My MINI Crush – Part Deux

2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman

Image by NRMAdriversseat via Flickr

A few weeks ago, I wrote Part I of my love story with the new MINI Countryman. My crush for the adorable crossover has not subsided. Over the holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to take two of these cutesie CUV’s for a test spin.My husband and I cruised over to the the local MINI dealership where we were greeted by a friendly salesman. The gent allowed us to take out both a Countryman S with an automatic transmission and a Countryman S ALL 4 with a six-speed manual transmission. The hubby drove the automatic and I put the manual to the test.Behind the wheelThe first feature that made a good impression was the fact that my six-foot-two husband fit comfortably in both the front and rear seats, with a surprising amount of leg room to spare in the back. I also found the hatch to be light lifting; it presented a reasonable amount of storage space, especially with the rear seats folded down. We both thought that the 1.6L in-line four cylinder engine had a lot of pickup with the turbocharger.First, my husband took out the automatic to whet our appetite. He liked the way that the Countryman drove like a go-kart and found it fun to drive. I agreed. Then, it was my turn.I’ve never driven a MINI, so I was excited to hop in the driver’s seat. I chose to put the six-speed manual transmission into high gear by using the sport mode, which made the steering tighter and more responsive. I quickly discovered the gear box, shifter, and clutch – while easy to maneuver – were much different from my Civic Si. Not bad – just different. I’d even venture to say that they were more refined; yet not as much fun to run through.The ride on a nearby stretch of highway was smoother and quieter than both of our Hondas, although not at Mercedes-Benz level of silence. We ran into a quick downpour, which gave us the opportunity to get a feel for how it handles in inclement weather. It was a typical test spin but an educational one.Zipping toward commitmentWe were initially aiming to make an official decision later this fall, but with 2012 models on their way, we may need to act sooner. Additional incentive to make a deal now is because a few options that are included in packages on MY 2011 Countrymen – like the Harmen Kardon stereo and the double-pane sunroof – will be a la carte items for 2012.There are already so many options that push this ute’s near-$26,000 base price well into the low $30,000’s. I don’t want to be nickeled and dimed for those amenities.Next StepsWith 2011 inventory dwindling (there are only about 10 in stock at this particular dealership), we’ll likely make a decision soon. Overall, we both really like the car – its design, functionality, and driving dynamic. The only decision now is whether we will lease or purchase the car.MINI makes leasing pretty flexible, but the jury is still out on whether it will be more beneficial to just buy it (i.e. MINI’s three-year, 36,000-mile free maintenance program).Stay tuned to read more about our Countryman journey!

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Melanie Batenchuk founded Be Car Chic in 2009 as a way to help consumers make smart decisions when buying and selling their cars. Her prior work at the dealership, trade association and manufacturer levels has provided her a deep understanding of the complex facets within the auto industry, making her a leading woman in her field.