When I last wrote about our MINI, I had just returned from the cross-country drive and absolutely loved the car. We've now covered more than 10,000 miles in just over three months and, while still in love, I've noticed a few things. First, gas mileage took a fairly serious nosedive once it hit the Left Coast. On long trips, we're struggling to eke out 33 miles per gallon-still an amazing number, but not the 36 to 37 averaged cross-country. We'll blame that on our 91-octane gas. Surprisingly, we haven't noticed a reduction in power, just economy. In the mixed use of daily commuting, we're averaging an impressive 31 mpg.
Also, we're less than thrilled with the real-time traffic monitoring of the navigation system. It seems it wasn't quite designed to deal with the mess that is Los Angeles. It sees a slow-down on the current route and then diverts without apparently checking the new route. You get on the new one, then it wants to divert again. It would work great in a place where accidents and jams are rare and easily avoided, but in a place where every freeway is slow at rush hour, it's more of an annoyance.
Our other real complaint is the moody 'comfort access' system. It sometimes takes several pushes of the doorhandle-mounted button to lock or unlock the doors from outside. Not that big an issue, but it can be uncomfortable for a driver attempting ingress in a dark parking lot. The good news is that the key fob remote works fine. As much as I like keyless ignition, I might skip this option if it were my car.
I realize how nit-picky those complaints are on such a great vehicle. It doesn't matter what flavor of exotica is in for short-term evaluation, after a few days out of the MINI, you begin to miss it. Everything about the driving experience is just about perfect. We're planning on replacing the standard run-flat rubber and that will likely make things even better. I won't be able to smoke both front tires off the line any more, but I'd rather have instant acceleration to exploit the limited-slip differential- an option box I would definitely check, even at twice the price.
The MINI has been used to haul all sorts of things, from boxes of auto parts to camera gear. It's incredible how much can be wedged into the back with the seats folded down. With the seats in position, the car sees regular use as four-person transport. A three-state drive in back is probably less than ideal, but dinner and a movie for two couples is easily bearable.
As promised in the introduction, we've run a few canyons. Rabid may be the best word to describe how our MINI attacks the twisties. With predictable manners, good brakes and an excellent powerband, the car takes to the hills in ways that would make many a sports car jealous. Its size allows the driver to take full advantage of the width of a single lane and run a real cornering line where larger cars must simply follow the centerline. It stays planted over elevation changes and a mid-corner throttle lift can cause a little tail swing, especially on off- camber stuff. The small turbo spools up quickly, meaning almost instantaneous throttle response coming out of turns.
The MINI isn't the most practical car, but its fun factor competes with many two-seaters. We plan on making a few aftermarket improvements, modifications that average owners could do. Nothing that will affect the car's character and basic goodness-think of them as complements or enhancements to the basic form. Although we may break the mold and do some aesthetic mods.
At A Glance
Canyon-carving rockstar, surprising utility - Traffic avoidance and 'comfort access' systems
Mileage: 13,369 Fuel Economy: 31.0 mpg