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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