After two months on the East Coast, the Mini Countryman finally headed to the home office, with associate web editor Donny Nordlicht at the wheel. But before embarking on the long slog from New York to Michigan, he spent a few days bopping into the city and back out to the 'burbs.
He writes: "With a weekend of back and forth into Manhattan and Brooklyn from Westchester, and a 10-hour drive back to Michigan, the Countyman and I had some serious bonding time after Joe Lorio handed off the keys.
"Before even pulling out of the parking lot for the first time I managed to break the iPod cradle in the center console. Apparently I was not the first to do so, and I doubt I will be the last. Luckily, it snaps back together as quickly as it falls apart. The thing would be more useful if it could slide further forward, so as to be out of the way of the center armrest, and, well, if it wasn't so prone to falling apart.
He continues: "I also will not be the last to complain about the harsh ride quality provided by the 18-inch wheels in conjunction with run-flat tires." He was certainly right about that. More on that subject in a minute.
Nordlicht did have some positive things to say, noting the sharp steering and the supercharged engine's generous power. He also found the car's small size a boon for squeezing in and out of New York City traffic.
Home in Ann Arbor, other staffers were able to weigh in on the Countryman for the first time. Assistant editor David Zenlea opined that "just about no one tunes electric power steering as well as Mini." He also liked the slick manual gearbox. But he was unimpressed with the car's durability. "I know New York is rough on cars, but this Mini feels much older and more tired than it should after two months of service. The exterior trim is peeling, and interior parts are creaking and rattling."
Speaking of the interior, staffers are impressed with how much space Mini packs into this still-quite-compact machine, but the ergonomics are getting a collective thumbs down. The gimmicky hand brake, the "obtuse" radio controls, and the faraway HVAC and window controls have all been called out. As copy editor Rusty Blackwell put it, "The ergonomics in general are ridiculous, for no reason besides trying to be cute. Hopefully, they'll become more familiar over time."
One thing we did not hold out much hope for, however, was an improvement in ride quality. So we took matters into our own hands. We replaced the standard-fitment run-flat tires with a set of Continental ExtremeContact DWS all-season tire, which are not run-flats, hoping that a less stiff sidewall might improve the ride quality. (We also added a tire-repair kit, which we hope we won't have to use.)
For the results, we turn first to associate web editor Evan McCausland: "These new all-season tires help the ride somewhat but they don't do all that much on washboard roads or over a stretch of nasty potholes. I guess it's no surprise that tires alone can't solve everything."
Senior web editor Phil Floraday adds: "The new tires make a noticeable difference in ride quality. The last time I drove to work in the Mini I was cringing the entire time because the impacts were so harsh. Last night and this morning, driving the same route wasn't a problem. Mini insists on setting up its suspensions far to stiff for the real world, but it's amazing how much better the ride is with a little sidewall flex. We've taken the ride quality from unforgivable to acceptable."
So, things have improved somewhat on the ride-quality front. But there are still issues on the overall-quality front. One of the last entries is from associate web editor Ben Timmins: "My Mini Countryman weekend ended with some engine troubles this morning, when the car stalled out just after starting. I ended up having to give it some throttle to keep the revs up, before the idle returned to normal. There's also a strange hesitation in higher gears, when you put your foot in it -- the turbo kicks in, then the cars loses power for a tick, then returns to normal."
Is this strange engine behavior a one-time glitch, or a harbinger of things to come? We'll know more next month.