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Fare Thee Well

May 21, 2008

The last (and only) time I wrote a valediction for a vehicle was three years ago, when I bid farewell to a certain Land Rover Defender. Now, it’s time to do so again.

I’ve had a fascination with Minis ever since seeing The Italian Job way back in 2003. At the time, they were wholly incongruous with my passion for offroading, but as the years wore on, the damn things kept bubbling up. It took three years, but in May 2006, I broke down and ordered a 2006 Mini Cooper S.

The Mini didn’t spark my love of small cars. That honor goes to my brief time in the 2002 Mazda Protege5. But the Mini cemented it. Now, after almost two years in the little gray rocket, I couldn’t imagine going back to some of the big, blundering vehicles I’ve owned in the past. And, in all honesty, I have trouble seeing myself driving anything but some form of a Mini from here on. Everything else just seems so…boring.

What is it that I love so much about the Mini? First and foremost, the handling. I could do without some of the jarring, but on good roads, the suspension comes alive and makes the car taut, eager, and agile. Add to that some of the best steering feedback I’ve ever experienced, and what you get is one of the best driving cars around.

Second, the styling. The contrasting roof and ridiculous-yet-somehow-fitting sport stripes. The bonnet scoop. The toggle switches and oversized, centrally-mounted speedometer. These cars abound with personality, and the ability to build them to order, exactly the way you want, really highlights the limitations of just about every other car on the road.

Third, the space. Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Mini is surprisingly roomy. I’ve never once felt cramped, not even when the wife and I took off on a road trip to Colorado last year. Okay, so it can’t swallow a refrigerator or a big HDTV, but let’s be honest, neither can any save the largest SUVs.

I’ve come to love this little Mini and everything it represents. It’s hard to let it go, but times change, and at least with the Clubman I’ll be able to fit Nolan’s car seat without having to sacrifice the joys of owning and driving a Mini.

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