What I Did With My Saturday

I went with my wife to Cincinnati so as to order this:

And what this is, is a Cooper Mini Countryman S All4, which is one of the new, slightly larger Minis (yes, an oxymoron, just like “jumbo shrimp”) with all-wheel drive, which will be useful come next winter, what with our long, snow-filled driveway.

We ordered one because after nearly 15 years of service, Krissy’s Suzuki Sidekick is close to death, and thus it’s time to pick its successor. Because of the aforementioned long, snow-filled driveway (not to mention all the icy/snowy rural backroads near us), we confined our search this time to cars with four-wheel or all-wheel drive. The CMCSA4 was the one that stood out in a mass of blah coupes and sedans, and equally bland 4x4s. We drove down to give the thing a test drive; it was fun and responsive. It also gets gas mileage that doesn’t suck (30+ mpg on the highway), and the reviews I’ve read of it have been generally quite positive. We were sold.

The picture you see above, incidentally, is pretty much what we ordered — I went to the Mini Web Site and fiddled with their configurator, and put in all the bells and whistles we planned to have, plus picked a color I liked and so on. And yes, we ordered a fair amount of bells and whistles. The Scalzi family financial philosophy is “buy as well as you can afford, then run it into the ground,” — which is why this car is replacing one nearly 15 years old. We will very likely get a similar amount of service out of this one, so we’re making it something we’ll be happy to live with for that much time.

The saleslady who sold us our new car told us it would take about sixty days, more or less, for the company to make ours to specification, which means that it should arrive right in time for my birthday. Yay! At which time I will be gone for at least two weeks on a book tour. Boo! But at least it will be waiting for me when I come back.


69 Comments on “What I Did With My Saturday”

  1. SNAZZY CAR JOHN! If you’re anything like me – and I suspect you are – you’ll be geekily anticipating it’s arrival, then playing with your new toy for quite some time afterwards.

  2. Waiting for you? I thought it was supposed to be your wife’s car. :)

    I can’t look at Mini-Coopers now without thinking of the remake of the film The Italian Job.

  3. I thought of the Countryman as yet another attempt to replicate the Subaru Outback. I bought my 2003 Outback in 2006 and it’s still running well. I like it for the same reasons you bout the Mini. It’s not nearly as hip as the Mini, but I like the Griswold vibe of the Outback. Yes, I’m weird like that. Subaru is planning on a hybrid in 2013, and I will be looking into one then. Good talk.

  4. Don’t have a car – Zipcar meets my needs. They have the Minis. Those little things are so cheerful and happy going about 75 or so. You don’t want to disappoint them by doing something as banal as keeping below the speed limit. I know that I could never trust myself to own one.

  5. And in three years and some month’s there is someone else that will want to drive it too.

  6. we just shopped around and bought a new car. Looked for AWD or 4WD. Looked at the Mini. Thought it should have been called “Tiny”. IFelt waaaay too cramped. Ended up getting a V6 Rav4. Had it for a couple months now. Thing is veddy niiiice. After ten plus years driving four cylinders, this thing is like a jack rabbit.

  7. I bought a Subaru Forester last November and it drives as responsively as my ’99 Honda Civic coupe did that it replaced but it performs better in the snow than the Civic. Both the Civic and the Forester were/are manual transmissions. I wanted the hauling capacity of a larger vehicle which is why I bought the Forester. I actually drove a Mini Cooper once (it was not the Countryman) and I thought it handled well but was a bit small inside. I hope that you both enjoy your new car!

  8. “buy as well as you can afford, then run it into the ground,”

    Me too. I almost always make out like a bandit in the long run.

    And if it ever does get stuck anywhere, two people should easily be able to pick it up and move it to a better spot.

  9. For me, if I was in the market for a new car, it would be between what you got, John, and a Subaru Outback. I haven’t seen the Mini yet, so I don’t know how big it is, but the gas mileage is great compared to the Subaru.

  10. Minis are quite expensive in Oz. You lucky Yanks get this particular model for about 2/3 the price we Aussies get stiffed for. It’s actually closer to half the price.

  11. Congratulations! That looks like a totally sweet ride. Perfect to teach Athena how to drive in. Is it manual? Automatic?

    Conversely, I spent Saturday getting my wife’s month old car towed after she got hit by some dumbass in an Audi. My wife’s okay, the car not so much. She owns the Volvo C30 which is kind of like their MiniCooper. Which they don’t sell in Maine.

  12. I’ve got two coworkers who both swear by their Minis. We replaced an old car last year and I really wanted a Mini, but it was to be my wife’s car, so she got the choice. Even so, it was the only real contender to the Prius that we eventually got. She wanted more space.

    Buy ’em new and run ’em into the ground has always been my philosophy. I’m 45 and have only ever purchased two cars for myself. We’ve replaced two cars, a Toyota Camry that was 14 years old and a Honda Accord that was 19 years old. We’ve now got a new Prius and a three year old Prius. I don’t expect to replace either until our eight year old is old enough to be able to use a hand-me-down.

    (I lie. I didn’t run the Accord into the ground. I just figured that even though it was still running well, 19 years was long enough to justify a new car.)

  13. My wife and I follow the exact same philosophy–“buy as much as you can afford and use it until it dies a horrible death.” With my Mustang coming up on nine years of service, I can only aspire to the 15 of the Suzuki. I only have one question: after seeing the photos of the water accumulation on the grounds of Scalzi Acres, are you worried about ground clearance? Or perhaps you ordered the James Bond amphibious package as one of the bells and whistles? Or–and this is much more likely–you (a) have another vehicle for traversing the Red Sea, (b) aren’t surrounded by deep water so much as voluminous or (c) have stockpiled survival stores at the Compound for the Zombie Apocalypse and can wait until the waters recede.

  14. Welcome to the Mini ranks. I drive a 2002 Cooper and I absolutely love it. Great little car, and I’ve been eyeing the Countryman for a while. Looks like a snazzy car.

    You know that you need to wave to other Mini drivers, yes?

  15. My parents (and now me) have much the same finincial philosophy. My Mom drove a 1984 beige Volvo stationwagon up until it finally became too much trouble around 2009… 25 years. She even managed to sell it to — of all people — a teenage kid who thought old stick-shift Volvos were cool. He proceeded to paint it blue with red flames on the front. Hey, good for him, apparently he has the will and the money to keep maintaining it.

    I frankly don’t even remember what my mother replaced the Volvo with. I’m one of those people who thinks cars nowadays all look pretty much the same. But I’m glad you found one you liked.

  16. So does it come with the submersible option? Seems like crossing over that river/flood in front of your house will make it necessary.

    And you always wanted one after seeing The Spy Who Loved Me, didn’t you?

  17. She even managed to sell it to — of all people — a teenage kid who thought old stick-shift Volvos were cool. He proceeded to paint it blue with red flames on the front. Hey, good for him, apparently he has the will and the money to keep maintaining it.

    A kid after my own heart. I once saw a Volvo on eBay Motors with a 351 Ford engine in it. I was impressed until I read that they drove it once and ran it into a tree.

  18. I shall echo #17. You might want to check the ground clearance, both for water height and for snow ridges. Not to mention stumps. I’ve had problems with all three.

    The stump was the easy one. I got out (it was my son’s Escort, so he was driving), grabbed the right rear bumper, made a mighty pull with my massive arms of steel, and got the front wheel back in contact with the ground.

    Would you believe I feebly yanked on the rear bumper and the nearly perfectly balanced car tipped forward? I thought as much.

    Regards (and congratulations)
    Jack Tingle

  19. We’ve got a 96 Honda Civic hatchback, and have been starting to look at replacement cars. It’s been good for 15 years, but we’d like to give it a bit of a rest for a few years before passing it on to our daughter (13 years old). I hadn’t considered the Mini before this, but might have to look at it. Is the gas mileage really that good? Our Honda still gets 30+, and I don’t want to replace it with something that does significantly worse.

  20. yes, they really are that good.
    I have a 2003 Cooper JCS (John Cooper Works, sort of the Shelby Mustang of Minis) that I bough two years ago; 200HP and it gets 35mpg on road trips.
    Not even freeway, but back road runs with the local Mini club.

    They are terrifically fun little cars, and I’m six feet tall and find them roomy.

  21. I’ve a friend who races Minis in an amateur league, and I have to say they are sporty, fun automobiles that are really good value for the money. So good choice. That being said, I think they look a bit like a what a rather flamboyant Transformer would change into.

  22. Minis do very well in the Dakar Rally (and are just so much damn mechanical fun) so you have chosen well, Grasshopper.

  23. Had several real Minis back in England after I passed my test (in 1970). From the original 850cc motor up to the 1071cc Mini Cooper S which, with all respect to BMW’s reimagining of the car, was the closest equivalent you’ll ever get to doing 120 mph naked. I’ve tried the new minis and they are just way too civilised for me. But civilised is not always a bad thing so I wish you much enjoyment of your new toy – especially if Krissy ever lets you drive it…

  24. John, congratulations on the new car! The Coopers are terrific fun… and the Edmunds Insideline Blog which I follow seem to have a lot of fun with theirs.

    Do add winter tires to the car if you haven’t already planned on it. I find that AWD helps with starting, not so much with turning/stopping.

  25. “buy as much as you can afford and use it until it dies a horrible death.”

    My ’85 VW Golf has seen two continents and is still going strong. (I bought it in the US and brought it with me when I moved to the UK). It’s the only car I have ever bought new. (The previous ones were either used or shared with my dad after dropping him at the train station).
    Ii think someone in my neighborhood has that model of Mini. When the Golf finally dies I might look into a Mini.

  26. Dude, enjoy! I have a John Cooper Works Mini and it is so much fun. The perfect car, really, except for that snow thing, so I will be very curious to hear how you guys feel the Countryman handles.

  27. I’ve been a Mini owner for 5 years and I have to say that every time I consider giving it up for something larger, I am so disappointed by the alternatives, that I stick with my Mini. It’s been a great car. And unless you are trying to drive in snow that’s over 4 inches deep on the road, it handles the snow pretty well in the regular front wheel drive config. Maintenance now that it’s out of warranty is pricey, but I think that’s a matter of finding the right mechanic. So far, knock wood, there’s been nothing to do in 5 years outside of regular oil changes and brakes. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a car since my first Triumph Spitfire — and I have to admit, I feel a lot safer in this!

  28. I love my Honda Fit, and it handles better than the Nissan Sentra I drove before it, but there’s a point of slushiness beyond which it just won’t go and I need to take Samantha’s Outback instead. An AWD Mini sounds like a remarkable thing.

  29. While I covet a Nissan GT-R as my next car, reality must — unfortunately — play a role in the decision-making process. And John, I hope you’ll post a longer review because I’ve been looking at the same car Mini Countryman S AWD as a potential replacement for my Subaru WRX.

  30. Compared with the original Mini the new one is huge. Although I doubt something in the size range of the original Mini (say the new version of the Fiat 500) would cope too well with your winters.

  31. Ground clearance is why I chose the Jeep Wrangler when I was in the market last year. Gas milage sucks but I don’t get stuck. Ever. Sometimes I don’t even shovel the drive. Especially in the morning.

    I myself am not a fan of buying new. I just hate the fact that the resale value drops so much just by driving off the car lot. These days with the reliability of cars, I look for a well maintained vehicle with 50k miles or less. All the bugs and recalls have been taken care of by then as well.

    In my case I bought a 2005 Rocky Mountain edition with 35,000 miles on it because my research showed that the 2005 Wrangler was a sweet year and I’m leery of the new
    redesign that occurred in 2007.

    But good luck with your new ride. My advice is always by a car you love because your more likely to maintain it properly. And we all know maintenance is the key to a long life.

  32. I have a similar philosophy about cars – buy one, then drive it til it drops. It’s a philosophy that serves me well. (Plus I inherited my last car, so that bought me an extra three years without a car payment.)

    The bad news? I drive a 2005 Neon that may barely survive the loan.

  33. Wait a minute. You said this was to replace KRISSY’S car. So what if it come on YOUR birthday.
    You’ll be lucky if she lets you sit in the passenger seat and inhale the new care smell.

  34. To answer questions variously:

    Actually, although it’s Krissy’s car that’s dying, I got to pick the car this time around, on account that she picked the minivan when my old car died. Fair is fair. Also, she’s said that she intends to drive the minivan more, so for all intents and purposes on a day to day basis it will be my car. In theory anyway.

    Ground clearance, etc: In general we should be okay. The Countryman has higher clearance than other Minis to begin, and even with big rain of the sort we had yesterday, it’s only a few inches at its deepest (and that’s only for about a 20 foot stretch) and that sort of stuff happens maybe once a year. Likewise in snow we usually get our driveway plowed reasonably quickly, and if it’s high enough that clearance is genuinely an issue, we likely will be staying home anyway.

    To go further back into the thread, this purchase is in fact entirely unrelated to the movie announcement. For one thing, the announcement was independent of disbursement of option money (which happened at a different time). For another, we didn’t start looking at cars until Krissy said, “my car is dying.”

    Branko: If there had been an American all-wheel-drive car I liked, then I would have bought American; conversely if Krissy had not made all-wheel/four-wheel drive a non-negotiable, there are other American cars I would have looked at first as well. So yes, I gave search preference to American manufacturers, but this is the car that eventually best suited us.

    But as I’m sure others will note, it’s often difficult these days to do a straight “American” purchasing choice, since some American manufacturers have production lines outside the US, and foreign ones have production here, etc. Our other car is a Honda minivan, and Honda has a very large distribution facility just down the road, at which some of my family members are employed. Buying Japanese in that case also meant buying Ohio.

  35. A friend drives a Toyota Matrix and went through a deep puddle in it. SHe got out but the water fried the electronics which are on the bottom in Toyota’s apparently. Something worth checking.

    And to #27 PanthyrLee, I’m sex feet sex (I’m gonna say that all the time now!) and I’ve been fairly comfortable in a Mini. INterestingly, my wife’s Volvo C30 is quite roomy despite being small enough to pit in the payload of my pickup. Fancy that.

  36. Chang, etc:

    Inasmuch as the Countryman was specifically designed to handle in bad road circumstances, I’m guessing this might be something they’ve thought of. OTHERWISE THERE WILL BE ANGER.

  37. It looks shiny, but one question. Do Americans have a different system for calculating MPG than the UK? My 2009 Skoda Fabia averages around 48mpg and modern VW Polos can average 80mpg. A brand new car averaging 30mpg on a highway seems a little inefficient…

  38. In reference to several Subaru-related remarks above: The new Subarus of several years ago would have appealed to you more, I think, than the currently offered ones – specifically the ’06-’08 Forester, the last of the line of true Foresters that began in ’97. It has the best driver visibility of any fixed-roof car ever made, and many other great driving characteristics as well (ours is the standard engine and 5-speed).

  39. Sam:

    1. Yes, I believe so, and;

    2. Many of the very high-mileage cars in Europe are diesels and/or have smaller engines than cars in the US do, both of which have an impact on overall gas mileage. I believe we may also have higher emission standards for engines, which will have an impact on mileage performance, but don’t quote me on that, I may be wrong.

    Remember also that US gas prices are still substantially lower than what they are almost everywhere else in the world, so we also lag behind in overall fuel economy because, well, so far it’s not been (as much) of a problem, price-wise.

  40. US and imperial gallons are different, Imperial being the larger hence the “better” rating.

  41. Congrats. The wife and I have our eyes on one as well, to replace her Liberty. Since we have both been involved in severe weather accidents, we only go 4WD or AWD. Just that much more control to help keep ourselves on the road as well as avoid the nuts around us not heeding the weather conditions. And since the Minis are so attractive in style and performance, it’s great that they finally came out with one for the SUV shoppers.

  42. Interesting coincidence. We saw a Countryman in a parking garage Friday night, apparently owned by a very dissatisfied customer. He had printed himself a sign he displayed in the back window that read “36,000 miles = new transmission.” I hope you have better luck!

    My mother-in-law needs a new car, and it occurs to me that this might be right up her alley.

    By the way, Chang, I own a Toyota Matrix (2003) and it’s been extremely reliable. I think your friend’s “puddle” might have been quite deep to have caused damage to the electronics. You’re not supposed to drive any car through water more than a few inches deep, but some people find it very tempting.

  43. Catherine:

    Considering that the Countryman has been available for only about a month, it seems unlikely that it was the car you saw. It might have been the Clubman edition, which is a different animal.

  44. Totally off the main topic, but inspired (if that’s the right word) by one phrase in your original post …

    “Jumbo shrimp” shouldn’t really count as an oxymoron, even though it certainly sounds like one in current usage. I might be wrong, but I’m sure there must have been jumbo shrimp around long before “shrimp” acquired its metaphoric-noun usage.

    And of course best with the new vehicle. The last new one I owned was a Datsun 2000, the last year it was made (or at least sold in the U.S.), and that was a gem. Totally aside from its performance, it had surprising clearance … I lived in Alexandria Va. at the time, and back then the Army Engineers still hadn’t figured out how to control the inevitable flooding of Four Mile Run anytime there was even a small amount of rain. My previous car had been a Sprite (from Austin-Healey, later BMC, for the younger ones here) which in typical British fashion would conk out at the slightest hint of moisture, and the Datsun was a pleasant surprise in being able to comfortably get through flooded sections of the G.W. Parkway that only buses and larger trucks could traverse.

  45. Here is a link to one of the commercials that we’ve been running at the “Global Media Empire of Evil”

  46. Personally, I wouldn’t know a 2011 MINI Countryman from a 1980 Crown Victoria, but all of the people I was with were car freaks and I’m going by what they said. Wikipedia says that BMW rolled out the 2011 Mini Countryman in January 2010, which is typical–a car is generally one year older than its model year. Still 36,000 miles is a lot for a car that could have been driven for at most one year, so you’re probably right–it’s probably a different model. At any rate, I tend to take car purchasing advice that I find on hand made signs in car windows with a grain of salt. :-)

  47. I must admit, being British, I find the Countryman to be unnaturally large. But it’s probably a much better fit in America than the normal Mini, so I’m sure that’ll work out just fine. :)

    I, too, have the same “buy as well as you can afford, then run it into the ground” philosophy, which I apply where I can. And indeed, applied a couple of years ago when I bought a shiny new car for the first (and probably only) time in my life. Which, when you understand that it’s an Abarth Fiat 500, will no doubt help put my comment in the first line in context – as compared to a Fiat 500, even a normal Mini is large. No doubt many will find my liking for small cars unnatural and wrong.

  48. Let me add my congratulations on your family’s decision to join the ranks of the Mini. I adore my ’08 Mini S convertible, wouldn’t think of driving anything else – I swear it’s like driving a Hot Wheels, only for real. And you’d be surprised how much dog can fit in one of these, even the originals – I have a Dane and a Rottie, and even though they are both very petite young ladies for their breeds, avg about 90 lb each, they still fit nicely and have a heck of a good time, so Daisy should be golden, not to mention Krissy.

    Please do post review, and/or ask the Missus to do some guest-posting. My husband is just about due to replace his old Honda and we were thinking of the Countryman. It would be nice to have some real person feedback on how they do.

  49. Enjoy your new car! By all accounts their a blast to drive, and retain their value like it’s going out of style. Repairs might be on the pricey side, but having no first hand experience, It’s hard to say in comparison to what (a BMW 3 series, for instance, is ludicrously expensive to keep on the road after 40,000 or so miles), If you were feeling especially cautious you might just buy whatever warranties they’ll throw in and stack them end to end. That aside, according to klik and klak, if you drive a minicooper, and you’re not smiling, you might want to check yourself in somewhere for major depression disorder.

  50. I’ve got an old Porsche 911 and a new Mini Cooper S. I still prefer the Porsche, especially when the weather’s nice, but this is a fact: choosing between the two each morning is a *much* closer call than I ever expected it would be. I told the Mini guy when I bought the S that I didn’t even want to drive the JCW since I worried it would pose too big a threat to my relationship with my 911. Kinda like avoiding nudie bars if there’s even a hint of trouble in your marriage.

    Point being: nice choice. I’ll bet you a dollar you’re going to love it.

  51. @Catherine / @Scalzi My transmission was cooked around 40,000 miles (I’d bought it at 35k) – it seems that the 2002 models have a transmission with some flaws in it, but I think that that’s been corrrected with the 2003 models onwards. Something to keep an eye out for though, when you get the oil changed (or do it yourself) check the transmission seals for leaks or cracks.

  52. #39 by Branko: “I, er, thought you Americans all drove American cars? (Perhaps I should stop viewing TV shows as a mirror of reality.)”

    I could be wrong, but I’m not sure there is such a thing as an American car these days, except for the marketing/political definition, which conveniently includes “the final assembly stages occurred on American soil”.

    Beyond that, of course, many (most?) vehicles bought in the US are financed through banks and other financial institutions who are off-shore (at least as far as tax purposes are concerned), and mostly fueled from overseas sources.

    The “Buy American” stance when it comes to vehicles is mostly posturing at this point. At best, it’s arguably well-intentioned but uninformed.

  53. Enjoy John – the Mini’s are all a blast to drive/own! I’ve loved my 2005 Mini Convertible since the moment I got it and it’s never given me any problems. The only repairs have been tire replacements (which is why I did NOT get the S model – run-flats are expensive!) and brakes due to wear. Not bad for almost 70K miles. I still get around 32MPG mixed city/highway and there is nothing more fun that taking off-ramps without slowing down (warning: just because the Mini CAN do this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea – note the wear on the tires I mentioned above!). Ground clearance is irrelevant unless you’re planning on off-roading and my Mini has handled the bombed out (er, I mean pot-holed) streets of Boston with ease. It also been the best winter car I’ve ever owned in my life, and I grew up in Canada!

  54. It seems to have been a year for car troubles last year. Wife’s used and very abused before we got it Outback croaked; eventually replaced by a used Mazda RX-8 and much smiles.

    Then my 1998 Mustang warped its head at 195,000 miles, and functionally croaked (2x more repair cost than car worth); eventually replaced by another used Mazda RX-8 and more smiles.

    Not exactly practical cars (I fear I need a truck as a third car, now), but Vrooom!

  55. Tell the truth, Scalzi, you just wanted to one-up Neil Gaiman and HIS Mini, didn’t you? (He has a black one with a British flag on the top. You should have gotten one with a US flag on the top AND DECLARED WAR.)

  56. My 20 year old son has threatened me if I go ahead and buy a mini cooper convertible. I have concluded its not cool enough if I ever gave him the opportunity to drive it. Ha! like that’s ever going to happen. However, they are quite expensive, if comparing to more bang for your buck cars out there. Since I am now 49 years old, in pretty good shape and still married to the same balding man, I have agreed with myself that I need to drive a convertible. At least for the next 4 years if I lease. All the comments I’m reading had fortified my stance and I can’t seem to get away from the image of driving down main street, top down, sunglasses on, smiling away as on-lookers wonder, “who is that gorgeous woman in that funky car?”. The reality of winter in suburban Toronto, I’m a little nervous about getting stuck in the snow or in my own driveway! I’ve never owned such a small car. Snow tires a must from what I’m reading so problem solved, I hope! Here’s to finding my new, white mini convertible before the end of May 2011!

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