The e-mails started arriving shortly after we announced we were in the market for a new car, with the Dodge Caravan nearing the end of its natural life. The messages came with subject lines such as “Mini Cooper Works GP Teased with 300 Horsepower” and “Attend Mini Driving School – Free!” These were not spam coming from an anonymous Mini Cooper server in cyberspace. These were almost-daily reminders from my father-in-law that we should buy a Mini Cooper Countryman, just like the one he drives.
He was a Mini Cooper convert, a zealot. After owning a Nissan Maxima, and prior to that a Buick Park Avenue, my father-in-law bought a Mini Cooper in 2012 and has been smitten ever since. He lives in western New York and wanted a car with a go-kart feel and a roomy interior (he’s 6 foot 2, so that’s a big selling point). All it took was one test drive and he was completely sold. “It’s fun to drive even on short trips,” he says. “At 80 years old, I need all the fun I can get.”
That fun seems to include making sure we get a Mini Cooper of our own.
My father-in-law’s exhortations to try the Mini triggered a strange response in me. I didn’t doubt that the Mini Cooper was a solid car. The online reviews are positive. I knew we’d probably enjoy owning one. It was more of a psychological reaction. If we got a Mini Cooper, I’d have to admit that someone I was related to was right. I’d be sacrificing my individuality on the altar of sound reason.
It made me wonder how many one-car families there are out there. But by one-car, I mean an entire extended family all driving a single brand. Families often vote the same. How many drive the same? Are there clans out there who all drive Ford F-150s? Or Toyota Camrys? Do they go out in convoys and descend on roadside gas stations like bikers in a teen film from the 1950s? I could foresee a future in which everyone drove Minis and our first grandchild received a little toy Mini Cooper for its first birthday. We’d be part of a gang.
My minivan isn’t much to look at, but it is unique – unique in the way that no two pus-filled cysts are alike and no two strep infections are precisely the same. Unique in a bad way, but unique nonetheless.
Still, why let neurosis and insecurity get in the way of a good drive?
I arranged to try out an “Absolute Black Metallic” 2019 JCW Countryman ALL4 with a “Carbon Black Punch” leather interior. It’s the largest Mini crossover, and it came with all the extras – heated front seats, panorama sunroof, piano-black interior trim, Harman Kardon sound system, Mini Connected Navigation Plus and an 8.8-inch full-colour touchscreen. Price: $46.990.
I was immediately struck by the purple interior door lights. I loved them. They reminded me of Prince. They turned out to be part of the Mini Excitement Package, which offers 12 types of ambient light as well as exterior door and handle lighting. The best part of the package was the logo projection from the exterior mirror on the driver’s side, which shone a Mini wings logo onto the sidewalk. This feature should not have delighted me as much as it did.
I got the JCW Countryman out on the road and enjoyed its pep. The driver is low to the ground – at least lower than in my minivan – and I savoured the chance to zip in and out of traffic (always signalling, of course). On the highway, the acceleration was powerful. I managed to get it up on the higher edge but did not – as my father-in-law suggested – find out if the 2019 JCW’s speedometer “will track speeds in excess of 160 mph."
Going 257 km/h on an Ontario highway after writing a column suggesting that stunt drivers face lifetime license bans didn’t seem like a good idea, so I did not attempt that experiment.
So now, I’ve got a conundrum. I still haven’t ended my search – there are plenty of other cars out there – but the JCW Countryman ALL4 is right up there on the list. Will I bring myself to admit that father-in-law knows best? Perhaps it was meant to be. I’d be going from a minivan to a Mini. Seems like a logical progression.
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