Mini fared on its longest road trip to date, and to see what the first impressions are amongst the staffers at the home office.