Why Your Car Sucks/Rocks: Mini
When BMW bought and revived the Mini name in 1994, the automotive enthusiast and historians were joyful, but it was in 2001 that the motoring world received its first truly new Mini model in decades. The Mini Cooper was reborn as a larger-than-before, but still-diminutive runabout was a breath of fresh air to an automotive market that was afraid of taking risks. Some have argued if BMW has bastardized the Mini brand, while others say they have taken the marque to new heights. Here’s what we think. Why Your Car Sucks: Mini has lost its way. The first sign of this was with the Mini Clubman. Granted, the clubman panel van style was a callback to Minis of old, it still signaled the model bloat to come. Then came the Countryman: a Mini crossover. That was it. Mini had jumped the shark and built something decidedly un-Mini. I understand that the brand needs variety, but creating larger models water downs the brand. Also, the centrally placed speedometer is one of the worst things you can do to a car’s interior. We speak of distracted driving as a problem, and have systems like head-up displays, that keeps a driver’s eyes on the road. Meanwhile, half of Mini’s offerings feature a massive speedometer in the center of the dash. It is ugly and dangerous. Note to all automakers: This is the single dumbest interior design that one can employ.
Probably the only other beef we have with Mini is its drivers. Well, not those owners who purchased a Mini Cooper S for its handling and the epic driving experience that it provides. No, I am speaking of the person who bought it because it was “cute.” Stop it. You have plenty of other cars out there from which to choose, like the Smart fortwo and Volkswagen Beetle. Take your dash-mounted flowerpot elsewhere.
Why Your Car Rocks:
We didn’t really have much to knock on Mini about, because they are so damn fun to drive. When a car handles like a go-kart, we can forgive any manner of ancillary deficiencies. We can’t stress enough how well Minis handle. Take the Mini Roadster S, for example. Turbocharged powerplant, 6-speed manual and a sublime clutch aside, the car handles on rails. The term “handles on rails” is an automotive journalist’s trope, but a trope that applies in this sense. In rounding a turn in the Roadster S, if you hit a pothole, the car almost rotates on an axis, and locks in again on its previous course, like a lid to a jar of pickles being properly snugged.
Back to that engine and transmission. The 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 181 horsepower, and features an overboost function, which can temporarily raise the torque by 20 pound feet. How the hell does it do that? We don’t know!
That power is sent to the front wheels through one of our favorite 6-speed manuals. The gearing is too damn perfect. Not too soft, not too snappy. It’s just right. On the whole, certain Mini models handle better than their rear-wheel or all-wheel drive competition. We usually loathe FWD, in favor of a nice rear-wheel setup, but it’s hard to pass up on that drive feel.
For all the knocks about its interior, at least Mini is willing to take risks. Sure, there are a lot of new car designs out there, but cars still seem vanilla in a lot of cases. Mini does things different, and for that, we should give them nothing but love.