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buying used

The Mini Countryman is relatively spacious, but there are roomier rivals that are cheaper

I'm 44 and I'm buying my first car. I just moved from Toronto, where I used car-sharing services, to Edmonton, where I need to drive 10 minutes just to buy milk. I really like the new Mini Countryman, but I'd like to keep it priced at less than $12,000. I like the Countryman's looks – but I don't need all-wheel drive or luxury. I do, however, want reliability, style and room for Costco. – Wayne

With great style comes not-so-great practicality.

While that's definitely true for the Mini Cooper, the relatively massive Countryman can handle a few more groceries – but there are roomier rivals like the Kia Soul, Ford Escape or Honda CR-V.

If you go for a Countryman, and you don't need all-wheel drive, stick to the base – the S and John Cooper Works can get pricey, moving the Countryman out of everyman pricing and into BMW X1 territory.

The closest thing to the Countryman, style-wise, is probably the even smaller Nissan Juke.

But if you want space, distinctive looks and decent reliability for less than $12,000, search for a 2012 Soul.

2012 Mini Cooper Countryman

2012 Mini Countryman.

  • First generation: 2011-2016 (facelift in 2014)
  • Average asking price: $11,077 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic/Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.6 city, 6.8 highway (manual); 9.4 city, 7.9 highway (automatic), premium gas

When Mini introduced the Countryman, plenty of reviews headlined it, "Mini goes maxi."

"In the end, this Mini of swollen measurements is for the family, and let's be real: iconic family vehicles are a rare breed," Globe Drive said. "Sure, it makes business sense for Mini to stretch its lineup, and this Countryman is nicely executed, though pricey."

Mini went even bigger for 2017 – spurring those headlines again. That's because this first Countryman had only 345 litres of space with the seats up – enough for a suitcase – and 1,160 litres with them down.

Review site Edmunds griped about a "pokey" base engine, firm ride, road noise and the steep price of option packages. Bluetooth wasn't standard.

But, it said the Countryman "drives like a proper Mini." And it liked the surprisingly roomy back seat – it could seat five once Mini made a rear bench seat, instead of bucket seats, available for 2012.

"The quick steering and extraordinary handling found in its smaller brethren remain mostly intact, making it fun to drive," Consumer Reports said. "Unfortunately, you get the downsides you'll find in other Minis as well, including frustrating controls and a choppy ride."

Consumer Reports gave the 2012 Countryman one out of five for reliability. By 2014, it had a four out of five.

There were no recalls.

2012 Kia Soul

2012 Kia Soul.

  • First generation: 2010-2013 (facelift in 2012)
  • Average asking price: $10,867 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Base engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic/Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city, 7.8 highway (manual and automatic), regular gas

Even without the hip-hop hamsters, the Soul's got, er, something.

"There are a lot of adjectives we could use to describe the 2012 Kia Soul, but 'boring' isn't one of them," Edmunds said. "In fact, this quirky-looking compact hatchback gets even more interesting this year, with a number of upgrades that start with refreshed exterior styling."

For 2012, the Soul got six-speed manual and automatic transmissions and two new four-cylinder engines – the base 138-horsepower 1.6-litre and a gutsier 164-horsepower 2.0-litre.

"Both on the highway and around town, the Soul surprised with its reserve power, nimbleness and, in particular, its lack of rattles, looseness or mysterious noises," Globe Drive said.

Edmunds liked the Soul's style, user-friendly controls, loads of available features, passenger room and relatively low price. But it griped about a rough ride and road noise on the highway.

The Soul had 546 litres of cargo space with the seats up and 1,542 with them down.

Consumer Reports gave the 2012 Soul three out of four for reliability. "The tall and boxy Soul packs a lot of useful space into a modest footprint," it said. "The rear seat is roomy and handling is secure, but the ride is stiff and noise is apparent."

There was one recall for an inside roof piece that could detach if side airbags went off in a crash.

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