It has always been a childhood dream of mine to ride that certain tiny car I'd see a few times in the streets of Manila. At first it was all about curiosity since it was so much smaller than even the Ford Laser and Mitsubishi Colt Mirage I was brought to and from school with on a daily basis. That little car, unknown to me at the time, had so much mystery and styling, I thought. Whatever it was called, all I knew was that it usually sported a black or dark blue body and a white roof. Unfortunately, I was never able to ride one - until now.
Though this 3 door MINI has gone through some changes, most especially in size, the resemblance is definitely there. Unfortunately, my first impressions had a lot to do with the paint job - it's far from the memories of yore. It sports a mustard yellow body (MINI calls it volcanic orange) with a white roof and side mirrors that don't get me excited at all, but that's something you can customize before you pull out your cheque book.
Inside, it seems BMW's engineers transplanted their technology and hired a bunch of juveniles to design the infotainment system. Allow me to explain. By default, the center console's LED ring changes color as you switch driving modes between Green, Mid, and Sport. Moreover, when you press the throttle, the white light of that same ring extends around to become a second tachometer. Above your head, there's a switch to change the hue of the interior ambient lights to, it seems, an infinite selection. I picked red.
The dash has a very well designed layout of dials and gauges. To fit all of them in a compact space, there's just the right amount of overlap. One detail I am not so fond about in the dash is the fuel gauge, which is a horizontal array of eight LED lights.
With all the introductions out of the way, allow me to say this now. The driving experience is epic!
My Wednesday morning started at 7am as a passenger joining my wife and kids on the way through rush hour traffic to school. As a daily drive, the size of the MINI made it perfect beside a bus along EDSA's barrier laden 2-lane traffic. It didn't feel at all like we were too close to either the wide bus to the right, or the crooked line of barriers to the left.
Throttle response was perfect in the stop/go traffic where a mere meter of space in front would equal to enough space for cabs to overtake. After thirty minutes of rush hour traffic, we arrived with the kids who desperately begged to be dropped off in a MINI.
"Fundamentally, the 3 door MINI is a car to be driven in a juvenile manner"
At that point, Kaye and I knew that it would be a huge disappointment to write about the driving experience of the MINI exclusively through rush hour traffic, so we decided to take it to the highway where this was meant to be driven. This time, I took the wheel.
The MINI is extremely difficult to drive within the speed limit. 100km/h on it is like an old couple strolling along Luneta park. For a light weight automobile, this handles too well.
Everything seems to go in slow motion which makes you want to go faster, and faster, and faster. Thankfully, the MINI is equipped with a limiter button on the wheel to keep me from going nuts on the highway. This has a lot to do with BMW's peppy three cylinder engine. Around the bends, some under steer is apparent when letting off the throttle, but when you smash it down, it's a roller coaster on steroids. Fundamentally, the 3-door MINI is a car to be driven in a juvenile manner. It works as a daily drive for sure, but it's like watching Speedy Gonzales leisurely strolling by the beach - it doesn't make any sense, whatsoever.
Fuel economy does not exist in Sport mode, but that should be pretty obvious. From the Fort to Tagaytay and back to Makati, the fuel gauge went from full to 2 bars. That same night, however, fellow Opus Macchina co-founder Ken and I had to go through horrendous rainy Makati traffic from Rockwell to Pasong Tamo extension, then to the MINI showroom via EDSA then McKinley.
We decided to switch to Green (Eco) mode the whole way and arrived still with 2 bars. It knows how to sip fuel, if you command it to. Being squeezed between three buses along EDSA (outside of the bus lanes, by the way) isn't fun at all, but thanks to the loud, high pitched horn of the MINI, the bus drivers knew we existed.
Overall, it must be said that the MINI is a delight to drive. In as much as I would have wanted more time with it and probably a model with more options ticked, I did enjoy my time behind the wheel. Now I look back at that drive in sheer joy and fondness. After all, isn't that what a car like this is supposed to do?
Ex-Public Highway Racer