By Douglas Kruger
Intuitively, you would think a Mini would be the perfect-sized car for our island. Zippy, nippy, easy to park. Fun and frugal, cheap on fuel. And just think how thrilling that go-kart handling would be around Jersey’s traffic circles. Plus, we’re British (sort of), and you’d be buying British (sort of).
And yet, it’s the wrong choice entirely. We tried the experiment for six disastrous months. Limping with lower back pain, we traded in the little ‘iron pig’ with grumbles of ‘good riddance’.
Oh, I’ll admit, there were three or four seconds of fun. Our 2006-model Cooper S Convertible was a joy to drive along coastal roads with the top down. And we were able to ignore the fit-inducing strobe-light effect of sunshine through the trees as we squinted our way down country lanes, vying to see who could eat the most bugs. Once or twice, it even proved easy to pull out of the way of a 50-tonne tractor barrelling in the opposite direction.
But the sins list was just too big: Tooth-jarringly firm ride, microscopic boot, a cabin accessible only to those who can physically remove limbs before embarking.
Then there was the canopy, which whistled off-key at speeds above 20mph. And – and this was just too much – a manual stick-shift in such close quarters that any given husband might have to Kung Fu his wife every time he shifted into second. You shift into second a lot in Jersey. The atmosphere became testy.
So we decided to try something else. What if, instead of small and fast, you go high and thin?
High means SUV. And I’ll say right off the bat that this is a winning formula. It changes one’s entire experience of Jersey in ways we couldn’t have guessed at.
Driving at Mini height, all you’ll see is claustrophobic walls whipping by on either side. Everywhere.
Add a little boost, and suddenly the world opens up. Angels sing a chorus from Vivaldi. Suddenly, you can see over the barriers, and it’s a revelation to realise that our island is the most achingly beautiful place on the planet, riddled with heretofore unseen fields and farms, and generous dollops of space that weren’t apparent to those who perpetually hug the tarmac. If you’re currently driving something low-slung, you have got to try it. Height and visibility hits you like a breath of fresh air.
Then there’s width, and this was a weird one to solve. The parking spot beneath our building was made for that Slender Man character of horror story fame. I searched our next vehicle on the ratio of ‘maximum height to minimum width’. What I settled on was the Subaru Forester, and it’s been a game changer.
The Subaru’s best feature is that it’s ugly. Oh, maybe that’s not exactly the right term. Starkly utilitarian. Stylistically unconcerned. Delightfully chunky. Unapologetically butch. A boxy man-car.
It shares a certain rugged indifference with brands such as Jeep or Toyota’s 4x4s that is curiously endearing. One reviewer commented that not only does it do everything well, but because the shape doesn’t date, buyers might say, ‘Right! That’s motoring sorted for the next ten years’. Apparently it’s one of the longest-kept cars globally.
Significantly thinner than the majority of crossover SUVs, it nevertheless gives ample elbow room; a marriage saver. And you sit higher than in, say, a Range Rover Evoque.
Well, you can grow old waiting for the tailgate to open, though it does eventually comply. Apparently the heated rear windows have a curious habit of exploding for no reason, which is novel.
Other than that, the darn thing is omni-competent. The four-wheel drive makes it feel invincible, and the turbo-charged two-litre engine on our model was way more powerful than I expected when I first test-drove it.
And it comes with all the toys: seat-warmers to help you recover from the Mini, sunroof for gorgeous views at the beach, back-up cameras so you can watch sunbathers leaving the beach, and more.
The Forester’s not as big as hardcore off-roaders such as, say, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it shares many of the same emotive cues, doing everything with ease, and making you feel that if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse and fire raining down from the heavens, this is the vehicle you’d want to escape in. It feels like you could go to war in it and win.
As a final nice touch, I was delighted to find the indicator stalk on the left, despite its Japanese heritage. It’s nice not to windscreen-wipe your way through your first 100 left turns.
Subaru doesn’t pay me for my opinions (sadly). But it’s not so much the car itself that I’m recommending to you. It’s the decision-making matrix. Go as tall as you can. Trust me, it will change your experience. Then go as thin as you can. It will simplify your life.
Oh, and add ‘rugged’ to your paradigm, because chucking muddy bikes in the back of a Subaru just feels right. You simply hose it down afterwards and carry on with your life. In a BMW or Range Rover, you might worry about the paint.
Douglas Kruger is an award-winning professional speaker and author. His books are all available via Amazon and Audible. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.