January 5, 2004

Let's Motor

Allegedly, the calendar tells me that it's January 5th, but I'm inclined to disagree. I spent a few days in Virginia visiting Liz this past weekend, and it hit 76 degrees on Saturday, and I'm sure it was close to that or warmer further south here in Raleigh. We had a fun trip, and it was good to get away for a while. It was a warm up trip for our loooooong drive north at the end of this week when we make the 8 hour trip to Ohio. I'm looking forward to being there, but not to getting there, if you know what I mean. I will get my hair cut by Marvelous Mary, so that alone is worth the trip.

The real kicker from this past weekend was my long awaited test drive of a new MINI. You can read my review below:

My first thought when sliding into the driver's seat was that what I'd heard was true: it's a lot roomier than you'd expect. The three of us (Liz, Janet, and myself) could all fit fairly comfortably in the car. If a taller person was in one of the front seats, it may be uncomfortable behind them, but with Janet and I in front, Liz said she had plenty of room. The back seats are recessed a bit so they have more room than it looks like on the outside. Staying with this theme, the storage in the back, while smaller than your standard hatchback, looked like it could fit more than I expected. One could easily puth three paper bags full of groceries back there. Also, the seats fold down, giving all the cargo room you'd need, provided you didn't have any back seat passengers. I really don't know what the driving would be like for a taller driver, but I've heard that it's no trouble for the 6 foot crowd. I'm told my parents' neighbor drove home in one last week, and she's nearly six feet tall.

The interior is well put together, the main feature being the giant speedometer centrally mounted on the dash. It may take some getting used to looking down and right for your speed, but it's not really necessary, since the steering column mounted tachometer features a digital readout of the current speed as welll as engine RPM. The seats and wheel adjust to give a comfortable driving position and most of the controls are easy to reach. The available multifunction steering wheel and automatic climate control are both options that I would imagine are sold on nearly all new Coopers. (automatic climate control is cool as heck. i know it's not new, but i'm still impressed) Visibility is good out the windows and windshield, which is always a plus. Janet did not really like the small windshield, though she did like it a little better when she adjusted the seat to lower her head so the roof was not so easily in her line of vision. The main drawback to the interior that I experienced was the fact that the glove compartment tends to hit the passenger in the legs when it is opened. Moving the seat back could remedy this, yet it would cause a problem should there be a passenger in the back seat.

The ride itself was the best part. Up until Saturday, my only experience with standard transmission driving was a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle and our 1992 Saab 9000. Now, the Beetle is trash, but our Saab performs very well considering that it is 11 years old. Goes to the construction of the car, I suppose. Given my limited experience, I was not prepared for the precision of the shifting on the MINI. It was unbelieveable how easy it was to find the gears and how smoothly it transitioned from one to the next. A driver with any amount of skill could have his passengers believing they were in an automatic after just a small amount of practice. The handling was as precise and responsive as advertised. The wheels pushed out to the corners did exactly what they promised and exactly what I asked. The brakes (arguably the most important part of a car for avoiding accidents) stopped the car on a dime and gave you back change (as the salesman put it). Owing to the car's light weight, it accelerated and decelerated very quickly, and darted around corners. The turn signal lever could stand to be slightly longer, but that's a minor problem. The car we tested had a sunroof, though we'd probably forego it on our car to save some of the cost. Also, there was a hand operated screen that covered the sunroof that Janet had a really hard time operating, not to mention the fact that it was nearly useless for blocking out light.

Most drivers want solid handling, peppy acceleration, and good stopping power. The MINI delivers on all three accounts. If you're looking for a good family car, this isn't your car, but if you're looking for a relatively low cost car with good performance and and the unmeasureable "cool factor," go get one now. The MINI figures to hold its value very well due to the popularity and relative scarcity compared to many other models. This will not be a repeat of the PT Cruiser, which sold for thousands above MSRP at it's release, but the market was saturated two years later, making it a poor investment. Finally, we're looking at the Indi Blue Metallic color, as seen below, though without the stripes.

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