Just 18 hours before I had been sunning myself on a beach in Miami. But now, on precious little sleep, I found myself north of the Arctic Circle, frozen and staring at a gnarly, hulking, carbon-fiber-and-kevlar Dakar-racing Mini Countryman that cost over a million dollars. “What the hell am I doing here?” was the only thing I kept thinking.
On an intellectual level, I know how I had gotten there. Just a few weeks before we’d gotten an invitation from Mini to drive its ALL4 Racing X-Raid race car, which won the 2015 Dakar Rally, on a frozen lake outside of the small city of Rovaniemi, Finland.
Normally, this is the sort of thing you’d send some sort of professional to do. This is not the sort of thing you’d send some writer who happens to love cars, but didn’t have much by way of track experience, to do.
But instead, my boss thought it’d be funnier to send me.
(Full Disclosure: Mini wanted us to drive its ALL4 Racing X-Raid off-road race car so bad that they spent $5594.86 flying me from Miami to Paris to Helsinki to Rovaniemi, and back from Rovaniemi to Helsinki to Paris to New York, business class. I would’ve flown in the cargo compartment, gnawing on my own bones for warmth, just to do this.)
And oddly enough, I was shocked at how easy it was to drive. It almost feels like a massive, hugely powerful truck. That would eat ice boulders for breakfast.
Yes, if you’d like to buy one (and I was told that Mini will actually sell you one, if you’re so inclined) it’ll cost you over a million dollars. Yes, it’s all aerospace-grade alloys and carbon fiber and kevlar. Yes, it has a diesel motor that’s considered to be top secret, with the only horsepower specification being “north of 300 horsepower.” Yes, it’s got skinny tires with spikes larger than a baby’s fingers to claw into ice and your eyeballs. And yes, it will destroy damn near anything that dares to stand in its path.
But it’s made for running the Dakar Rally, the most grueling automotive endurance challenge on Earth. Each stage is usually over 500 miles in length, with no roads, and nothing but the roughest terrain Mother Nature could possibly create. In virtually any other car, it would be a terrifying nightmare.
The Mini, on the other hand, is designed for the punishment. It has enormous suspension bits, with the beefiest shocks this side of a Navy jet. The seat, while a snug, cocoon-like racing bucket, is remarkably well-padded, which is better for when you’re so tired that lesser humans would cry, but there’s no such thing as help in the desert. The brakes are water-cooled, in case they overheat. The occupants are air-cooled, in case they also overheat.
But, this being a race car, its air conditioning often doesn’t cool it down much more than 95 degrees. Still, it’s better than 120 degrees.
Oh, did I not mentioned the massive hydraulic jacks? Yeah, it’s got massive hydraulic jacks. Flip a switch, and the power steering turns off, so that you can drive massive rams into the soft earth below. When there’s no tow truck for thousands of miles, sometimes the best way out of a rut is to rock yourself side-to-side out of it.
I honestly don’t know why Mini doesn’t put these features on all of its cars. Yes, they’d probably cost quite a bit more, but I don’t care. This is very clearly the best Mini in the world.