Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mini Haha - no little injun.

Some time back I mentioned needing to replace the poor old Peugeot 307 - it had only done 120K miles, but was already beyond economical repair in terms of cost vs resale value.

Now, after years of driving cars that were designed to work for everyone else, Chris had suggested that I should find something 'for me', though of course common sense prevailed and that didn't happen, which is why there isn't a 70's Porsche 911 targa or some other impractical fanny magnet ( ;-) ) sat on our drive. However I am grateful to have had her support and encouragement to find something other than another cheap/large as possible family estate car to plod around in for the next 10 years (high point of the 307 was to see how many MPG could be squeezed out, and it once managed over 740 miles on a single 65 liter tank :p ).

Well, after much research and a few test drives I ended up having to decide between a Mazda 6 sport estate and a Mini Countryman. The practical limit I set was that whatever car was chosen, it MUST be able to take my mothers mobility scooter sideways across the boot, and Chris must be able to lift it in. That ruled out a bunch of cars that were too narrow, including a hot Volvo estate, Alfa 164 sportwagon (I was disappointed about that - gorgeous car, crazy high sill, tiny boot) a couple of smaller 4X4s and a Fiat 500L like we had in Canada last summer. I was VERY tempted by a BMW 3 series estate, but just didn't feel comfy in something quite so opulent.

The Mazda I really liked in many ways: full of toys (speech recognition to control the computer, Bose audio, cruise control & sat nav etc) and with a decent engine turning out 180bhp, it was easy to drive and potentially very quick. It was large, comfy-ish (18" alloy wheels made it a bit jiggly) but still just a bit boring and not the drivers car I'd hoped, plus there were a few signs of not being cared for as well as it might have. 

The Mini OTOH was less loaded but every bit a drivers car. Loads of feedback from the road, also jiggly but with handling that keeps the car down flat and makes you enjoy the sensation of cornering and accelerating. Space was surprisingly good inside, though bear in mind this is about the same size as a VW Golf, and the design has really caught the flavour of the original , though in a much larger vehicle

I ended up trying 3 before finding the combination of right car at right price, the first of which was just outside Oxford and too expensive (and under-spec'd) the second from a mini specialist was just a dog with stuff that didn't work and lots of damage (advertised as immaculate too!). Number 3 was good though, with mostly the right accessories and a good long service history that could be believed, Cooper D spec meant a slightly more powerful engine (same output as the pug, but revvier) and it had leather trim plus 3 seats in the rear for 'family' use.

We collected it from the dealer in Northampton around 9am on a Saturday morning 5 weeks ago, loaded it up and then went off camping at Transform 2015 in it. Confidence or foolishness? ;-)

And the verdict after 5 weeks of ownership?

It's tricky. People have kept asking if I'm pleased with it, but a simple yes or no doesn't work for me. I mentioned it's a drivers car, but it's also a car that you have to drive - there's no brainless mode, especially in traffic - and every gear change, every corner needs input and care to execute smoothly and accurately. When we had our friends with us recently we had to use 2 cars getting around, and there were times when it took work to keep up with Chris in the beetle because I needed to drive smoothly for the sake of my passengers. At the same time, when you get it right then it feels really good, and the car goes round corners on rails. 

It's idiosyncratic. For example, the key is a large fob that goes into a spring-loaded slot in the dash, and to start the car the clutch must be depressed before pushing the starter button by the key. When driving in traffic, if you stop in the queue then the engine cuts out and re-starts automatically when you put your foot on the clutch UNLESS the driver has taken their seatbelt off, in which case it won't start at all. This particular car had the 'visual boost' pack comprising a large screen in the central speedometer with information about CD/radio, car servicing, phone contact information etc. but nothing about fuel consumption or temperature: all that is confined to a small 2 line display in the rev counter above the wheel. Talking of which, the info displayed there is limited, and one has to scroll through it with button pushes, but before we sorted this out it seemed that we would see randomly selected info about temperature, fuel consumption etc in the display.

It's comfy. The leather seats have the usual adjustments plus a lumbar support that can be made more or less prominent, and off excellent support and comfort, particularly holding front seat passengers when cornering hard Rear seat passengers do have decent leg room with the rear seats (splittable 60:40 and slideable) fully back, but less support than those in the front. Suspension generally is firm, and poor Luke got bounced out of his seat a couple of times when we went over big bumps. On the motorway and at speed on other roads this makes much more sense, and the ride is good with enough compliance to be fine but without any of the softness that went with a French car. Having said that, swapping over into Chris's beetle a week or so back, that felt as if it glided over the road, which goes to show that not all German cars have a hard ride.

It's (probably) economical. The first couple of tanks of fuel are never going to be representative of what a new car can deliver, and this one has required very different technique for driving than the Pug. With that car one would accelerate up to speed, let the car settle and then gently back off on the accelerator to just before the point when the car would decelerate. It seemed that this was designed in somehow, and with care, instead of getting 40mpg at about 65mph one could get 60+mpg on a flattish road. Remember I said the mini was a car that must be driven? The throttle control is really precise, so after accelerating to the chosen speed, any backing off results in the car going slower There is no slack, no vague or economical zone, and the engine does just what it's been told. So far I seem to be seeing an average of around 45mpg vs 53mpg for the Pug.

It's got long legs. They geared this thing TALL, probably for economy and emmissions, but it again makes for a challenging drive, especially when pulling away, and there's no chance of slipping the clutch in on tickover and giving a generous bootful to just power away, because it either just creeps away (still not as gutless as a Ford Focus though!) or, worse, stalls. Gotta drive it away from a standstill too. The upside of this is that you can hang on to a gear while accelerating and, with the revvy nature of the engine, it just keeps pulling when other cars run out of breath. 3rd is good for 80mph without strain, which is as fast as I've been so far. 4th gives the same revs as 5th used to in some of the earlier diesel cars I've owned and 5th is higher than the Pug top gear, plus there's a 6th too for motorway cruising. 

So this afternoon, while it was raining, I gave it a wash.

Washing cars seems pointless most of the time, especially round here, as within days they get coated with mud again and a thin layer seems to offer more protection. ;-)  But with a new car it's good to wash it at least a couple of times to increase familiarity and have a chance to check the vehicle over. So I found a couple more stone chips that I'd not spotted before, water has been getting into the front foglights, and they need cleaning out & sealing before winter. Other than that it seemed pretty good. And I washed Chris's car for her too. :-)

So overall it's a demanding little beast to drive, but I'm glad I made the change now. Another 10 years time and I'll be ready for something fat, squashy and effortless, while keeping fond memories (I hope) of Mini Haha.

Sorry for the phone cam pic.


  1. :) you are amazing with your sense of automobiles. Makes me smile.
    We too are in the market now, but out here it seems that my only major requirements after a long difficult winter last year, is that it has four wheel drive and minimal miles. The miles I seem to put on here each year are easily over 35000 and seem to add up quickly.

    Course after those basic requirements there are things like gas economy, comfortable seats, smooth but tight control. Out here everything has gone SUV and is still quite big. Which only interests me as it concerns getting through the unplowed highways we regularly face.

    Then too here the quality of the roadways has been getting worse and worse and when I use Lauralea's Focus, I can hit a hole that sends me right back to the shop for repairs. That can and does happen regularly. Whereas a larger SUV or a minivan can handle the bad roads with ease and less cost for repair.

    So right now i am a little stumped.

    I guess cost is a thing too. I've saved a good chunk or at least what I would consider a good chunk for it. But it still seems to be a big enough concern.

    Anyway its good to read up on your story. Helps me sort though my choices too.

  2. If I can make you smile then that's good (and mutual).

    What do the farmers, the workers of the land drive round your way? That might be a practical choice for those winter wanderings.

  3. Pretty much all drive large trucks or SUVs around here.
    The front wheel minivans are quite affordable now but the idea of one person in the van to drive to town kinda chokes me.

    The trucks are more costly yet will get a similar mpg. You just don't look like an environmentally insensitive person when you drive them. You look like you fit in here. :)

    The SUVs are mostly a level higher in cost and so they take a greater up front commitment.

    I drove through a dealership today and the used prices ranged from $15000 to the $60000s.

    Almost more than our first house.

    But I was encouraged last night when I came across an old photo from 2007 of my odometer on the Plymouth voyager we had. It was when we hit the 370000 km mark. I had no idea it lasted that long. So maybe minivans aren't so easily worn out...

  4. I remember purple fog. ;-)

    Guess you don't get smaller 4X4s over there like we do here, which might offer a bit more economy. It's probably hard to get ones head around the environmental thing, but OTOH if you're continually breaking an ordinary economical car on those roads then it might be more 'green' to drive something that didn't fall apart over potholes. The guys farming in Africa drive Mercedes as much as they can for the longevity on bad roads, rather than because they're posh.

    *Personally* I'd probably be looking for something like a Mitsubishi Warrior crew cab diesel or similar, that should do about 30mpg and cope well with snow & potholes. There are quite a few round this way, bought as semi-industrial vehicles, but doing duty as domestic cars because the economy and comfort is reasonable. The thing is that you're no longer working in a city, and as much as it pains me to say it, economical cars go with smooth clear roads and city/summer driving in your part of the world.

  5. I'm curious on how many miles your little ride has on it. I'm also curious how much you paid for it, but you may not want to answer that here.

    I was online today a bit looking at cars for sale near by and they started to blur into each other.

    I need to do a bit more thinking on the subject. And praying. That usually helps me with this stuff as well.

  6. It's 4 years old, 70K miles on the 'clock' = 112K kilometers and we paid ten thousand less 700 for the pug.

    Cars do blur after a bit, and I used to sometimes dream/nightmare about them too, when I've looked in the past. Praying is good, but I often get a 'use your wisdom' from that, though I also trust that I'll be guided away from a real dog dressed up to look good.

    I had a warning come up yesterday, briefly, and the engine was placed in limp mode. It cleared after parking & then restarting, but I'll need to keep an eye on it. There's a 6 month warranty with the vendor, but they are 40min drive away (so like you buying in Wetaskiwin then :-( and that emphasises the distances you have to travel) so not convenient to just drop by.

  7. Oh wow, thats not bad. Especially with that sort of warranty. I can only get about a month of warranty out of one used car places here.
    And I looked for the Mitsubishi Warrior crew cab. It doesn't seem to be sold out here, although it looks like a good option for this part of the world.

    So I'm looking for something in that category for now.
    Thanks Toni.

  8. I notice that there aren't really any diesel powered vehicles for sale, which is a shame because the advantages (long engine life, excellent economy) would benefit Ca, while the disadvantages (particulate emissions - a problem in dense traffic) would not be a problem with your wide open spaces.

    I might still be tempted by an SUV in your situation. Our next door neighbour has a mitsubishi outlander and really likes it, although his is the 2L turbo-diesel version and relatively economical compared to a 3L 6 cylinder vehicle. But a crewcab would be very practical. Toyota Tacoma? I see everything used a 3L + engine, so that's any kind of sensible enconomy down the pan, though at least the engine should be running with so little load that it will last forever.


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