Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A disappointing MINI adventure

Summer's proving to be pretty quiet on the business front as you'd expect.

So picking a morning without any meetings scheduled, I arranged a test drive in a Mini Cooper S. I'll be adding a daily driver to the fleet in the Autumn, and the Mini's ('MINI's') combination of quality, performance and low running costs makes it appear an attractive package. I've tried the old supercharged versions in the past, and loved the chassis BMW's engineers had bestowed on their little fwd speedster.

The dealer pulled a used car off his forecourt for me to take a spin in, a current model, 18 months old and showed 15k miles on the odometer.

I'm afraid I was disappointed.

The MINI has a great driving position and demonstrated a decent level of straightline performance, but the drive-by-wire throttle map was very non-linear, giving lots of throttle early on then flattening out. I imagine this is to give an impression of large reserves of performance, but in reality it shoots its bolt early.

Additionally, the brakes are the usual modern over-servoed mess, ruling out heel&toe down changes on the road. The steering was light and lacked feel, and the interior and position of the instruments was nuts; a giant useless central speedo and a tiny digital readout in the tachometer that disappeared if you used the drivers information system.

This car had the ubiquitous Chilli pack fitted and as I expected on the ride on its 17" runflats was harsh over broken tarmac, but what I didn't expect was a cacophony of squeaks and rattles around the interior.

And in my natural driving position rear leg room was non-existent, removing much of the point of the two rear seats. Its also expensive, a Clubman 's' in the showroom was stickered at £24.5k

I was hoping for a car that was practical and stylish, but with real depths of ability under the bling. But I’m afraid for me the compromises needed to appeal to its natural fashion-led non-enthusiast market ruin any claims it has of being a performance car.

A faint glimmer of hope emerged when I contact MINI customer services later in the week. I understand that non-runflats might become a factory option from September's build. Its a faint hope, I'll try some of the competition in the meantime, and try to get a longer drive on normal tyres. disappointing


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