The current-generation Mini Cooper, Convertible and Clubman (2007-present) are the second iterations of the modern, BMW-produced Mini, originally introduced in 2001. Like the Mercedes lines, they also have internal code designations, which can be found on the (BMW) Mini Wikipedia page.
Last summer my parents decided to purchase a new 2008 Mini Clubman, which is different (and new!) because it has a slightly elongated rear compartment, allowing for greater rear-passenger comfort and more storage space than in the regular-size Cooper. They purchased a champagne colored vehicle, with the standard black interior, run-flat tires and the convenience and premium packages. And it has a standard, stick-shift transmission…so none of that automatic silliness.
Before even entering the car, it feels high quality. When you grip the door handle, it is a thick slice of chrome that ‘pops’ the door open as you depress the inner handle piece. I appreciate these kinds of details because in the end, you’ll grip the door handle each day you drive the car, so it might as well be a tactile delight.
So far, it has been an excellent car. To start, it is built by BMW, so its structure, driving dynamics and electricals are largely BMW-sourced, which is a positive. It has 6 airbags, all the requisite electronic safety gear and definitely feels solid. It also has a tire-pressure monitor system, which I find comforting. Plus, as I said, my parents specced run-flat tires, so the likelihood of having a blowout (or just the hassle of changing a tire on a roadside) is very low.
Anyway, so it’s safe, and feels less toylike in the flesh than it appears in print or online. Unfortunately, the inside is dominated by large, cartoonish details that bring the car’s seriousness down a couple notches. Most of the stereo and A/C controls are a silver-coated plastic that are reminscent of Playskool toys and almost every interior surface is curved or oval-shaped. It reminds me a bit of what an old-school Toyota Landcruiser would look like as a modern car.
Aside from odd design choice (although not offensive, just not sexy), the interior is largely comfortable and ergonomic. Unfortunately (although not surprisingly), the $18,000-to-start Mini line shows some cost-cutting measures on the inside (which I had initially hoped would not be the case).
The headliner/roof/sunroof areas are dominated by cheap-looking and -feeling materials. The headliner is a stiff piece of felt-covered board and the sunroof-surround trim is a cheap, flimsy black plastic affair. The console trim is also made of relatively flimsy black plastic, but so far, nothing has come loose or broken, so maybe I’ve judged it prematurely (at least from a durability standpoint).
As a plus, most other ‘lower-hemisphere’ surfaces are ‘soft-touch,’ which is pleasant. Like I said, it isn’t a visual pleasure, per-se, but it’s comfortable and has enough buttons to play with to keep drivers and passengers interested. My parents got rubber footwell mats, which aren’t my taste, but they work well enough, even though they play up the ‘preschooler’ vibe inside.
Other items of comment: the front windows are large, due to the mini’s squared-off shape, so they feel very expansive, which is nice. Similarly, the sunroof is dual-paned, so it opens in the front and is fixed in the back. Rear visibility is bad though, due to the dual ambulance-style rear doors with a middle separator that blocks the view. Nothing serious but still annoying. At night, the interior is bathed in calm ambient lighting, that is adjustable (5 colors) and generally cool as well.
To the driving experience: the key is a round disk that is inserted into the dash rather than turned. To start the engine, there is a ‘start-stop’ button next to the key slot, which is nothing new in the car world but cool nonetheless.
The transmission has nice throws, and is not hard to engage, although I consistently have a hard time getting out of first gear smoothly…probably a reflection of the frequency that I drive stick-shifts (rarely) and the strong clutch in the car. The engine only has 116 horsepower so it’s definitely a rev-heavy affair in order to get going anywhere. Once at speed however, the engine has good overtaking power and can sit in 6th gear, cruising at 90 mph for hours. I drove the car to Miami (from Tampa) one weekend and it was quite smooth and pleasant to drive.
To enhance the driving experience, there is a ‘sport’ button which gives the driver the option to have tighter steering and quicker throttle response. I prefer the feel with ‘sport’ engaged rather than off, so I typically turn it on when I get in each time I drive it.
Overall, the Mini has been a solid, smart little car with excellent fuel economy for my empty-nester parents. I enjoy driving it from time to time, but probably wouldn’t buy one without some needed additions (xenon headlights, S-package). Anyone who is considering a small, efficient (and damn cool) car should take a serious look at the Mini. I would guess that the biggest hurdle to overcome would be the cartoonish interior, which is unlike any other car I’ve been in. Even so, it’s unique…which is all too rare in the automobile market today.
Thank You for reading!