Life | In The Driver's Seat

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In The Driver's Seat
Text by Jahnvi Dameron Nandan
Published: Volume 17, Issue 11, November, 2009

The Mini drives Jahnvi Dameron Nandan around the style bend

What is it about my car that gets me so many hoots? My wheels, the Mini Cooper S is a two door hatchback in basic cream with a black top and two sporty stripes on the bonnet. So itís definitely not the colour. Mine is even plastered with my husbandís nifty company logo three sizes larger than it should be, legible from the moon, and not exactly a crowd puller. So what makes the Mini that popular? After all a Mini is not a Rolls or a Bentley. Itís not even a Z4. Itís what Mr Bean drove and constantly crashed. Itís also what Ms B Spears drives.

I love my car and knowing that others love it equally makes me slightly giddy every time I meet a smile or thumbs up of approval. My Mini is like a buddy to go to a rave with. Itís an addiction, a non-stop speed party, a really hot number. And with all the iPod, iPhone connectivity and super woofers it was meant to be just that. If youíre young, a great car makes you mature. If youíre old a great car makes you accomplished. Whatever age you might be, a Mini makes everyone look young. Itís an instant face lift, the four wheel version of an immaculate white shirt.

But the Mini does take some getting used to. When I got mine, I moaned at how low slung the seats were. You needed a kangarooís agility to get out. The speed loving previous owner of the car changed the original Mini seats to sport seats. What a pain, I thought initially. But Iíve grown to love them. On weekend trips to Paris, kilometres crunch in great shape. On long distance drives, the Mini responds marvellously through its seat and steering. Just lock the cruise control, lean back and feel the turbo unleash.

If you havenít had the chance to drive a Mini yet, just go online and read the thousands of gushing Mini blogs from all corners of the world. They unanimously declare that the Mini is the most iconic car in that price range on the planet today. And with BMW as parent, that price range, by the way, is mini car for maxi price.

Life in Switzerland offers driving around mountain curves daily. What I love in the Mini is that I donít have to brake for that turn. Its super turbocharged engine actually has a special overboost mode that turns these mountain curves into adrenalin charged go-karting grounds. And that proper six speed gear shaft is total ease. Whether you are in a Milanese traffic jam, rainy Stuttgart or slicing the Great St Bernard Pass, better still doing all three in the same day, the Mini performs! Yes, and because it can do that, some find it a tad rough. To them I say, get a Civic! Itís the low slung seats and the rigid body, quite like in a Porsche, that makes the Mini susceptible to less than perfect roads and meandering curves.

Those like me who love the Japanese automaker spirit know what driving comfort means. An automatic gear shaft and temperature control, comfy speed panels and heated seats. In fact every possible option comes in the basic version of most Nippon cars. Add to that real petrol performance. The Cooper is none of that: the gear shaft is hard and needs getting used to, the low clearance and rigidity makes you feel the bumpy country roads, and if you do the six-hour Geneva-Paris-Geneva run, be prepared to tank up twice at least. And this is certainly not your box if you are into calculating your carbon imprint. And contrary to what Mini fans chant, in Europe you cannot fit into that parking space despite all the bumping-the-bumper Parisian parking tricks. The Mini is not all that mini.

As for the boot space, I like a decent fashionista-sized wardrobe to travel with and the Mini has never disappointed. The rear seats fall down flat to create more than sufficient place for two large suitcases. But I warn you that when you ask visiting friends to get into your two door love affair, only your contortionist friends shall manage without a dislocated shoulder or language abuse. And once our friendís two-year-old son insisted on being taken for a drive in my car, and we had to choose between the baby or his car seat.

So back now to explaining the hoots: itís the looks I gather. Supermodel or roadside construction worker, all love the Ďfaceí of the mini, the winking lamps, floater blinkers and snubby body. Besides no two Minis are alike. When you buy a Mini youíre offered stripes for the bonnet, spoke styles for the wheel and even flag designs for the roof. Add the thousands of interior options to that and youíve got a unique made-to-order car in your garage. No one customises as much as Mini lovers do, and there are some really outrageous paint jobs out there.

As far as I know, itís only the Mini that comes with its own nifty little matching caravan for those who want to bring more Mini style into their lives. Youíve got to be a designer at Mini to come up with such an oversized accessory. The caravan copies the Miniís curvy body and low height. Put together they make even the most hardened uptown city slicker crave for a night out in the wilderness.

And now that Iím moving to Paris, Iím dreading having to trade my Mini for something else. Parking in Paris is impossible and the mayor has decided to make people pay up on Saturdays too. So perhaps itís time, I should give in to my dream of driving a vintage Vespa 150 with an original chrome leg shield trim. From a Mini lover to a Vespiti the change in the ride might be dramatic but many more hoots are certainly in store.

Jahnvi Dameron Nandan is the author of Tokyo Style File. A self-confessed travelista with the budget issues of a fashionista, she is now working on her new book on design.

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