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Old 4th March 2006, 05:49   #1
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Default 72 Hours with a Mini Cooper S

I had been itching to drive a fun car ever since I got to the UK. What I really wanted to drive was a 911 Turbo or at the very least a humble Boxster. But then all these fun cars could only seat 2 and I couldn't really see a scenario where I took off for a weekend leaving my wife and my 3 year old at home.

Well I could see me taking off, but not being allowed to return.... ;-)

Sometime in November '05 when I rented a Citroen C4 from Enterprise they gave me a 15% discount voucher for their premium rental agency, Guy Salmon (www.guysalmon.com), which was valid till the end of March '06. A quick browse through the Guy Salmon showed me that a Mini Cooper S was probably the only car that would accommodate my wife, my son and my need to have a bit of fun. Scooby Doo, Renault Sport and a Mazda RX8 were ruled out since they seemed to be able to seat 4 or 5 adults in comfort!!!

After a lot of internal debates on throwing away 200 odd pounds for a weekend rental, I decided to get on with it.

Just to put things in perspective, £55 will get you a Ford Focus 1.6 and £65 a Mondeo 1.8 from Hertz for a weekend. And these are not bad cars in any way. Well they are probably even better in many ways!!!

Before I called Guy Salmon called a couple of other folks who specialised in Minis and none of them seemed any cheaper than Guy, even without the discounts. So called Guy to find out that Hard Top Mini Cooper S' were in high demand and that from the location where I wanted to rent, in central London, they would be able to get me one in, hold your breath, 3rd weekend of August of 2006!!!

The soft top was more expensive by £100 and my guess was that it would not be as rigid as a hard top and I wasn't too keen on getting all of us down with pneumonia, driving with the top down in the middle of a British winter, which was/ is getting colder, windier and wetter.

After a few minutes of pleading on a premium number they came back saying, YES, they could do some juggling around and get me a hard top for the weekend of the 17th of Feb.

Damages so far
- Over fifteen minutes on a 0870 premium number
- £1000 deposit for damages
- £215 for a 3 day rental with a pickup from home on Monday evening
- £50 deposit for fuel

Car details
Engine Displacement: 1598 CC 4 cylinder engine with a supercharger and inter cooler
Max Output : 170 BHP @6k RPM
Max Torque : 210 Nm @ 4k RPM
Gear Box : Manual with 6 forward and Reverse
Claimed 0-62 mph : 7.2 S
Claimed Top Speed : 138 mph

After booking the car, I spent the next few weeks trying to identify "fun" roads in the south of england. Definition of "fun":
- Non Motorway and non Dual Carriage way - Either B roads or small A roads
- Should have the National Speed Limit of 70mph for decent stretches, without getting into towns and villages every few miles

Found on some forums that there were decent roads to the south of London, towards Brighton. So that was decided.

After all the preparation and announcing a day off from work on Monday to maximise my time with the Mini S, came the pre-rental blues on Friday afternoon.

For the first time in my life, I'm about to drive a car with more than a 100 BHP, picking it up from Central London, where driving is a night mare, with a deposit of £1000 on the line. Spent the whole of Friday afternoon trying to memorise the path of least resistance from Bayswater in west London to my place in east London. I was sure that once I got into the car, I would forget the route in under 5 left/ right turns. But then I had to try.

So at sharp 1600hrs on the 17th of Feb, I was at Lancaster Gate, finished the paper work and they promised to pick up the car from my place on Monday evening at 4pm. The guy, at the counter, not Salmon, brings the car out to the front. Its a light metallic blue and I'm impressed by the pleasant deep sound of the engine.

In the excitement, I notice that theres something wrong, but cant quite put my finger on it. So after the customary walk around to note all the scratches already present, it strikes me "This things a Soft Top!" hmmm I'm not too impressed, but I'm too excited to be bothered. If I wanted to be really cool, I could have refused to take it!!

I get inside and figure out the levers for the seats, see the 6 speed box and the guy shows me how to work the roof and shoos me off. Before I shoo off, I notice theres a Sat Nav unit on the dash! Woah I didn't ask for this!!! I'm anxious to find out how to work the thing so that it can get me home without me getting hopelessly lost in Central London. Somewhere in between the guy explaining the sat nav, I notice a graphic of a speed camera on the Sat Nav screen and start hoping that the unit has one of those speed camera detectors available in the UK, but apparently illegal elsewhere in the EU. The guy advices me to turn off the sat nav, since it would probably take me through the Congestion Charge Zone in Central London and cost me a fine. So I turn the off the nav part, but I like the compass on the Sat Nav, which helps me go North and hit the North Circular (A406) around London.

While adjusting the seats, they appear comfy, with plenty of adjustments for lumbar and height adjustment. Adjusting the mirrors I find that I can hardly see anything in them. The whole of England and Wales could be after me without me knowing. Pretty much nothing is visible in the rear view mirror with those roll over bars behind the rear seats and the canvas top.

Turning your head to cover the blind spots don't help either due to the canvas all over the place where the rear window and quarter glass should have been. But then thats that.

The Retro speedo in the centre of the dash looks really cool. I notice that the big plasticky tacho above the steering also has a digital speedo. Hmm a car with 2 speedos? that's a first, but then a lot of things are a first here.

I engage first gear and release the clutch, the low end torque seems to be on the lower side, with a tendency to stall if not careful. I start moving and within the first 2 miles, I'm surprised by all the squeaks and rattles. The car has done less than 8000 miles and already there are so many rattles! Probably got something to do with the the folding roof and reduced rigidity.

The retro looking speedo meter in the center of the dash is impossible to read if you are driving with your eyes on the road. The font on the digital speedo with the tacho is too small to read!!! Bottom line, if you want to know your speed, your guess is as good as mine.

After a while I hear this beep coming from somewhere on the dash. Now what the hell is that??? The Salmon Guy didn't tell me anything about any beeps. Is this thing due for a service??? A hundred thoughts run through my mind. Then I notice a circled figure of 30 on the Sat Nav. AAAH that looks like a speed limit. I look around and sure, there are the white marks on the road indicating the speed camera ahead and there is that speed limit board. 30MPH! NOT BAD!!!!

With all this excitement, I'm starting to feel hot. Look around for the window switches. Damn, where the hell are they? I notice a window icon on a switch above the rear view mirror next to the switches to operate the roof. I press one, nothing happens. Then I press the other and yeah, the "rear windows" go down. Now how the hell does one operate the front windows!!! At the next signal I look around and notice the 6 toggle switches on the dash. They look good. But what the hell do they do? Ah are those 2 window icons? Yeah baby!!! Finally! Hmm 2 window switches on either end, mean its difficult for the driver to lower or raise both together. The other switches seem to be for Stability Control, Door Locks and the Front and Rear fog lamps.

So all that seems fine. Now if I can pick up Prithvi from his baby sitter's place before 6PM, we are set for the weekend. One last thing to figure out, how the hell do you engage reverse. I'm sure to need the reverse gear at the Baby sitter's place. Trying all the usual tricks to engage the reverse while waiting at signals don't seem to work. OK OK, there must be an instruction manual somewhere in the dash which says how to engage reverse. Over the next 4-5 signals I figure out how to engage reverse. Its quite a task and you wont need to spend much time in the gym to work out your left triceps, if you engage the reverse regularly!!

By the time I reach to pick up Prithvi at 1750 hours, I'm quite exhausted by all these non standard procedures. What happened at the baby sitter's really pepped me up. My 3 year old had been telling everyone who would listen that his dad was getting him a Mini Cooper! The baby sitter's kids (a 10 year old boy and a 6 year old girl) were more excited than Prithvi. The moment I rang the bell, they ran out to the car and were all over it. They even wanted a drive around the block. The thing is that the Mini is one of a handful of so called British icons left in the world. The fact that the Mini is owned by those terrible German folks at BMW doesn't seem to curb the enthusiasm and pride.

According to the kids "Everyone loves the Mini" and "Everyone makes way for the Mini!!!" I was actually surprised to see that last part was true, while driving around the block! People actually moved over for the Mini, not that it needed much way ;-) (As you must have guessed by now, the baby sitter is a Brit)

After all that, Im yet to find a positive aspect about the the car. While waiting for my wife, Sahina, to turn up, I show Prithvi how the roof goes down and then he wants to go around with the roof down. He does not understand concepts like hypothermia and wind chill yet.

Anyway, after Sahina gets home we finally hit the highway at 830PM to get to my sisters place which is 70miles from where we stay. We get there by 930pm taking the A12 (which is not a motorway, but a dual carriageway most of the way). Thats when I start to appreciate whats under the hood. The way the Mini shoots forward with just a light prod of the right foot in 3rd gear is phenomenal. a SERIOUS kick up your backside every time you shift down and press on. Even in 6th gear at 90mph, there is sufficient poke to keep you moving forward. Shift down to either 3rd or 4th and we are in serious kick ass territory.

The other things I notice are the:
1.excessive wind noise - This is the worst car I have driven in terms of wind noise, even worse than the Ford Focus. But then what can you expect anything better from a hard top which had its roof cut off?
2.Poor ride - On the bumpy British roads, which are nowhere as bad as the worst Indian roads, but nowhere as good as the best road surfaces in India, the Mini is very bumpy. Even the steering is Fidgety. Probably has to do with the low profile tyres, run flat tyres and the fact that it doesn't have a tin roof.

Next day I confirmed that the tyres were 40 profile on 17" alloys.

Incidentally, the Mini has Flat indicators. Its identified based on any differential in the rolling radii of the 4 tyres. If any one tyre goes flat, a light will glow on the dash. But if all 4 tyres go flat, tough luck.

The next day we drive through the “B” roads in Essex visiting a vineyard in Mersea Island (picked up some local wines and beers, for later consumption of course) and driving through half a dozen other obscure names. On the twisty B roads, I start to get into the groove. My wife and sister have taken it upon themselves to ensure that I get a read out of every speed limit board we pass :-)

BTW, there was sun in the morning and we managed to drive for about an hour with the roof down. The moment you bring down the roof, there is SO MUCH space for a change.

After the sun disappeared, we got the roof up and my sister started complaining about claustrophobia and nausea and what not.... btw, to let her sit without crushing her toes and to give her 4-5 inches of room to keep her leg, I have to raise my seat and move it forward, after which to get in and out of the car I had to recall every Yoga lesson I learnt 3 years ago!
But driving through the B roads in 3rd gear at 70mph is serious fun. the sound, the poke, the way the car turns..... Every time I take my leg off the accelerator, I notice the "phut....phut" from the exhaust. I start down-shifting and taking my leg off the throttle, just to hear the phut phut and get the kick up my back side while pulling away.

I also realise that the way the throttle pedal is linked to the floor, rather than being suspended from the top, makes it easier to rest your foot on it. Avoid the brake and just play with the throttle and the gearbox. Hmm NICE....

Saturday late evening, on the way back to my sisters place , we turned a hard “N” corner at about 60mph and BANG there was this car stopped there with half of it off the road and the other half on the road, and we had another car coming in the opposite direction. Fortunately Im in 3rd and gently shifting the right leg from the gas to the brakes brought us to a stand still, safely!

Later in the night, we go out to do weekly shopping for my sister. After the shopping, we had difficulty fitting all the shopping bags in the tiny orifice they call a boot. And we didn't even buy a kitchen sink!!!

The next day we head back to London and we cover the 70 miles in under an hour. Half way through the drive, I get more evidence for my theory that high speed in a higher gear is not as scary as lower speed in a lower gear. If I were to do 80mph in 3rd gear the speedo limiter in the passenger seat says I'm going too fast. If I do 100mph in 5th/ 6th gear, she is cool!! Anybody else ever felt this?

After lunch, at about 1630 hrs, I head out with my son, for a spin. My son acts very grown up when its just the 2 of us in the car. We do over 200 miles on that Sunday evening in pouring rain. 70mph feels really fast on the motorway in that rain. All that poke is very useful when passing trucks in the rain. With all the spray they leave in their wake, you want to get over them as quickly as possible. I realise that focussing on the tail lamp of the vehicle in front is the only way to get past such trucks. Of course you need to look out for any signs of braking from that vehicle too.... At 70mph in pouring rain, blinded by spray and wiper on full blast, life feels much faster....

Without my sister in the back, the seat pushed back and lowered to my comfort, the drivers seat is very comfortable. The passengers seat also has the height & lumbar adjustments. That was a fun trip. We did about 200 miles in under 4 hours, with a one hour sandwich break, in between, for my son.

Later in the night, my neighbor wants to be taken for a spin. After the signal outside my gate, I dumped the clutch and pulled away with the ASC switched on in slightly wet conditions. The car just pulled off like crazy. No squeeling wheels though. The ASC light on the dash started flickering and I could feel the steering going all over the place. After hitting about 70mph, i stayed there. Somewhere I had a feeling I saw my neighbors heart outside the windscreen ;-)

Anyway, the next day, Monday, I headed out in the morning with my son at about 0930hrs and did another 200 miles through A/ B roads between London and Brighton. That was one AMAZING drive. really enjoyed the torque and the grip and handling without really crossing the speed limits. My personal feeling is that the speed limit of 70mph on the A/B roads in the UK is quite liberal. 70mph on the motor way though is too conservative.

On the motorway, I crossed 100mph several times. I think the max I did was probably 110mph. At 110, the Mini S felt as if it had another 20 mph left in it. For a change I pulled away rather than pulled over for the "speed lane clearing kidney grill”, i.e. BMW's.

Couple of times, while starting from standstill, I accidentally pushed the gear into reverse while trying for the first gear. At an Auto Toll bridge it was most embarrassing to back up into the car behind, while the toll gate was opening for me in the front!!!

Got back home at 1530 hrs and the Guy Salmon Guy was already there. I was rather sad to return the keys after having done over 600 miles in under 72 hours and spending more than £85 on fuel.

My 3 year old was consoling me and asking me to take a Subaru Impreza WRX the next time around. Now hes a mans man!!

To summarize
The negatives, not in any particular order
- Congested seating space, in the rear and in the front if there is someone in the rear
- The BIG retro speedo and the tiny speedo on the tacho, both of which are useless
- The reverse gear - never falls in when you want it to and falls in when you don't want it to
- The excuse for a Boot
- Pockets on the door: Due to the odd shape of the pocket, you cant keep anything in it. Rather you can keep things, but you can forget about taking it out
- Build quality - all those squeaks and rattles in a 6 month old car which has done less than 8k miles? Is this a BMW???
- Shady quality of plastics - the fake metallic dash looked really cheap. Not in a car worth over £ 17k
- POOR ride
- Excessive wind noise
- Poor visibility in all directions except ahead
- claustrophobic with the roof up

The good, in order of appeal
- The power and the way car pulls away irrespective of the gear
- The way the car handles on the twisty stuff
- The accelerator pedal
the way its hinged from the floor and not suspended from the top
the effect it has on the car
- The phut phut sound when you take you let go of the throttle after revving it up
- The drivers seat
- The toggle switches on the dash

While the negatives of the Mini Cooper S were very tangible, the positives were far more subtle. Maybe a picture of me, beaming, a week after returning the car would have helped convince about the Mini effect the supercharges your emotional health and reduces your blood pressure....

I can think of a master card ad
Mini Cooper S for a weekend with all its draw backs - £215,
90 Liters of fuel to cover 600 miles - £85,
The expression on my sons face when the roof goes down & the smile on my face a week after driving the mini cooper S – priceless

The tell tale signs that tell you its a Mini Cooper S and not a Mini Cooper

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Old 4th March 2006, 09:03   #2
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Hey Rahulmd,

Thats a really well written review and im sure you are glad you did it! (and i agree with your son...next time WRX (sti )

80mph in 3rd gear the speedo limiter in the passenger seat says I'm going too fast. If I do 100mph in 5th/ 6th gear, she is cool!! Anybody else ever felt this?
So absolutely true!

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Old 4th March 2006, 12:37   #3
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Extremely well written and thoroughly entertaining review, RahulMD. It really takes a true enthusiast to pick a Mini Cooper S over a WRX, and have a blast in it.

Seems that your son is a junior BHPian in the making. About the women - I remember Rehaan to me once that they are just unnecessary weight

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Old 4th March 2006, 12:53   #4
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awesome write up.. and good quality of pictures..but isint it difficult to judge from the rear view mirror and the amount of visibility you have?? and the website has some really cool cars that one can take for hire but i really did not like the age restriction.. only the minicooper had the 25+.. the rest of them were all 30+...

Last edited by Godfather : 4th March 2006 at 12:59.
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Old 4th March 2006, 19:05   #5
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wow man, 300 pounds for a rental mini+fuel. You are indeed an enthuiast.

Next time, pick a hard top and a dry weekend.
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Old 4th March 2006, 20:14   #6
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EXCELLENT WRITE UP!! ... almost felt like I was there!
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Old 5th March 2006, 13:04   #7
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90 litres for 600 miles(960 kms) is an average of about 10.7kpl.

Thats awesome for a 1.6L supercharged engine.

But, u still paid over 70 rupees for a litre

Btw, excellent post and good for a sunday afternoon. I rate u 5 stars!!
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Old 5th March 2006, 23:47   #8
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Thumbs up

glad you had a nice time with your family in the Mini S!
you've expressed yourself very well. had fun reading the review!
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Old 6th March 2006, 11:50   #9
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You had me waiting for this the past 2 weeks....

"Half way through the drive, I get more evidence for my theory that high speed in a higher gear is not as scary as lower speed in a lower gear. If I were to do 80mph in 3rd gear the speedo limiter in the passenger seat says I'm going too fast. If I do 100mph in 5th/ 6th gear, she is cool!! Anybody else ever felt this?"

Absolutely right.. my speed guv'nor in the passenger seat goes "boss... watch out.. tsk tsk" when I take the revs up in lower gears and starts dozing off at 120kmph in fifth !!!
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