The new, hot little number

I don’t like adorable cars. Adorable cars break, are underpowered, emphasize style over substance, don’t last and ultimately may not be worth much at trade-in time. And thus it was with mini-Coopers, which have attracted a part of me since the new generation was introduced in the early 2000s.

But I revisited them every few years, as I cycled through a Chrysler PT Cruiser and a non-very memorable Nissan Murano and a genuinely cool Volvo C30. I looked at a Mini in the last two purchasing cycles, but the cars were either too small or too big or too unpractical. They just didn’t hit that sweet spot, even though I admired their styling.

Not this time. Last year, Mini came out with a four-door hardtop — better-looking than the Clubman, smaller than the SUV-in-disguise Countryman, bigger than the base model, hot as hell in the ‘S’ model (and honestly, not bad on power even without it). So when the Volvo started doing the things that cars do when they might start costing you a whole lot of money, I decided it was time for a new vehicle.

Behold the result:

mini

This Mini is a “program car” — it was used as a loaner for a few months and then put back in stock. It has only a little more than 4K miles on it but is about $5K off the price of a new unit, even though it’s less than six months old. It’s the hot little ‘S’ model, and even though it isn’t tricked out with some of the cool tech that’s now available on Coopers, it’ll do the job that I need it to do. And it’s the cheapest car I’ve purchased since, oh, the 1990s.

It also gets 40% better city gas mileage than the Volvo (which was a hot car) and is a rocket. People talk about the “go-kart handling” of Minis, and although that really isn’t true any more, the ride is wonderfully firm without feeling uncomforable or teeth-rattling. And it roars off the line, and you can go 80 in it and think you’re going 50 in no time. And it is shockingly quiet for a small hatch.

The reality is that, over time, these Coopers have had more and more BMW technology slipped into them. They’re still assembled in England, but the engine and everything important except the basic design is very much Bavarian. It is precise and hot and very, very fun. And it has the utility I need as a musician, with the hatchback and configurable rear seats/hatch. Hey, I think I love it.

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