With its freshly replaced clutch, our four-seasons Mini Countryman ALL4 is rolling again. And the new hardware has made a major difference in the driving experience.
"The clutch is definitely much better now that it's been replaced," reports copy editor Rusty Blackwell. "The engagement point is much clearer, shorter, and quicker. I no longer feel like I need to keep adding gas just to keep it from stalling, as was the case before."
But while no one is suggesting that any mechanical problem remains, some staffers are still not thrilled with the Mini's third pedal.
"Although the shudder is gone, it's still not easy to smoothly pull away from a stop," says associate web editor Jake Holmes.
"I think part of the reason for the premature wear on the clutch is the awkward relationship between the driver's seat and the clutch pedal," adds senior web editor Phil Floraday. "The arc of the pedal travel and the engagement point of the clutch in this car do not fit the natural movement of my left leg."
It may seem to be anathema for a Mini, but maybe the solution for the Countryman is to go the automatic-transmission route (a six-speed automatic is a $1250 option). We'll have a chance to check out that option soon, as we'll be getting into an automatic-equipped Countryman in the coming weeks, which should make an interesting side-by-side comparison.
Perhaps the automatic-equipped version will allow us to concentrate on the Countryman's other qualities, such as its impressive space utilization.
"The Countryman is lots bigger and more usable for a family than the regular Mini Cooper," notes Blackwell, who has a family of four. "But it still fits in the Compact Car Only spots in our parking garage with a couple of feet to spare."
"I love this car's interior packaging, its styling, and especially its performance," agrees associate web editor Evan McCausland. But he then goes on to bemoan the Mini's high price tag, harsh ride, rattle-prone interior, and -- yes -- "finicky clutch take-up." The Countryman had been on his wife's short list to replace her aging Honda CR-V, but now McCausland says, "I'm not so sure."
Our long-term Countryman has four more months to win its way back onto that list, and into our good graces.