The 1st day of the MINI Takes The States Tour kicked off with a bit of a surprise – it turned out that a MINI press car was unable to take me from Newark Airport to our first destination, so I had to slum it in a BMW 550i. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited.
Unfortunately, the 550i’s nav system took me in the opposite direction from New York, nearly sending me to Camden, New Jersey, ranked America’s most dangerous city in 2009. Not exactly the kind of place you want to take a brand new Bimmer.
All was resolved thanks to a local friend who laughed at my inept sense of direction and set me on course for Manhattan’s Meat Packing District. I set forth for MILK Studios, a gallery space where MINI was hosting a launch event for the new 4-door Countryman SUV, as well as the launch point of the Eastern leg of the MINI Takes The States Tour.
Once I hit Manhattan, I began to wish for a Mini Cooper S to help weave through the atrocious traffic. Being an admitted small car guy (my Miata keys in my pocket), the 5 Series was not my ideal vehicle, though I was kept in air conditioned, HD Radio’d comfort for the few hours (yes, hours) it took me to get from Newark to Downtown Manhattan.
Keep reading more MINI Takes the States Tour, Day 1: New York after the jump:
The Meatpacking District itself is very cool; populated with boutiques, an Apple store and all sorts of things that mere auto journalists couldn’t hope to afford. It’s also perfectly trendy for a big display of MINIs. As MINI owners arrived, many parked along the cramped streets while One Mini Cooper S JCW was subjected to a valet that was either unwilling or unable to drive a manual transmission properly, and the burbling exhaust would have sounded great if not for the screech of tires that accompanied its takeoff up the garage ramp.
Once inside, I got my first view of the Countryman, and I can say with confidence that it will not get overshadowed by the current lineup once it hits showrooms. The Countryman is substantially bigger than the Cooper or Clubman. One may scoff at the notion of a MINI crossover, but the Countryman is much closer in size to say, a Jeep Compass than a Ford Fiesta. It is bigger, longer, wider and has a stance much more akin to a small crossover – which it is. The model on hand was a top-of-the-line Cooper S All4 with a turbo engine and all-wheel-drive, which means it should be a lot more fun to drive than most rivals.
The biggest hurdle for this car will be its 4-seat configuration. At 5’10, I had ample room in all dimensions, and a gentleman who stood 6’4” also found it comfortable. This is definitely in part to the twin buckets that take up position aft of the driver and passenger, but the lack of a middle seat may turn off some buyers, particularly those with children who might need to bring a playmate or two along. The dashboard and other baubles are what you’d expect from a MINI.
Tomorrow we’re off to Philadelphia to visit a sports car museum, with the route coming to an end in Baltimore. As always, you can check AutoGuide’s news blog and our Twitter feed for updates. We’ll be using the hashtag #mtts to keep the conversation organized.