Years ago I used to judge the Trillium awards with a friend from Chch-TV. The program has judges fanning out across the city and looking for award winning front yard gardens. We would always ask to judge downtown neighbourhoods. I remember walking the area around the former Westinghouse plant near Barton Street and Sanford Avenue, and walking portions of Ferguson right to the base of the escarpment. It was a delight. We saw beauty triumphing over neglect. People would invite us in for coffee and then show us their backyards too.
I thought about those pleasant times as I was test-driving a Mini Countryman for this review. This Mini is pleasant too. It’s officially called a premium compact mini-crossover. It sits higher, measures longer, has all-wheel-drive, and backseats that are fit for human habitation.
An important and fun aspect of a review-is photographing the car. So shooting pleasing photos of the Mini on a crisp spring day, couldn’t be a better assignment.
I started poking around streets that nestle up against the base of the escarpment. A slow cruise up Erie, Blythe, West and East Avenues, Emerald and Grant Avenue turned up lovely photo locations and a reminder that Hamilton has so many wonderful neighbourhoods. Architectural gems populate the Stinson and Corktown neighbourhoods. Perfect little Ontario cottages, modern houses, restyled buildings that look semi-industrial, it’s all there. Though the gardens were just starting to blossom, I saw intriguing designs with hints of France, New Orleans and Hamilton all growing together in harmony.
The Mini Countryman is a perfectly apt vehicle for exploring. Though it’s bigger than the sportier- three door Mini-it’s still small enough to dart around side streets, turn in a tight circle and park in a pinch. My test car was the Cooper S version-with 197 horsepower, an eight-speed transmission and a vast option list. A partial list of the upgrades included navigation, wireless phone charging, 8.8” touch screen, park assist and leather interior.
The first class upgrades ratchet the price up to $47,630. If you have willpower, the base Countryman starts at $31,990. The price is more maxi than mini.
Though my choice in the product lineup would be the smaller, three-door, the Countryman sells well, and keeps the Mini in the mix in the red-hot compact crossover category. Buyers love the practicality. You can fit more people, and more cargo in it, and it still has a crisp, while not exactly thrilling ride. The ability to choose between Green, Normal and Sport driving modes is useful. In sport the shifting and handling is confident, and the ride never veers toward harsh even over potholed roads. Visibility is excellent in all directions, the seats are superb, only the somewhat vague steering detracts from a stellar drive experience.
The interior is typical Mini, with orbs plastering the dashboard, in the instrument displays, knobs and vents. They exist like cartoon bubbles, some-like the centre display- ringed in Las Vegas type neon lighting that changes with the mood. So zany. The exterior is more cubist, blocky and blunt-proportions needed to deliver more space.
Driving around the city it was hard to find much to grouse about. I stopped as frequently as a Fedex truck, lugged camera gear in and out, found niches to park, for all this the Mini was a good companion.
If you need to drive and like to drive, than the Mini Countryman might be the right soul mate.