Posted by: joevanderfluit | August 10, 2016

MINI Cooper: Lovely Fing, Innit?

Once upon a time, in ye olde days of October of 2015, I had reserved a MINI Cooper as a rental car for a long weekend in Seattle. Apparently I missed the “OR SIMILAR” in the fine print; and someone at the rental company thought the rolling malignant tumor sold as the Chevrolet Trax was suitably similar. I didn’t get my MINI. Instead I played Bullitt down the waterfront hills with a damage-waivered subcompact crossover. I’m confident I had at least two of the wheels off the ground at one point or another, as one does when chased by baddies in a black Charger. Fast forward to my birthday, July 3rd 2016. The junction of highway 24 and 22X. The universe did declare that I shall get a MINI Cooper, one way or another, and so the hail the size of golfballs did fall unto my Miata. I filed an insurance claim within forty-five minutes, and three weeks later, (at 1:20 am) I was notified that my little purple buddy was a total loss. I groggily ran through the stages of grief and reviewed the cars I’d flagged as worthy replacements. Later that morning I made an appointment for a test drive and the day following that I had something newer, shinier, and less cratered in the driveway: a 2012 MINI Cooper Baker Street.DSC_0032

Given my last choice of car, the Cooper is kind of an odd duck of a choice. It’s front wheel drive, which is of the devil. It is a hardtop, which is also of the devil. And it has a likely disgustingly heavy panoramic glass sunroof, raising its center of gravity, which is of the devil. It has strut suspension up front and runflat tires. Both works of the devil. It has evils such as traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system. It’s a German-engineered car out of warranty. It may as well have 666 scrawled on its forehead. This car is the devil. This car is also English. But the thing about the English devil?53c0046f0f306c4e649ffc8882211ba6

What can I say? I’ve been in congress with the Beast, and I like it. Hail Satan!

Again, I have to rewind a bit, back to the day when I experienced an epiphany. The day I drove the car that I realized felt exactly how I wanted a car to feel. It was a 2004 BMW 330i convertible. Its handling wasn’t light and manic like my Miata’s was; the 3 was solid and stable. It was second-nature to drive it precisely, to put it exactly where I wanted it, because every control was exquisitely heavy and firm and smooth. Nothing moved without the distinct intent to move it exactly the right amount. Most Volkswagens I’ve driven since are similar, as is the Porsche 911 GT3, but there is something in my DNA that is magnetized towards Bayerische Motoren Werke. Luckily enough for me, in the same way that Mazda resurrected the traditional British sportscar with a Japanese infusion of leakproofing and reliability as the Miata; BMW brought back the iconic stylish and go-karty Austin Mini with a hefty shot of that addictive Teutonic feel in the MINI brand.

Even coming off a Miata, my Cooper’s handling is fantastic. The Miata was a more tactile experience; I could feel everything that car and the road under it was doing through my hands and feet and butt. It flexed and rolled and made loads of noise. It felt like I was heroically hooning the wheels off a vintage racecar every time I drove some banal errand. The Cooper isn’t that. It is a fun park go-kart with a fashionable, shoebox body. I’m not entirely sure it actually has shocks and springs, and the runflats are more or less upsized skateboard wheels, so it also rides like a kart. But that’s not important because it corners like a Speeders Indoor Electric Prokart™. And with modern niceties like air, cruise, tilt and extra fancy bits like the LED mood lighting, heated seats, and bass-heavy stereo it may as well be a Rolls-Royce after the Miata. Plus my legs actually fit properly between the seat and the pedals, so that’s nice. And I’m saving a tidy bundle on gas! Which helps offset the $110 iPod integration cable because BMW part! Yay!

Karty dynamics and mad emm-pee-gees, in a stylish package to boot. I’ve always found the Cooper to be a very attractive car. BMW did the retro craze thing properly when they reinvented the mini as MINI. The classic mini was first a sorely needed postwar everyman’s car that became an icon that transcended social class. It won races while it was driven about town by Paul McCartney, Steve McQueen, Twiggy, Enzo Ferrari…and the working-class dude next door. David Bowie had a mirror chrome one, and Mr. Bean made millions laugh with one. It looked good on everyone. BMW sort of spooned the fashion icon bit off the top and ran with it. It worked. I can’t imagine another car that some working stiff uggo like me can afford that the likes of Elizabeth Hurley or Scarlett Johansson wouldn’t look out of place sultrily slinking out of. It sits like a bulldog, solid and planted with a nice forward rake. The wheels are at the corners where they belong; even if the front overhang on my second-generation car is a bit longer than the true snub nose of the first ’01-’06 Cooper. And the colour and interior flourishes sold me. The Baker Street was one of the three London-themed special editions to be released for the 2012 Olympics: the turbocharged Cooper S Bayswater, the (gorgeous) convertible Highgate, and the non-S Cooper Baker Street – coincidentally enough releasing just in time for the 125th anniversary of the publishing of the first Sherlock Holmes book. Nerdy! The Baker Street came in either black, white, or my brown-beige “Rooftop Grey Metallic” with black hood (or, ahem, bonnet) stripes, roof, and mirror caps. Inside there’s leather seats with diamond-pattern cloth inserts, matching diamond-pattern hard trim bits, and soft trim bits that match the paint outside. It’s lovely. As a Sherlock-goddamn-Holmes edition car should be. Alas, it did not come with a pipe, a deerstalker, or a dear Watson in the glovebox. Nor did it come with a copy of The Italian Job remake, as all these things should.968full-the-italian-job-screenshot

I mean, what car was cool enough for Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, and Mark Wahlberg to use to steal $27 million worth of Edward Norton’s gold? Not a Civic, I’ll tell you that. I keep mentally wrestling with defying the age old lady’s name convention and naming my Cooper “’andsome Rob”. handsome rob

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