(update down below. tl/dr - we’re buying it!)

Yesterday my wife took a 2015 Mini Cooper S 4-door on a bit of an extended test drive. I know, I know, it’s literally called a “Mini” but people keep complaining how they’re getting bigger and bigger... but hey look at it next to my 3-wagon:

Here in ‘Murica, The Land of the Bulbous Crossover and Daily Driven Full Size Truck, it’s still a pretty small car!

I got to drive it a bit, and man, is it fun. I’ve been driving a 2006 WRX quite a bit lately, and this car is every bit as fun, and a good bit more civilized. I admit, part of that is the condition of this particular Subaru - but also part is the serious turbo-lag-to-head-against-the-seatback transition (of the WRX). It corners just as flat as the Subaru, and feels like it would be competitive in a straight line, if a little less exciting. The difference in low-end torque was obvious and much appreciated in the Mini, even though the Subie has the 2.5.

Granted, this Mini is an automatic, so I was messing around between Normal, Sport, and Green modes (using a selector switch mounted on the shift boot surround), in addition to Sport mode on the shifter (which is what you get when you bump the shifter over toward “manual” mode but don’t actually push it up or down to select individual gears). So in full-on Sport, you get 6 gears to pick from and it can really keep you up in the power band, rather than the 5 of the Subaru, which was also a manual. That’s more fun to me, but you have to watch that big center-mounted tach to stay in the power, which takes some practice for sure. And then, it’s so binary that it can be tricky to stay out of trouble. It just begs you to go faster, and makes great noises while doing so.

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The Mini makes some good noises, too, though. For example, in Sport Mode on the selector and Sport Mode on the shifter, I found that when I let off the throttle from, say, 4,000 RPM, I’d get some playful popping sounds from the exhaust - seriously! That really made me smile. The engine note on hard acceleration was nice too. But slap this thing into Green mode and it reeaaallly doesn’t want to downshift. You even get a little graphic on the screen showing you how well you’re doing driving economically. I bet you could eek out close to 40mpg if you drove it carefully in this way. More realistically, 35mpg would be doable without much effort.

I did my best to line it up in front with my 325 wagon, and look how much shorter it is in the back! That, and being only FWD really help it feel a LOT lighter than the bimmer wagon; but not flimsy.

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Of course it looks good - at least, it looks like a Mini. One of the negative things people say about this car is the rear doors being very small for adults. But my kids are little, and my wife would be using this as a commuter anyway, so kids wouldn’t even be in it that much; adults in the back, even less.

This particular example also has just under 8,000 miles on it - it’s probably only had ONE OIL CHANGE. I mean, I’ve never bought a car with less than 75,000 miles, if you don’t count my truck (that’s a bit of an exception). I would really not mind having a car from that early on, but avoiding the new-car depreciation hit. This car will return good fuel economy while still being a hoot to drive fast if you want. It will be good in the winter with snows; it’s comfortable, and has enough space for all of us to go somewhere in it if we want to.

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If this were up to me, we’d be signing papers on this car. I wish it was a manual, but then, my wife is on the highway or in city traffic, neither of which is a great place to have fun with a manual, so she’s fine with it. And in Sport modes, the car’s shift points feel intuitive to me, unlike in our Volvo which seems like it always wants to be a gear or TWO up from where I’d be unless I’m driving like my mother, who stabbed the brakes today going 35 in a 35 when she saw a police car.

Oh yeah - the interior - it’s nice. The wheel was very nice to hold. The seats are sport seats with all the bolstering you could want, and the rest was very BMW-ish with lots of Mini personality touches like color-changing lights, blah blah blah. Switches felt good, controls were mostly intuitive (except, for some reason, the UP button on the wheel goes BACK a track in music, while the DOWN button goes forward - WTF?) Otherwise, it’s great. My wife summed it up well. “It is really fun.”

Yeah. I want it. But it’s not my car to choose. My wife is also really into a particular 2012 X3 M-sport, which I’m sure is nice and more refined, but also more car than we really need. We’ll see.

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UPDATE! We’re buying it! It’s $10k less than a new one, but has so few miles as to be basically new. It’s just about the perfect compromise efficiency, practicality, and fun; it’s also nice inside, while not being too “luxury” - and it avoids the BMW badge stigma while still basically being a BMW. With her job, it’s best if she doesn’t have a flashy car. And she loves zippy little cars; I think she’ll soon be very attached to this one.

More to come.