As many of you know MINI service loaners are a rarity at most dealerships and getting them even at dealers who provide them can be difficult. My local dealer has “one or two” avalaible but in a year and a half I had never gotten one… until now.

I recently dropped off my MINI at the dealer with a loose seam on my leatherette sport seats. Once the issue was determined to be a warranty situation I was told it'll be 2 days and given an Enterprise car. After the wrong part was delivered (due to mislabelling at the warehouse) I was informed that I wouldn't be getting my car back until the Tuesday after labor day. At that point I immediately realized that a stripped down Toyota Echo rental wouldn't sufice for 4 more days.

The Echo was almost as tall as a small SUV but just barely larger longer than a MINI – making for one of the most ungainly looking cars I had ever sen. It had body roll that would have made a Buick owner envious and was as sluggish as MINI on three cylinders might be. Worst of all it felt as if it was built with one tenth the metal and structural intregraty that the MINI has. Needless to say it had to go.

After a quick call from the dealer's parts manager (who I know well) I was able to procure the dealership's only demo/loaner MINI for the weekend.

So enter a fairly stripped down Yellow and Black Cooper. It was optioned with 16″ Wheel/Runflats, DSC, chrome line, and the CVT. Of course I looked at this experience as an opportunity to compare various options and packages to what I had on my Cooper. While I didn't actually have the opportunity to spec our car it did come as loaded as was available in April of 2002. It's a Indie/White with Sport, Premium packges, heated seats, Xenons, 17″ S-lites, Chrome Line, Euro Parcel shelf, MINI FINI Cup Holder, Remus Exhaust, etc etc etc.

Upon first entering the cabin of the loaner I was greeted with many less buttons and no leather steering wheel. I love the idea of the manual heating and cooling controls but they seem a bit less well-executed in comparison to any 3 series from the past 15 years. The steering wheel texture really will take some getting used to as well. I never would have thought I had to have a leather steering wheel but man I really miss it already. Well maybe I don't need one but I really like the feel πŸ™‚

While I love my Xenons I imagine the lack of them won't be a big deal until I get out of the city this weekend. As it stands I barely noticed the difference once I started driving.

The CVT is the biggest change I had to deal with overall. I had driven a CVT before and had come away from the experience determined that it just wasn't the right option for me. I think a lot of that experience and my current opinions has to do with the lack of a software upgrade on both CVT MINIs I've driven. I'm absolutely shocked at how much of a stumble there is in this car from a standing start. In the 90 dgree + heat of a Chicago afternoon it's almost embaressing when pulling away from a light. MINIUSA this is a real issue!

The other huge difference between this car and my own Cooper is the absense of the full length sunroof. You really can't overestimate the difference this makes in the overall feel of the cabin. Of course it's something that you wouldn't miss if you didn't live with it daily. The problem is I live with it daily and I certainly miss it πŸ™‚

So all this comparing got me thinking about all the personal desicions that go into specing a new MINI. The difference between ordering a MINI and ordering, lets say, a Ford Focus is that the MINI is typically a much greater expression of your own personality. Thus it makes the process almost a series of very personal choices.

So it seems that there really is no bad spec when it comes to a MINI – only what you are used to and how it works with your lifestyle.