The latest, 2017 version of the Mini Countryman S is attractive to look at, larger and more flexible for interior space than its predecessors, and a heck of a lot of fun to drive. It’s a car you look forward to driving when you get up in the morning. My test vehicle was waiting, early on a sunny Vancouver spring morning (rare as those have been) at the Mini showroom in Yaletown. It is an attractive place, a bit like showrooms in small towns all across Europe; it is quietly nestled between its entryways, amid all the retail and restaurants, with no other dealerships in sight. My destination was Kelowna, and thus the Coquihalla was part of the planned path, along with Route 97 C. The Mini was about to get a firm test.
The first thing I noticed about this car was its adroit handling, great road feel, and surprising quietness in the cabin, which itself boasts plenty of stylish features. Vehicles this size tend to suffer at least a bit from road noise, but not in this case. You can hear the hi-hat and ride cymbals on your favourite rock anthems, no problem. Once on the highway, at 100 kilometres per hour, this all still pertained; the car was quiet and responsive. The panoramic sunroof, when opened, did let in a fair amount of noise, but that’s the compromise if you want the fresh airflow. Just turn the stereo up.
Crossing the Juliet bridge on the Coquihalla, the clouds seemed to descend in a few seconds, and by the time the summit was reached, it was complete fog and touches of snow, visibility basically less than a quarter of a kilometre. The wet conditions were no problem for the car, and it was still smooth, if slow, sailing all the way past Merritt. This Countryman S was equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission and an All4 all-wheel-drive system, complete with a great “sport” mode option for firmer road feel and balance on severe curves. This all came in handy when the Route 97 C blizzard came.
Visibility went back down, and the snow was, at the higher elevations, extremely thick—large, bite-sized flakes floating chaotically to the ground. Many portions of the road were still in full winter condition, with only one completely cleared lane in each direction for significant portions. This meant passing could be a little treacherous, especially with semi-trailers ahead, each creating their own miniature storms.
There was impressively little tendency in the Countryman to slip or slide off its course, holding firm to the road; I never felt anything but safe. The Countryman relies, for some of its road prowess, on the BMW X1’s front-wheel-drive system, which the company has put into the Mini to very positive effect.
Arriving in Kelowna, overcast but clear, was a relative breeze, and the car looked great and got plenty of admiration from visitors pouring in and out of Summerhill Pyramid Winery. The next day, the way back was again tough near the 97 C summit, where if anything there was even less room on the road heading west. But the Mini Countryman S handled it all with aplomb, never feeling hesitant, or having any lack of power, even at higher highway speeds. The engine achieves 189 horsepower, more than adequate for the roughly 3,200 pounds of vehicle.
Driving down First Avenue, towards Terminal and on to the dealership, I experienced a little tug of regret. I had closed the sunroof, removed my music source, finished the remaining water, and finally parked on Homer, to return the car. The only trouble was, I didn’t want to hand over the key.
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