Sunday, April 3, 2011
Driving Impression: 2011 MINI Cooper Countryman [REVIEW]
I had driven Countryman Cooper and Cooper S at the dealership for a test drive. But such a short ride just isn't enough for me to formulate a solid idea on how the car would behave in day to day basis and in real driving conditions including freeway, traffic, mountain road, etc.
So, when I found out local car rental company, Midway, has a Countryman available, I dropped by on this Saturday afternoon. The initial quote was $99/day. Being Saturday afternoon, with no reservation on the car, I was able to get it for a good price.
The first thing I notice is the ease of ingress and egress
due to higher roof. The visibility through front windshield is rather excellent as you are sitting slightly higher than normal sedans/Mini Cooper but not as high as.. say 4 Runner/FJ Cruiser.
When I test drove the regular Countryman at the dealership prior, its non-turbo engine with only 121hp engine felt, well, underwhelming. It could have been because it was right after driving the S with turbo engine and my expectation that non-turbo would be a turd.
However, this time around, what I notice is different feeling than before: actually quite peppy and adequate. It does not have punch start like the S and definitely does not push my body backward as it accelerates, but it is not as bad as I thought. It is no way powerful nor fast, and I really have to put the engine to work, making it roar and my hands constantly fiddling with paddle shifters on the steering wheel redlining constantly. Entering the fast moving freeway can be a bit challenging as it takes some time for it to reach the desired speed, but once it has momentum, quick down shift (or two) and it will push itself forward with some effort. I found that I do not have to be afraid of accelerating to pass, even though it will tell other driver around me that I am trying very hard - and they better not be driving VW GTI (and any other faster cars!)
The paddle shifters work quite well. Push and Pull action is a bit weird as I was expecting Up shift/Downshift on each side. Once you get a bit used to it though, it really becomes handy and engaging especially when I was in 'Sport' mode myself.
In the end, I will get S model with turbo as it suits my 'desire' better, but with normal driving, I find the 1.6 liter mill completely adequate and maybe just enough.
Then how does it handle? Just like how a higher and heavier Mini would. Body roll is something I instantly notice, for a MINI. Mind you, it is not a lot, but you do definitely notice. Also, it does not turn as quick as smaller MINI Hardtop on a tight corner, but once again, that is expected due to the size of the car. There is one corner around my house that I take my GTI pretty fast through the turn. The Countryman actually does it almost better as it is take the corner in a composed manner and 17" tires has enough grip. Also just like my GTI, I have no problem tossing the Countryman through freeway interchange ramp at double the posted speed limit (well maybe slightly less than double speed). However, it does feels a bit weird as I am sitting higher than the GTI.
I do like the steering feel in the sport mode, as it really tightens up the ratio and feels weighted and quite direct, albeit a bit too electronic.
It do hear more road noise (More like tire noise) than my GTI with 18inch summer only tires. I assume this is due to the run flat all MINI comes with as standard. Also, over the small bump on the freeway, the car 'shifts' a bit which can freak the unprepared. I will definitely consider switching to traditional tires and carrying tire fix kit. (Having AAA plus also helps)
So.. Do I like it enough to sign the deal? Yes, I say so. I am not looking for a track car nor a powerful sedan. It is a rightfully sized hatchback with 4 proper doors and enough driving dynamics that won't bore me. I also can't help myself liking how it looks inside and out. I can of course buy a slightly bigger, better equipped car for less, but MINI plays with my inner senses more than those. Yes, desire over rationality.
Countryman Rental Available at
MIDWAY Car Rental (Only have Cooper Countryman) MIDWAY site
Black & White Car Rental (Have both Cooper and Cooper S Countryman) Black & White site
Make sure you call them (or visit them in person) and try to negotiate the price!
[ Flickr Photo Set :: MINI COOPER COUNTRYMAN TRUE BLUE ]