Late in 2014, I was having issues with my car. While I loved that Buick Lucerne V8, I was having a really hard time getting things fixed. It was still under warranty but my local dealer Weisner of Huntsville seemed to be unable to fix the leaking sunroof and had also managed to break the magnetic steering while attempting to fix a leaking power steering hose.
This was at the same time that the same dealer could not seem to fix the brand new Buick my wife had purchased which literally spent months in their shop and a few weeks in our driveway immediately after we purchased it.
This led me to not want anything to do with that dealer or any brand of car that I might need to use that dealer for. This eliminated all GM products which represented 90% of all the vehicles I had ever had before so I set off to explore other options.
Our first serious stop was at a VW dealer in The Woodlands. My wife had always been fascinated with the Beetles so why not stop and look at what else they had. Their cars were well made but a little on the sparse side when it came to creature comforts and electronics so although I liked the way they drove, I was less than excited by their options. I liked the Taureg a lot but it was a little bigger than what I was thinking and it was also more money than I wanted to spend.
The Tiguan seemed pretty spot on with the exception of course of a lack of nice options. I did like the style and it seemed very well made but it did not have things I thought I wanted like auto headlights, auto windshield wipers, and a backup camera.
Right diagonally across the freeway from the VW dealer was a BMW and MINI dealer so I thought it couldn’t hurt to go take a look at what they had to offer. BMW was certainly out of my price range for new but I knew almost nothing about MINI.
From the moment we stepped into the MINI portion of the dealership I was fascinated with these cars. The big round speedometer in the center of the dash between the driver and passenger, the oversized toggle switches for controls, it all added up to the most original vehicle I had seen in a dealership.
Looking at the different models it became clear I needed a Countryman, the other was just too small to fit all my equipment in them and frankly, lower to the ground than I wanted to deal with. They had a good selection of Countrymen so we picked one and went for a drive.
It was nice, very nice. The handling was amazing and I fit in like it was made for me. This was probably the first car in my life I had ever had that was made for drivers.
That last comment deserves some explanation. To me, there are two types of people in cars; those that drive the car because they need to get from point A to point B, and those who love to drive their cars.
The first type might like driving their cars but they don’t really just go out for a drive. If there isn’t a specific destination or chore, the car stays in the driveway. There is nothing wrong with this but to these people, a car is a tool, a means to an end.
The second type of person will hop in the car and just go explore roads they have never been on, they look back at their car in the parking lot and smile, they take the elevator up to the 6th floor just to take a picture of roof graphics on their car even though their appointment is on the 2nd floor. This is the type of person the MINI was designed for.
One thing I was concerned about was the power of the four-cylinder. I told the salesman riding in the back I was not sure if this would work for me as I am used to all the power of the big-block V8 in my Buick Lucerne. His reply as he pointed to the dash was “the speed limit here is 65, how much faster than 80 do you need to go?” I hit the brakes as I realized I was passing people on both sides of me without even thinking about it.
When we returned to the dealership I really liked the Countryman but I needed some time to think about it. I really did love my Buick and was unsure about making such a change without looking at other manufacturer’s offerings. The salesman saw my hesitation and suggested I take the MINI home that night, bring it back the next evening and see what I thought. That guy was just pure evil.
I had a great drive home and proceeded to sit in the driveway for several hours playing with every switch, dial, button, and lever I could find. I poked under the hood, looked under the wheel wells, and moved all the seats in every which a direction. I was smitten and my wife knew it. The next day I had a brand new 2015 MINI Cooper Countryman named Buster.
Unlike every other car purchase I have made in my life that was not the end of the fun, that was just the beginning. I was introduced to a completely new community that I could not believe existed.
Sure, there are car clubs with activities for all kinds of cars. But how many manufacturers send you gifts for literally years after you purchase a vehicle? How many sponsor trips from coast to coast for thousands of MINI drivers every other year? How many send you a nametag in the mail FOR YOUR CAR?
One thing led to another and my wife decided to get rid of her new Buick long before her lease expired and funny enough, she too bought a MINI, a 2009 Cabriolet (convertible) that she named Lola.