Let’s Motor

(US Translation: bonnet = hood,

boot = trunk,

exhaust = tailpipe)

We’ve been idly looking for the Mini dealer for about a year now, ever since we saw the web site. On Saturday we got there and test drove a Mini Cooper S. First, the dull technical stuff: 1.6 litre fuel injection engine, six speed manual transmission, automatic traction control widget, 17 inch alloy wheels, 0 to 60mph in 6.9 seconds, top speed of 135mph. In other words, it’s a rocket powered skateboard with major style.

Our sales weasel fit in the back quite well, despite being 5ft 10. Having learnt my lesson from test driving the Mazda, we made sure she was actually wearing her seatbelt before we left the garage. At least, we tried to leave the garage. The clutch bite point was very low, and I lost count of how many times I stalled the car. The road was still wet, so I didn’t do the emergency stop test, and I’m kicking myself for not testing the horn.

Driving the Mini was the most fun I’d had all week. Flooring the accelerator got me from slip road to 70mph on a 55mph highway in third gear before I realised just how fast I was going, and shut the sales weasel up. There really is a wheel in each corner, so it should have the same glued-to-the-road stability of the original. I’d love to take a Mini out on Foxhall Road in Ipswich, down that really steep hill with the hairpin bends partway up and at the bottom, to see if you could do it all at 50mph like my Daddy taught me.

There was more space inside than should have existed, someone’s mastered dimensional transcendentalism, or wrested the secret away from the Time Lords (or the BBC). The windscreen was a good foot away from the steering wheel, and it felt like a much wider car. The boot was on the micro side of small, mitigated somewhat by the back seats folding down. There are only two passenger doors, the spare wheel lives under the car. You get used to the central speedometer surprisingly quickly. The inside looks retro stylish, all shiny metal and brushed alloy, highlighting the side impact bars in the doors. The sports spoiler looked like a carry handle for the car, I couldn’t take it seriously. There’s not a lot of headroom, and we forgot to test the stupid horn. You have to know if you’re getting a horn you can take seriously or if it’s some kiddy toy beep.

One flaw, at least for Hubby, was the traction control gizmo. It prevents the wheels from spinning, which also prevents you from gunning the engine, dumping the clutch and screaming away from the lights. Bummer.

The catch to open the bonnet was on the right side of the car, which was odd until we found out the thing is assembled in Oxford in England, which would put the catch on the UK driver’s side. Headlights are part of the bonnet, not part of the body of the car. Exhaust pipe is central, twin exhaust on the Cooper S. I loved the rear wash/wipe because the spray was part of the wiper. The waiting time for a new Mini has dropped from 6 months at the start to 3 months.

If someone’s reading this and decides to give me a Mini just to shut me up, I’d like the Cooper S in Chili Red with a red roof, and the 6 CD changer, sports package, floor mats, and whizzy steering wheel with the radio controls on please.