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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
On our way out to dinner last night, my girlfriend suggested that we stop by the new MINI dealership in Peabody. She’s got her eye on one, and wanted to show the car to me. Also, since she can’t drive a stick, and that’s only what’s available at the moment, she wanted me to test drive the car and get my impressions. Hmm…OK…I think I could do that!

We got there, and every car on the lot had been sold. But, there was a demo car for test-driving. This one was yellow with a black roof and looked like a bumblebee. Interior was decked out in black ‘ette. Pretty high quality stuff, just like in the BMW’s. As it is, coming from a BMW, you can instantly tell that there is a lot of Bimmer in the MINI. The look and feel of many of the controls and materials are similar. However, no one could call the interior design BMW-like! The interior layout is, er, unique. The controls are very stylish, even techno. I think they were going for a retro look back to the original design, but I wouldn’t call it anything less that completely modern and “architectural”.

However, there are some things that honor the original – like the Speedo. Can’t miss it, not just because it’s in the middle of the dash, but also because the thing is frigg’in HUGE!! The Tach is mounted on the steering column, very close to the sight line. The OBC is displayed here, as well as a few other functions. All lit up with the BMW orange glow. Neat.

Interior space also honors the original – it’s tiny, but for 2 people, not cramped. The seats are very good (standard seats in this car). In front, plenty of space. The doors are large (it’s a coupe after all). And have a funky three-way door handle, decked out in aluminum trim, just like the dash. Looks sharp, but functionally, odd. Isn’t one enough? The driver position is also very good, but not quite the “cockpit” feel you get in a BMW. And like the VW Beetle, you tend to sit towards the middle of the car – stretching my arm fully, I could just touch the windshield. The windshield itself is small and short. So short that it has perhaps the smallest wipers I’ve ever seen on a car. The rear seats are full size, and pretty much take up the whole rear of the car. Legroom in the rear is surprisingly good for this reason. But there scant room for your feet. The front seats need to be cranked up to make space.

This car has an enormous sunroof. It’s actually in two parts: a permanent panel over the rear, and a moon roof in front. The front is much larger than the panels on our 3 series cars – it’s a big hole when it’s open.

As for mechanicals and suspension, our car had the standard 1.6 four-cylinder engine that cranks out about 115hp. Sadly, the supercharged MINI S hasn’t arrived yet, which has a very promising 163 ponies. The salesman pointed out that the engine was built in Brazil, a co-joint effort between BMW and Chrysler. Hhmm…that surprised both of us. The block, header and a few other parts are actually from the Dodge Neon. The rest of the engine is BMW. Our car did not have the sports suspension. The suspension design, however, is BMW – McPherson struts up front, double wishbone independent rears. The wheels were the optional 16” alloys, fitted with Dunlop’s.

All right then, enough of the initial impressions. Now for the good stuff – driving! The salesman insisted on driving us off the lot to some local neighborhood roads. I got in the back (with some effort). As I mentioned before, a little tight on the feet. He started the engine, and we took off. Now, if they say this car has the BMW rear suspension, I wouldn’t believe it – the ride in the ear was atrocious!! It was as if the wheels were bolted right onto the frame it was so harsh – and this from the standard suspension! Anyway, we got to some back roads, I jumped into the drivers seat. I checked out the feel of the clutch and gearbox. The clutch was neat – fast and short travel. Just a small tap of the foot, and the pedal was fully depressed. The gearbox, on the other hand, was a bit vague, notchy and long throw (although the chromed knob looks nice). In fact, getting under way, I blew the shift into 2nd, and had to fish around for it. The feel from the engine was what you would expect for a 4-banger: at idle, you could feel the typical vibration and buzz. Under throttle, it was smooth enough, with no rough spots in the rev range. As smooth as our 6 cylinder inline's? Aahhhhh….no. But the feel was, overall, pretty decent.

Up to this point, I was beginning to get pretty enamored with this little buggy of a car, and had yet to find any real weakness in it – until I floored the gas. Nothing happened. Granted, the little car had 3 adults in it, and the engine was still “tight”, but still, I expected a little more sprightly performance. My first VW had a 112hp engine, and it had more balls off the line than this car. That’s when the salesman chimed in with some advice: “You’ve got to keep the revs up”. Like a motorcycle engine, all the power is in the upper half of the engine, and I mean ALL the power. I discovered that if I kept the revs above 4000, the car zipped right along, the engine happily humming along. This produces a constant din from the engine, but it’s tolerable. I mean, this is an “enthusiasts car”, right?

Getting into the twistys, this is where this car, given a skilled river and the supercharged engine, may get the better of a 3 series. The handling is simply amazing – razor sharp. No fluff. No body roll. Instant cart-like response. Bear in mind, this is with the STANDARD suspension and 16” wheels and tires. I suddenly realized the MINI S, with the full sports package, 17” wheels, 6spd box and 160hp – would be a ferocious little car!!!

In fact, getting a feel for the car as I was zipping through the corners, I found myself thinking, “Damn!! This little thing is FUN!!”. Yeah, I was beginning to smile a lot. The car has a lot of potential. I couldn’t push it too much – after all, it was a demo, and unfortunately, it was raining. But I got the hang of keeping the revs high, and zipping in out of traffic with ease.

We then blew onto the highway, going 80mph in 4th gear. Yep, the engine was revving away like crazy, but it didn’t seem to mind. Moving into 5th, the car calmed down a bit. 5th is, for all intents, just used for “overdrive” and to save a little gas on trips. At 80mph, the car was amazingly stable for it’s size, and tracked straight and true.

Heading back to the dealership, I was more confident and shifted, zipped and stomped the gas again and again, the car eager for input every time. This made me realize something else – this is not a practical car: the ride is hard (albeit better in the front than in the rear), it’s noisy, and relaxing it’s not, because this is car that demands your attention. It delivers, but you need to work it constantly. In other words, it’s a purist’s car, a sports car in the very traditional sense. For this purpose the MINI is VERY satisfying, and PURE FUN.

If you have a chance, go test drive one!
 

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I drove a CooperS, SP & PP last weekend. I liked it, but IMHO the backseat is pointless. It's fairly peppy, hanlded great, the steering was far superior than any BMW I've driven and the 17" wheels do not ride that bad (equal to an E46 w/ SP). To me the car rode just as well as my 330Ci. The CooperS is a tight car, build quality appeared to be pretty good. The std. stereo sounded just as good as my HK. The sunroof was extremely noisy when it was opened. Would I buy one? Maybe, but I'll wait for the demand to die off and for the supply to increase. It might not ever happen, but I'm not paying MSRP for one anytime soon.


Oh, I failed to mention how arrogantly cocky the sales staff was. :thumbdwn: It was a major turnoff. :thumbdwn:
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Dave 330i said:
I can see a blue mini with a white top sitting in the parking lot from my office window. I think you guys are overly hyped about a little go-kart whose sticker and selling price is way over its value. In a year or two, it will be just another car. Get over it NOW. BTW, I'll try to take a pic of it Monday. Since it's TGIF, I don't want to over work myself today.
Whoa Dude - "Better, not Bitter"! :D

It was the same way with the Miata. But the Miata is still a great and fun little car. The MINI's base price is $16,800. It's the options that rocket the price. The top end model, loaded is close to 30K!! :yikes:

But I think trinkets and toys are superflous in the car, because the car is not about luxury, it's about fun. You're right - it IS a go-kart, and it's supposed to be. That is what makes it so much fun. Get it without all the electronic crap, and I think the price is reasonable. I come standard with more toys anyway than a 3 series does. But agree, after a year or so, dealers will, well, be more open to dealing. Right now they will not sell for less than MSRP - but at least they're also not selling for more either.
 

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The local dealer will only give test 'rides' and only with an appointment. :thumbdwn: Another one is opening up, so I'm gonna see if they're more receptive to normal test drives.

And although the S isn't for sale for another week or two, all the test ride ones are the S, and the CVT (automatic) are shipping, as there was one marked sold on the lot last week. Interestingly, the dealer is showing 2 cars that are decked out with tons of non-factory addons, like funky roof stickers, DVD/TV, rally lights, ugly wheels, and so on.
 

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As my sig says, I am going to have my pie (eh, cake) and eat it too. The S is going to join the 323i. I can see both happily co-existing together (well, WWII is a long past memory, I think).

Btw, just talked with my dealer. Still wait listed till 2003. I wish Cutters would have applied for a Mini franchise. Potential Mini buyers think MSRP as a good buy.:cry:
 

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I saw a new Mini on 19th Avenue in San Francisco a couple days ago. My first impression... small. The thing is REALLY tiny. At that size, it's basically a toy, which is cool if that's what you want. Right now there's a big novelty factor that's keeping prices at MSRP and above. It'll be interesting to see whether the demand is still there in a couple years.
 
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