I was one of the thousands of folks who got a car crush on the MINI Cooper about ten years ago after The Italian Job movie came out and blew everybody away. The car’s popularity was so great at that time that there was a six month wait for delivery if you ordered one new.
As I wrote in The MINI Kayaker, I didn’t own a car from 1977 to 2004. I live in downtown Chicago and can walk most places. There is also public transportation. I could ride my bike sometimes, take cabs or rent a car. One of the reasons I was able to retire at 60 is that I had not spent all that money on cars for so many years.
Getting back to my car crush, the first one I bought was a used 2003 Cooper. It was dark blue, like one of the Italian Job cars. Over the next seven years, I would own one of each, a red and a white also, the other colors in the film.
In 2009 MINI extended its line with a convertible. There was also a little extension of its length with the Clubman model in 2008. And, last year, 2011 the Countryman came out. It is the MINI version of an SUV. It stretches 15 inches longer and 3 inches wider than the Cooper model. Despite this ‘stretch’ it is still 14 inches shorter than a Prius.
The Countryman is a wonderfully engineered machine. BMW happens to produce it at its plant in Steyer, Austria. In the nearly 10 years I have owned a MINI, the worst problem has been flat tires which followed a pothole epidemic in the Chicago area several years ago.
My only knock on driving it in all that time is its comparative size. If a car as relatively small as a RAV4 got in front of me, it would have the same effect as a semi trailer truck. I simply couldn’t see ahead. Also, driving through rain, every car’s tires threw up water on my windows and windshield which hampered visibility big time. Other than those two things, the MINI is the most fun car I have ever owned or driven.
So the new larger Countryman solved those problems completely for me. It is nearly a foot higher than the MINI which precludes the visibility and rain issues. Nonetheless, the engineering is such that it handles just as beautifully as the little Cooper. When I first began to read about the Countryman, one of the first reviewers sniffed that he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want one since it handled just like the little model. Duh, that’s why we buy them! They handle like a sports car.
I traded in my little pepper white Cooper for a black Countryman in February. Love it to pieces!