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I Bought a Mini Cooper Countryman!

When we last left off, my daily-driver Honda Element was written off by my insurance company in a flood-related incident. I received a check for $9,600, and needed that (and more) to find a new-ish daily-driver. With a total budget of $25,000 or less, I started my search with two main requirements: all-wheel-drive and a manual transmission. This brought me to finding a Certified Pre-Owned 2015 Mini Cooper Countryman S All4 — an entire month after turning in the keys and the title to my beloved 2009 Honda Element.

I loved my Honda Element. It was dead reliable, it never got stuck in the many New England winters it encountered and it was more utilitarian than a Swiss Army Knife. I ordered it from Honda’s Ohio factory. It was one of just a handful built with a 5-speed manual transmission in the last year it was available. I bought it in 2009, at the peak of the recession and housing crisis, and I often joked that I could live in it if need be. Thankfully, that never happened, but I did make some cash here and there helping friends move apartments in New York City, often in just one trip. I was even able to fit my 1958 Lambretta Scooter in the Element and travel long distances to vintage scooter rallies.

I had one certainty going into my new car search: knowing that I would never find anything as useful as my Honda. Sure, I could have just bought another one used, likely without a stick, but what’s the fun in that? Comparatively, I knew the Mazda CX-5 was offered in a manual, but after a little research, I learned that manual-equipped Mazdas were only offered in front-wheel drive, which is a no-go in my new home of Michigan. After some research into automakers who still made manuals, I started to consider a Jeep Renegade. I like Jeeps, and I had good experiences with FCA’s products, but like the CX-5, the stick was only available with the smaller power plant, and the Renegade came nowhere close to the Honda’s vast storage capacity.

Realizing that I would be sacrificing my storage capacity no matter what, I widened my search beyond today’s SUV offerings. Opening myself up to used vehicles allowed me to take advantage of depreciation and find something I couldn’t afford when new. Having always been a fan of Mini since the brand’s relaunch in the early 2000s, I decided to check out one of their larger offerings, the Countryman.

Finding a Mini to my specifications was no easy task. I needed a S model equipped with All4 and a 6-speed manual transmission to make my inner enthusiast happy. I went to a local Mini dealer, one of five in all of Michigan, to check one out in person. There was one problem at the dealership: there weren’t any on the lot with manual transmissions. The salesman indicated that there was a possibility a trade-in would come in, so I left my info and went on my way.

I continued my search on the internet, and found one on CarMax. I took advantage of their free store-to-store transfers, and had it shipped to Michigan’s only CarMax superstore, two hours away in Grand Rapids. At the same time, a trade-in arrived at the local Mini dealership. I felt that it was important to have two cars for points of comparison, so I checked out both.

The Mini dealership produced a bright red Countryman S loaded with options, while CarMax had a base model in a low-key, yet attractive, metallic brown. Although both models were identical in powertrain, I decided to spend a little more for the nicely equipped model with the aggressive John Cooper Works appearance package and bright red paint. I was able to even get it certified by the dealership, adding a little extra assurance in purchasing a used car.

While my last daily driver was low-key in appearance, I decided it was time for a shake-up to try something new. After a short time behind the wheel of my new Mini, I’ve fallen in love with the car’s quirks and odd-ball design characteristics, as well as the premium features that the original owner optioned in the car. While some of the options are commonplace on cars today — like automatic headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, heated seats and xenon headlights — they’re new features to me, and their convenience is quite nice. I appreciate how, paired with the 6-speed manual transmission, this new-ish car still delivers an exciting and engaging driving experience. With the challenge of finding a new (used) car out of the way, I look forward to logging many miles and memories in my new daily driver.

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  1. First welcome to the MINI community, as a fellow MINI owner the community both online (reddit, North American motoring, facebook) and local clubs are always willing to help or answer any questions you may have. You are also likely not that far away from a great MINI shop Detroit Tuned for any work or service if you don’t want to use the dealership. lastly don’t forget to wave at fellow MINI’s and park next to them if possible.

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Sam Keller
Sam Keller is an Editorial Contributor for Autotrader & Oversteer since 2017. He enjoys covering everything from auto history and classic cars, modern and vintage driving impressions, as well as everyday car news stories. Currently based in Los Angeles, California, Sam can be found on Instagram at @hamptonwhipz where he documents interesting vehicles he encounters on his travels.

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