I was having a bit of think the other day and I have come to the conclusion that I have had the Honda CRX now for 10 years, and I think it might be time for a change. This is a very difficult thing as I am finding it very hard to get excited about any affordable car on the market, and even most of the non-affordable ones!
For those of you that aren't familiar, I currently drive a 1995 Honda CRX, and have been very happy with it for some time. Its major features are:
4 Cylinder, 1.6 Litre, 125KW Engine, and baing fairly light thats equates to being fairly zippy in the traffic.
Nice big boot (to fit Targa roof in)
Prettier wheels than the standard ones
I upgraded the radio to something sensible that plays MP3's with a colour lcd screen.
And everything else is stock standard.
So I guess the real question is - why get rid of it? Well boredom really I guess. You might ask "Is a good car to own?" And I would have to say I think it is - however my sample size isn't terribly large. I got a 1976 Celica when I was old enough, kept it for a couple of years while I made most of the important driving mistakes, then at 19 upgraded to the CRX. So I have only ever owned 2 cars, and turning 30 this year I consider that to be verging on the abnormal - so its time to have that rectified.
Trying to get excited about another car I thought about what I really want in a car:
It has to be charismatic, it has to have a personality.
It has to be extreme in some way - not necessarily speed, but something.
It has to not be American or French
And bonus points if it comes in Green.
I racked my brains and the first thing I came up with was the Mini Cooper S :)
Now, according to the oracle of all car knowledge Jeremy Clarkson from the Top Gear TV show in the UK, the Mini Cooper S is one of the few cars that makes it into "Sub Zero" section on their Wall of Cool empirical rating system. Take a look here - although this is all about the modified Minis with insane amounts of power that really practically aren't much use if you plan to drive them around town.
So I thought - why not go drive one and find out what its like :)
An overwhelmingly casual guy named Joel from the Adelaide Mini Garage was happy to help me out with a test drive of a mini. The name "Adelaide Mini Garage" might conjure some image in your mind of some little shed packed with Minis in various state of servicing and maintenance - forget that! The Mini Garage is the least garage-like building I have ever seen!
After signing some forms and going for a quick drive to get me out of the city and into quiet north adelaide - Joel handed over the keys.
The Mini I was driving looked almost identical to the one in this picture, it was a standard Cooper not the more powerful "S" version - obviously Joel had made the quite accurate assessment that I couldn't afford one. However that didn't stop me from enjoying the experience. The machine appeared to be plenty zippy, with steering light as a feather and accurate as someone with a much larger library of similies than I. Even though this car has less power than my CRX - it didn't feel like it. Where the power in the CRX only really happens when you rev it above 5,300rpm the MINI feels like it has power all the way through.
This could possibly be an illusion - because one of the finer points I noticed is that the accelerator pedal is not actually physically connected - its a fly-by-wire pedal meaining that all the pedal does is tell the computer what to do. This may have been the case for cars for many years but its especially noticable on the MINI.
Another thing that was quite different to the CRX was the quality of the gearbox shifting. The gear lever travel was nice and short, but the action of the MINI gearbox is very sweet. It makes a kind of solid satisfying thud into each gear. Once you start the shift and it has figured out which gear your going into - it does the rest for you.
One of the strange things I noticed straight away on this MINI was that it had the Alloy Patina dasboard material that was exclusive COOPER S. I asked the ever helpful Joel about this and after being amazed that I had done my research, he replied that he had another customer who bought an "S" who decided they didn't want it, and instead wanted the plain Anthracite swapped with this one. Upon closer inspection it was clearly evident why
If you were using the MINI configuration guide, picking dashboard materials - you could be excused for thinking that this is that kind of milled metal surface you see on the top of tables at posh cafe's that sell $5 coffee, after all this is really a BMW. When I actually saw it in the MINI, it was immediately obvious that this was just actually grey plastic with a print on it, and it didn't take too much observation. I didn't expect this as it immediately brought the tone down as it looked very cheap. The idea was great - and if it had been a real veneer of milled metal as the finish (as the picture leads you to believe), that would have looked fantastic. Looking at it now I guess perhaps "patina" actually is BMW for "pattern" ? :)
The indicator is on the European side - so my first few turns involved putting the windscreen wipers on :( But Joel assured me not to worry it was a good way of engaging the auto windscreen wipers rain detector. This system is designed to automatically turn on the winscreen wipers when there is rain. Interesting though this system is, it is not turned on all the time - in fact to engage this automatic system you have to move the windscreen wiper stick down and then back up again. This is then reset whenever the car is switched off. Kinda defeats the purpose of having an automatic rain sensing system really, if you have to turn it on every time. *shrug*
I only did one u-turn but was not immediately happy with the turning circle. It seemed to be really wide, ut this could have been my fear factor at preventing the collision with the opposing curb. The ever casual Joel kept saying there was plenty of room, and maybe there was - but I didn't want too find out.
Anyhow I thought it was a great thing to drive - and obviously the "S" version would be even more exciting! - However I already found that I was getting to 50k's very quickly and really getting a MINI more powerful that the one I drove would be like getting a pet dog in my tiny apartment. I would feel obligated to take it for long drives just to give it a walk!
The other thing is that since this car is really made for taking corners at high speeds, and if your to have any fun with it at all one of the prime consumables will be tyres. So it seems this is what BMW has set out to make the most expensive. Since there is no spare tyre on the MINI they have mandated the use of Run-Flat tyres. These are tyres so completely overengineered that air becomes completely optional, in fact they will run without air for 150km and maybe more. The downside of this is that each tyre has increased cost of $100. This could mean that a round of tryes for your MINI could cost you around $1000 upwards! This kind of thing is a real turn-off and would seriously deplete any enjoyment or satisfaction gained out of safely whizzing round your favourite bend.
Oh well - for these reasons and the fact that I don't have a spare $50k I resolved to keep an open mind to other alternatives.... Like the Toyota PRIUS, which I think I will review next, so stay tuned :)