December 16, 2012

The Practical Mini

It’s Dec 16th, 2012, and there’s snow falling outside.  Not enough to have to shovel, or to even really stick yet, but the city noise is dampened, and kids out there have their hopes for a white Christmas renewed.  I figured, there’s no better time to go over why I have a Mini Cooper as my daily driver than when people are going to start considering it a foolish choice.

I have a 2008, Mellow Yellow 6 speed Mini Cooper I’ve named Donovan.  I love that little beast.  If driving for you is a chore, you’re in the wrong car.  I learned to drive a stick in 2000 when I was selling cars for a living (remember, the .com bubble burst and I was looking for anything at the time since my contract with the university was up and there weren’t alot of help desk gigs open.)  But Donovan is the first car I’ve owned that wasn’t an automatic.  (The mazdas I had with the auto-stick don’t count.)  I will never go back.

Aside from the fact that you’ve got so much more control over your driving experience, and manuals just make you a more involved driver, you have all the control in the world over your torque and traction.  (Well, after you turn off that stupid traction control, that is.)  I’ve had fewer problems with snow in my ultra-light Cooper than I had in any of the mid-sized sedans I’ve ever had.  Rather than trust the computer in the car to know when to shift, it’s all in my control.  My peak torque is in the 4000 rpm range, so if I have to get out of somewhere, I’m leaving the gear low.  Add in that, unlike most manual transmissions, the reverse gear is accessed by shifting up and to the left, instead of the usual down and to the right.  After I’d lost the fear of shifting into reverse by accident at a red light, I discovered how much of a boon it is to have reverse so close to first.  If I love it for no other reason, it makes shifting between the two gears so much faster, and that can really come in handy when you’re trying to rock out of snow.  

Yes, it’s a tiny car.  To many people, that fact alone makes a Mini impractical.  Consider this though.  For much of my commuting history, I’ve driven 10+ miles each way.  I rarely carpooled with anyone, so I was putting all those miles on by myself.  Even when I had a Ford Fusion, I was getting right around 22 miles per gallon on a good day.  In the Mini, even with my lead foot, I get somewhere between 31 and 33 miles to the gallon in the city.  And that’s based on the 13 mile commute from my old house with 45 stop lights between home and the front door of my building at work.  Over time, a 30% increase in gas mileage is going to hit you in the wallet.  In a good way.

Also, I don’t have kids.  I don’t have to worry about whether getting into the back with a carseat is a hassle.  The only thing that I’m concerned with is if I’ve buckled the seat belt on the passenger seat when the dog rides with me so the weight sensor doesn’t make the “fasten your seatbelt” chime the entire trip.  

The idea that there’s no headroom or anybody taller than 5’9” could fit comfortably in the passenger seat is a fallacy.  I’ve got a friend who’s easily 6’5” and we’ve made it out to dinner just fine with Donovan as the chauffeur.  

I will admit that I do like the puzzled looks I get when I pull into the parking lot of either a home store or a bulk warehouse place like Costco or Sams Club.  You can bet that I don’t have people ask me to help them move, but the joke’s on them.  I’ve managed to get quite a bit in the back of that car.  The rear seats fold down, and the hatchback lets items that are a little bit bulkier than the standard trunk deck lid can accommodate ride with ease.  I’m bragging a little when I say that I’ve gotten a 42” tv back there with no problem other than “This isn’t going to scratch the windows, is it?”.  If you tell me I’ll never be able to haul anything,  I am gonna call bullshit, because I’ve done it.

You know another thing about a teeny little car that rocks?  Parking.  More than once I’ve laughed at the dirty looks I’ve gotten for being able to fit my baby into a space most people would need astroglide and a lobster dinner to even attempt.  It’s easy to know where your corners are, and it makes parallel parking two turns of the wheel simple.  

Lastly, an argument that I’ve heard over and over is that I shouldn’t have bought such a silly little car because of the weather we have here.  I should have gotten something “practical” with all wheel or 4 wheel drive.  My response to that is I think the speaker’s definition of practical might be a little warped.  I did a quick and dirty, completely unscientific poll (which consisted of asking my fellow inmates in the cubicle farm at work) asking how many days a year we have weather that might prevent someone from driving somewhere.  The consensus was, a total of no more than two weeks out of the year.  So, 351 days out of 365, there isn’t a problem with driving.  Sure, it might be hot and test the ability of your AC, rainy to the point you have to slow down and use the wipers on the spastic flailing setting, or cold to the point of your battery protesting getting going with a slow roll into ignition.  But you’re still going to get where you’re going if you keep your wits about you, watch out for other drivers who think 4 wheel drive is equal to 4 wheel stop, and use appropriate speed for the conditions.  For all of those other days, and 14 is a stretch, this is what vacation time, or leaving the house an hour early so you can battle through the snow and ice are for.  

In the 4 years I’ve had Donovan, I think I’ve been stuck to the point of needing to be pushed out three times.  (Bear in mind that two or three years ago, we had a storm that snowed the majority of people into their homes on Christmas.  So, we’ve had some nasty storms.)  That was mostly due to snow depth that stymied even an average mid-sized family sedan.  I was pushing too much ahead of me for my little svelte beast to get through.  (I’ll also say that I didn’t spend much on the tires I’d put on the car.  Had I gotten more winter-ready tires instead of the entry level all weathers ones, I’d have been better off.  But, again, practical suits all seasons, not just one.)  If I’d have had a truck with a two foot ground clearance, I would have been ok on those days.  But I’d have been in much more trouble trying to feed that “more practical” monster at the pump.

Lastly though, I have become a pleasure terrorist.  Meaning my time spent on the road is because I want to be there, not because I have to get to work.  My commute these days is playing frogger with traffic.  Since I started at my new job in Sept, I’ve been able to walk to the office.  So, really, I don’t even have to have a car to do what I need to 75-90% of the time.  Between my two feet and the internet for doing other business like renewing my plates or paying bills, I don’t know if there’s a reason to leave the surrounding 6 block area other than the desire to.

So really, Donovan and I make sense together.  You say Potato, I say runs on irregular.

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