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Mobility When it comes to buying a car, each driver has their own style — but first-hand experience is key

Andrew Clark bought a 2019 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 in Tropical Blue

Andrew Clark/The Globe and Mail

When it comes to buying a car, each driver has their own style. Some are impulsive. They walk on the lot and pick the first shiny vehicle they test-drive. Others spend months researching online, reading car reviews and comparing depreciation, fuel economy and reliability. Theirs is a cerebral approach.

I like first-hand experience.

That’s why, when I decided to replace my trusty minivan a little more than a year ago, I embarked on a year-long odyssey to sample as many vehicles as possible. I learned a lot about automobiles and even more about myself. For most of my driving life I didn’t choose vehicles, so much as inherit them. I didn’t drive the cars I wanted – I drove the cars I could.

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Finally finding myself in a position to be selective, I was determined to explore all my options. I was leaving behind a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan (the anti-Porsche), which had given me stalwart service. I routinely insulted my car but, truth be told, I couldn’t have asked for a better vehicle to transport kids, luggage and dog. It bears many dents and scars. The Grand Caravan has looked better, but it has “character” – much like me.

A minivan is the ideal vehicle for someone with a young family – it’s a car your kids can destroy and you won’t freak out. Cheerios? Vomit? Leaky diapers? Greasy kid fingerprints? A minivan is a black hole that can take it all. For instance, when recently cleaning out our car’s stowaway storage, I found a mummified plum and a French fry that looked exactly as it did when it first came out of the fryer. Both had sat there – like my youthful dreams and ambitions – hidden and undisturbed, for years.

While the anti-Porsche served its purpose, it was not fun to drive. In fact, as the years rolled by it became more and more unpleasant. I knew I wanted a new ride that would be compact and fun. I wanted good fuel economy and I wanted speed. Most of all, I needed a car that my wife also liked. Other than that, I was open.

Here’s a list of some of the cars I drove:

  • 2019 BMW Alpina Exclusive Edition
  • 2019 JCW Mini Countryman ALL4
  • 2018 Jeep Cherokee
  • BMW 530e xDrive
  • 2018 Chrysler Pacifica
  • Ford F-150
  • 2019 XTS Cadillac
  • 2018 Opel Grandland X
  • Mini Cooper Convertible

You’ll note the absence of Hondas or Toyotas. I’d owned both and didn’t want to repeat the experience. I’d owned a 1999 Camry and it had been reliable, sensible and comfortable. Perhaps I was having bit of a mid-life moment, but those three adjectives had lost their appeal. I needed something sporty.

Thus began my process of elimination.

The F-150 and Jeep Cherokee were both nice rides, but it was impossible to see why I’d need either one. I live in the city and I don’t like “hauling” stuff. Why do I need a truck? My favourite was the 2019 BMW Alpina Exclusive Edition, a car that drove as if angels were carrying it on their wings. The only reasons I did not buy one were the price ($193,000) and the fact they only made 26 of them. The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica was a big step up from my Grand Caravan, but it was still a minivan, so that was a no. The BMW 530e was very nice, but didn’t hook me.

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I was, however, stung by the Mini Cooper. I loved the way both the JCW Mini Countryman ALL4 and the Mini Cooper Convertible (which I took on the Pacific Coast Highway) handled. They had zip. They were compact, yet had roomy interiors. Personality-wise, the Mini Cooper is a light-hearted vehicle. Austin Powers drove one. I was quickly smitten. Now, I may have been susceptible to the Mini Cooper message. My father-in-law, who drives a Countryman, spent a year barraging me with pro-Mini-Cooper propaganda. I’d been tenderized like a slab of tough meat.

And so, I bought a 2019 Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 in a beautiful Tropical Blue. I couldn’t be happier.

It’s a car that screams: “Look at me! I’m aware I’m compensating.”

Some will applaud my decision. There are others who will deride it. Every car has its critics. They’ll cite statistics and reviews. Most will not care. Either way, I won’t be listening. I’ll be getting up early Sunday mornings to take it out when the traffic is light, deeply inhaling that new car smell.

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