The day I’ve anticipated for 2 weeks came and went. After a chilly drive down (the 1st half with the top down, until we got too cold) I drove right by the dealership. The Mini place shares the building with the BMW folks and it is a new building that is attractively landscaped. Unfortunately the palmetto trees and other plants practically hide the place from the road unless you know it is there. I guess this is probably OK with them because it fits more in with what I think the BMW car dealer philosophy might be, if you want one of our cars, come find us. Not like your basic US/Japanese dealer where the cars are on spinning pedestals 6 inches from the road with flags and balloons flapping everywhere. Really, has there been marketing studies that found a direct correlation to balloons and car buying desire.
We turned into a different Hendrick dealer’s lot and tried to snake our way back as it looked all connected. It was not and we ended up way out back, close to the BMW service area. There were a couple of Minis back there that we looked at for a few minutes before going in the service counter and asking where the Mini dealership was located (it was still not apparent from where we were.) On the short walk over, I dragged Donna over to see a BMW Z8 that was in for service. Donna wanted to know what the big deal was and I said, “It’s like a hundred thousand dollar car.” She harrumphed and said, “It’s ugly.” In magazine photos I thought it looked real sharp, but in person I had to agree with her.
When we arrived the place was strewn with Minis of all variations and colors. We met out “Motoring Advisor” Dana and she set about lining up a couple of cars to drive. My only requests were to drive a base Cooper and an S, with one of them having a sunroof. First up was the base car with no sunroof. It had some dealer installed 16″ wheels instead of the standard 15s, too bad, I had hoped to try the base in stock form so I could gage ride/road feel and handling differences when I got in the S. Didn’t really matter as the MA rides with you and guides you on about a 10 mile loop. You get a half a mile of Interstate and then just city streets. There is one patch of a road with a couple of bends in it, but nothing to really gage the handling capabilities. Next was a drive in the supercharged Cooper S. The normal S tester and the one she wanted to take us in didn’t have a sunroof either. I reminded her that I wanted one with the sunroof, so off she went to find one that fit the bill. Found one but I think that she didn’t want to take us in it was that hadn’t really been fully prepped. It still had plastic on the seats and cardboard all over the inside. It didn’t matter to me because all I wanted out of this was to see if I felt the extra 50 horses were worth the $3K over the base. Out for the same 10 mile loop.
When we got back I had one more request, I wanted to see some cloth seats. The base had leather and the S had the leatherette. The fake stuff was a very nice quality, the feel and finish would fool a lot of people, but I think cloth would be better than the vinyl and leather at $1600 was too much for too little. And if I was buying a Mini I think the cloth would be the way I’d go. There was one she could show me, but Dana had to go back inside to get the key. After we stood around a bit idly chatting about colors, I thanked her for her time and asked for her card. I think we both knew that I wasn’t buying.
Here is why I’m not buying: Neither blue in person blow my skirt up, after that any color was a compromise and neither Donna or I could pick one we really liked. The inside was too plastic feeling, the door pulls felt really cheap, the dash when you touched it had the feel of the side of a Barbie pedal car. The rear view mirror on the inside reminded my of a child’s compact mirror. It was small and quirkily shaped and surrounded by a 1/2 wide plastic frame. On the first run we started out with the A/C on and the fan seemed really loud for the amount of air it was putting out. On the second run with the roof open and both windows down it was really noisy, even at city driving speeds. Almost as loud as the Miata with full top down and if you are going to have that much sound and fury, why not have the whole convertible experience. The sunroof from the inside didn’t seem as big as it does looking at it in the roof. I didn’t find the dead pedal until I was stationary back at the dealer looking at the cloth interior. I was not impressed, Donna on the other hand didn’t like it at all. A ten mile, 15 minute drive is not enough of an experience to really tell if you like the car, for that length of time a new Chevy Cavalier is probably a wonderful car. I guess if you were meant for the car that is all it would take, but having owned a Miata, I needed to be sold and wasn’t.
Here is some of the nice things. The base car, although 15 HP shy of my Miata and 200 lbs. heavier, felt just as peppy. Not being a big HP guy the S version wouldn’t have been worth it. Good thing too, as the hood scoop sort of ruined the cute front end we both thought. Damn thing is cute as a button. Plenty of leg room, I had the seat forward a couple of notches. The doors opened really wide. Did I mention it’s cute?
Donna said it best for both of us, the inside doesn’t live up to the fun promised by the outside.
Purchased Today: $14.00
Money spent since 03/03/03: $2641.54
Started down, went up, back down, still down.
Top Transitions since 02/02/03: 283