I recently found myself in need of a new daily driver — and after a long search for a new-ish car with all-wheel drive and a manual transmission with a budget of $25k, I took the keys to a loaded 2015 Mini Countryman S All4 with 27,000 miles and a CPO warranty. After driving the car for a little over a month, I’ve logged 1,000 miles and I’ve fallen in love with the Mini Countryman’s idiosyncratic design characteristics, premium features and driving dynamics.
The appearance of the Mini is fantastic. I love the Chili Red paint, and the John Cooper Works appearance package adds a lot of sporty flair to the tiny CUV. The JCW exterior package includes an aggressive body kit with odd side intakes that are purely aesthetic, as well as body stripes and upgraded wheels that I live in constant fear of one day scraping against a curb. Despite that worry, all of the upgrades add a distinction to the car that makes me smile every time I approach it in a parking lot, key in hand.
Speaking of the key, the Mini has a unique circular fob instead of a traditional key. The fob is placed into a slot on the dash, and small button next to the slot is pressed for ignition. While newer vehicles only require the key inside of the vehicle, say in the driver’s pocket or cup holder, I prefer a designated place for it, ruling out the confusion when leaving a passenger in a running car for a quick errand. In addition, the age-old question of how many keys can safely be on a car keychain without wearing the ignition switch is no longer an issue.
The circular key mimics one of my favorite features of the Mini Countryman, which is the large speedometer located in the center of the dashboard console — a nod to Sir Alec Issigonis’ classic Mini design of 1959. Sadly, this feature has since been discontinued with the newest generation, and the center console is now occupied by a standard infotainment system, with the speedometer located behind the steering wheel. Aircraft-inspired toggle switches replace traditional knobs and buttons, and the gauges illuminate in a low-frequency amber color for less strain on the eyes — a longtime trademark of BMW. The cluster also lacks oil pressure and coolant gauges, features I’d previously used as diagnostic tools on my VW Cabriolet, a vehicle I lived in constant fear of overheating in summertime traffic.
Equipped with the JCW interior package, the car has incredibly comfortable and well-bolstered sport seats, and the entirely black interior is a nice reprieve from my Honda Element’s ugly beige "easy to clean" interior fabrics that never lived up to the promise. Another big difference from my Honda is how the Countryman handles the road. While the Honda offered vague, truck like handling, the MINI is decidedly car-based, and has a nimble and precise road manners — although it also includes a rougher ride when winter turns the roads to Swiss cheese. The Getrag 6-speed transmission is crisp with easy, long throws, and twin turbochargers give the modest 189-horsepower powerplant plenty of oomph while delivering an efficient 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. In sport mode, the throttle response is quickened, and the exhaust note is heightened with a pop-and-crackle when letting off the throttle.
The Mini Countryman in its 3-pedal configuration is a rarity on the road today, and it’s an engaging daily-driver offering plenty of utility and above-average performance. It is quick in an in-town runabout, and comfortable on a long distance journey. I am looking forward to logging many miles and memories in my new daily driver. In a time where cars are becoming less engaging, the Mini Countryman holds it own as a sporty stick-shift ute in an ever narrowing field.