2020 has forced us to live our lives very differently than we are used to. Some differences have been massive and earthmoving, while others are smaller adaptations we have to keep safe, healthy, and sane. Although I have been an automotive journalist for years, I have lived in NYC for the last seven years, which means I never needed a car until now. Thanks to the brutality of car ownership in NYC, we landed on a 2015 Mini Countryman S.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the usefulness of a car in a place like NYC expand like never before. My wife and I were lucky enough to have been able to keep working and were able to buy a car with our limited budget, and we chose a 2015 Mini Cooper Countryman S – but should we have?
What we needed out of a car
The early days of the pandemic in NYC were terrifying, confusing, and strange. We all were so trapped in our shoe-box apartments with no safe way to go out and about. We knew we needed a way to safely and reliably get out of the city to get some fresh air and quiet when the sirens got too heavy. But, because we live in Manhattan, it still needed to be a city-friendly, easy-to-park car with a smaller footprint.
We knew we would be doing a lot of driving, so gas-milage and reliability were key factors. Yet, as an automotive enthusiast, I couldn’t stomach buying something purely practical that isn’t fun to drive or good looking. Thus the Mini’s little head began to rise from the mire.
2015 Mini Countryman S
As U.S. News lays out, the Mini Countryman ticks many of those boxes while staying under $12k, which was the top of our budget. Although we wanted something small for creative city parking, I am 6’5. A full-blown tiny car wasn’t going to cut it.
We found a clean 2015 Mini Countryman S – with the turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four making 181 hp sending power to only the front wheels – with 52,000 miles on the odometer. The “S” makes it juuuuust snappy enough to have a little fun, and the mileage was low enough to make us feel hopeful about reliability, which can be a touchy subject for Mini owners.
How is the 2015 Mini Countryman S to drive
The turbocharged 1.6-liter engine will not pin you back in the seat, but it has enough power to put a smile on your face by taking a corner a little too fast. The turbo doesn’t lag too much either, it’s not immediate by any means, but the boost comes when you need it to.
Unfortunately, the car we bought has an optional six-speed automatic transmission. It is a jerky and semi-sloppy gearbox that often feels like it can’t quite make up its mind on which gear it wants. If you are considering a mini of any kind, please hear me, get the manual transmission. It is much better.
Easily the worst ride issue is the suspension. NYC has very terrible roads, but any road imperfection feels like you’re in the Explorer that falls from the tree in “Jurrasic Park.” It. Is. Rough. Driving on most roads is exhausting due to intensity for which you must be on pothole alert. Other than that, the stiff suspension makes flinging the Countryman around corners a blast. In comparison, it’s not the classic Mini, but the Countryman still corners low and flat with minimal body roll.
The 2015 Mini Countryman S interior
The interior is very Mini. Every aspect is quirky, on-brand, and sometimes even a little silly, but overall it makes you smile. The main dash with stereo and most of the interior controls are encased in a giant plastic circle with a strange speedometer in it. Seeing as how much simpler to read the digital speedo in the normal spot behind the steering wheel, the giant one in the middle is quite silly.
Our Countryman has Bluetooth, which can be a little annoying to set up, but once you do, it’s easy and sounds pretty good with the OEM stereo. Seating is also fairly comfortable and surprisingly roomy for a Mini.
Reliability after six months
The million-dollar question on every prospective Mini owner’s mind is, “Will it be reliable?” British cars don’t have a great reputation in general, and Mini has a bad rap specifically. But is it warranted? – Maybe.
We have put nearly 10,000 miles on our Mini in the past six months. So far, the only issue was the O2 sensor went out, and at the same time, the original spark plugs burned up. Mini suggests changing the spark plugs out around 50,000 miles. Mine burned up (and toasted a coil pack in the process) around 56,000 miles. Mini ain’t told no lie. Other than that and an oil change, the Mini has been reliable and sturdy. Apparently, the 100k mile mark is when things start to go downhill, but that is future Pete’s problem.
The 2015 Mini Countryman S verdict
So far, our Mini has been a great purchase, especially during this time. It’s cheap to fuel up, park in a city, and have plenty of fun driving. The Mini Countryman has plenty of room, even for a giant dude. The interior is comfy enough and well-equipped. It has some roughness about it, but overall it has been a reliable haven in a time when we desperately needed that reliability and consistency.
Don’t sleep on a Mini. It might be a roll of the dice, but like most gambling, you’ll probably have fun for a while.