Finding My First Love Again
An owner shares her journey to owning her first MINI CooperBy Aleene AlthouseI was no more than eight, still okay with holding my mom’s hand when we went to Fisherman’s Wharf for a day trip. Busy sorting through souvenirs and snapping pictures, something caught my eye glinting from the corner of a shop. There she was, bathed in shards of fog-sliced sunlight – my first mini. Covered in gold coins from roof to fender as a showpiece of the odd at the Guinness World Record Museum, I fell for her diminutive stature. My eyes danced over her cheerful lines and racy good looks. Then, tugged away for a clam chowder lunch, I swore I’d own her some day.It would be years before I’d see another MINI, but her memory barely faded as the years grew between us. Then suddenly, like an old flame reconnecting through Facebook after time apart, the MINI landed back in the US and became a real possibility for me. It was an obsession to own one, and I finally purchased a used, bright red MINI Cooper S in the fall of 2004.Originally intended to be a second car, I had mistakenly believed my MINI would be cramped, sluggish and cute but unrealistic for everyday driving. It immediately delivered in the feel-good department, becoming became an extension of my personality, with friends and fellow MINI drivers giving me a friendly wave everywhere I drove. But, I also got more than I’d bargained for with its agile handling, space-efficient interior and dashboard that resembles cockpit controls. Being a private pilot, this was icing on the cake.Even the basic model offers generous features and the signature MINI styling, but my S series also boasts the handling of a luxury car thanks to its BMW engineered suspension, brakes and 181 hp engine. I live in the mountains and log a lot of miles, but the MINI’s superb handling chews up windy roads, steep grades and blind curves with its sporty, low to the ground chassis. In town the tight turning radius and approximate 5 foot by 12 foot size also make quick errands a joy.My extended family consists of many four-legged creatures as well as two, and I’ve been surprised by the amount of space the passenger and cargo areas provides for toting my precious cargo, far surpassing the comfort level of my other car, a Honda Prelude. Seating is enduring high-quality leather with an attention to detail, and the rest of the retro-inspired interior pays homage to the original British-born design of the sixties, allowing easy cleaning and access to tight areas without trouble.This isn’t the car for the budget-minded or eco-conscious consumer. Although MINI-USA recently introduced a carfun offset program for owners, this automobile is not a gas sipper if your wallet is thin or you are comparing it to a Toyota Prius in terms of eco-consciousness. My mileage averages 21 mpg city which is lower than one would expect for such a small vehicle. If you live in a remote area, it would also be wise to determine if there are reputable repair shops within distance, as many won’t touch the MINI’s sophisticated systems. I’d wasted countless hours and dollars on repairs and misdiagnosis before finding peace of mind at The Driving Machine, and would recommend you check in with them before you purchase. This could make or break your success with owning your MINI.Oil changes are less frequent than other vehicles (averaging every 7000 miles) but require synthetic oil, and just like other fine German automobiles, when something goes wrong, you’ll pay the going price for repairs, which is no bargain. I’ve been diligent about scheduled maintenance, which works well when working with a knowledgeable shop. Not a great car for careless college students or new families starting out, the MINI is something you’ll want to set your sights on when you are ready.Owning a MINI often begins with a tug of the heartstrings, but unlike the siren song of other niche cars, this one always pays off. It makes me smile when I think of it, offering more than just looks and reliability. My MINI Cooper S is my signature pocket-sized car, and other MINI owners will share the same sentiments. If you are considering one as an addition to your family, first consider your lifestyle, budget and long-term needs, but in the end I’m sure your heart will win out like mine did.