May was a relatively quiet month for our Four Seasons Mini Countryman. Happily, no new problems cropped up. Nor, however, did the Countryman take any significant road trips. Instead, in the mundane back and forth of everyday driving, we contemplated the question of the Countryman's place in the automotive cosmos, and its identity as a Mini.
It was probably East Coast Bureau Chief Jamie Kitman who touched off the soul-searching. In his May column, "God Save the Mini", he lumped the Countryman in with the Mini Coupe and Roadster as off-message outliers of the brand. He accused the Countryman of exhibiting the sins of "loss of focus and acute styling oddity," even as he acknowledged that the model has sold well.
Indeed, the Countryman has proven popular. Through April of this year, it accounts for 40 percent of total Mini volume.
Those hearty figures, combined with a give-the-people-what-they-want sensibility, have assistant web editor Evan McCausland promoting the opposite viewpoint. "I still hear a lot of backlash over the Countryman," he starts. "Not in terms of how it drives, or how it holds up, but over the idea of a Mini CUV itself. Get over it."
"There are those who would love to drive a Cooper S on a daily basis, but may have two pre-teens in the house, or live in areas pounded with deep snow in the winter." For them, he argues, the Countryman serves a need.
He continues: "Does it drive exactly like its smaller brethren? No, but it comes fairly close. And if some Mini shoppers are willing to surrender a measure of agility and sharpness for greater interior space and all-weather traction, then so be it."
Senior editor Eric Tingwall is on the same page. "You won't catch me lamenting a four-door, all-wheel-drive Mini," he says. "The Countryman is a breath of fresh air in the compact crossover segment, which is generally about as exciting as the mid-size-sedan class -- that is to say, not very."
"It's also the perfect size," he adds. "There's great rear-seat legroom and a nice-sized cargo hold, yet the Countryman easily fits into even the tightest parking spaces."
It was beginning to look like we'd get through the month without a single mention of the Mini's clutch, which has vexed us all year. Alas, we did not.
Staunch Countryman defender McCausland -- who also is member of a household with two Honda CR-Vs -- couldn't help ending his screed with a wish for a Honda-BMW partnership, one that would deliver a Honda-engineered clutch for the Countryman.
|STANDARD EQUIPMENT||1.6-liter turbocharged, direct-injected I-4 engine 6-speed manual transmission Full-time intelligent all-wheel drive system Electric power-assisted steering ABS w/four wheel discs Sport alloy wheels w/runflat tires Corner brake control Electronic brake force distribution Tire pressure monitoring system Stability control Traction control A/C Manual 6-way adjustable front bucket seats Tilt/telescoping steering wheel Leather steering wheel w/cruise control Sport button (quicker throttle and steering response) Boost CD AM/FM audio system w/HD radio One-year Sirius satellite radio One-touch up/down power windows Vehicle monitor system w/pictogram display Low-profile aluminum roof rails Remote keyless entry Center rail w/eyeglass case and two cupholders|