Driving Cross Country in a New Mini was a Total Blast
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Blinded by my love of rear-wheel-drive and naturally aspirated V8s, I never took Mini very seriously, and I can now say that was wrong of me. I know better, and all it took was four days, over 1,200 miles, and three huge states to show me just what I’d been missing. When I first got the invitation to join the Mini Takes The States rally, my interest was less in what I would be driving and more in the fact that driving such a tiny car for that many miles had to be one of the most absurd ideas that I had ever been presented. As a fan of absurd road trips, I was definitely in. I mean, how could anyone not want to find out what it’s like to road trip a car that looks like it’s meant for the exact opposite of cross-continental travel? PHOTOS: See More of the 2015 Mini Cooper Hardtop
My first leg was from Grand Junction, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico, followed by Lubbock, Texas, then Austin, and finally Dallas. It was a journey that picked its way through some of the most gorgeous mountain roads that I’ve ever seen, some of the straightest, most desolate highways imaginable, and everything in between. Every morning, hundreds of Mini Coopers of every variety gathered to start the day together, grabbing a quick bite to eat before we hit the road for another leg of the journey, hoping for clear weather and minimal speeding tickets.
At the end of it all, the most surprising thing was how impressed I was with those little cars, and not just by how comfortable they were, even 1200 miles later. Minis may not be tire-melting Hell-dragons that deform faces with their astounding acceleration, but somehow, every time I got behind the wheel of one, I ended up smiling. Sometimes I even giggled like a little girl. Perhaps most impressively of all though, when my current car finally travels to the shadowy beyond, I think I might actually buy a new Mini.
PHOTOS: See More of the 2015 Mini Cooper 5 Door
My main car for the rally was a Thunder Gray Mini Cooper S with a John Cooper Works appearance package and an automatic transmission, but I also got time behind the wheel of a number of other cars, including one wrapped with an American flag design and one loaded with aftermarket performance bits that was shrouded in secrecy. The 3-cylinder base engine has a lot of moxie and, for most buyers, it’s the option I’d recommend, but if you’re an enthusiast, you really want to bump up to the S. Get it with the manual transmission, the amazing tweed seats, and the cottonwood interior, and you have one heck of a cool car that’s a hoot to drive but will still average over 30 mpg in mixed driving.
Honestly, if you’re looking at entry level luxury cars like the Audi A3, BMW 2-Series, or Mercedes CLA, give the hardtop Mini Cooper S a serious look. Personally, I think it’s the best choice.
PHOTOS: See More of the 2014 Mini Superleggera Concept
The best thing about the Mini Takes The States rally though might be that it isn’t really a press event. It’s not an event that Mini throws together for car writers so that we can poke interior panels and measure backseat legroom. Instead, it’s an event that Mini throws together for its owners, and as a member of the press, the experience was really a sneak peek into what it’s like to be a part of that community.
Most of these owners weren’t necessarily car enthusiasts in the general sense of the word, but they sure loved their cars, and if you drove a Mini too, you were immediately part of the club. Stopped in a traffic jam outside of Durango, Colorado, that had traffic at a standstill for nearly an hour, I ended up having a chat with a couple owners about the different options that we had on our cars. Why? We both had Minis, and that’s just what you do when you’re going nowhere. Standing in line to get my picture taken with a Texas longhorn, what happened? Strangers talked to me about our Minis. At the hotel bars each night, how did I make friends? I just picked out the Mini owners and said hi. Half the time though, I didn’t have to do anything because people started conversations with me. They were that friendly.
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Apparently being a part of the Mini community is a lot like being a part of the Wrangler community, just with better gas mileage.
There are a lot of cars out there that are good cars, and there are a lot of brands out there that love their customers, but far fewer brands have cultivated as strong of a community as Mini has. They may not be for everybody, but there isn’t a vehicle in Mini’s lineup that’s a beige transportation appliance, and in today’s car market, that’s pretty rare. They’re willing to laugh at themselves a little, they’re willing to have some fun, and events like Mini Takes The States show just how much the customers love them back. Maybe more brands should take a page out of Mini’s book because they’re definitely doing things right.
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