Recently my wife and I left the Twin Cities for the fine city of Chicago. Involved in that move was packing up my R53 and my wife’s Honda CRV with all the things that weren’t going with the movers. Seats folded down, we all know how spacious the MINI can be. Even laden down with our TV and other miscellanea, the car was still fun to drive. The 400 mile trip passed easily in my R53, but sadly, it would be nearly a month before I got behind the wheel of my favorite car again.
We spent a month in company-provided housing downtown, which was fun in its own right, but there was only one parking space provided. Rather than dropping $32/day, Gabe was kind enough to let me park my MINI at MotoringFile HQ until we found permanent digs. That left me stuck with the CRV — a car about as exciting as a boiled egg. It handled feet of fresh snow duty without a hitch, and hauled all the things we needed to haul around, but the CRV is definitely an A-to-B kind of vehicle. So when we found a place to rent and call our own for a while, it was time to get back behind the wheel of a real car again.
Even covered in six inches of snow, I was glad to see the old boy again. I put the key in, turned to start, then pushed the clutch in. My MINI fired right to life, just like it always does. Sitting in the cockpit, I was reminded of all the things that really set the MINI apart. I fit in it better than any other car I’ve ever driven. The seats are sculpted and more comfortable than the Honda I’d been driving for the last month. That, and they’re heated. Man, have I missed those heated seats. Best of all though, was the noise the car was making — that happy, burbling growl. Notching into first, I pulled out of the snowy parking spot to that pleasant snarl and the oh-so-sweet whine of the supercharger. The slushy street was the only thing keeping me from just burying the throttle.
It was nice to be down low again — back in a car with a proper center of gravity. The feel of wheels at the corners was refreshing as well. It’s great to be back in something so balanced and sure-footed. Most of all, I was thrilled by the MINI’s weight. Gabe is fond of saying that lightness is the MINI’s defining characteristic of driving character. I think he’s right. There’s something effortless about my MINI — about all MINIs. Sure, it’s not the fastest car on the road, but it’s the epitome of getting out of its own way.
It’s not all great in my car right this moment though. The control arm bushings are badly worn, and subsequently the tires are getting to the end of their tread life. But for all the slop in the front end, my MINI is still utterly charming. For all the things I can name and the hundred more I can’t put my finger on, a month away from my MINI has helped me appreciate it all the more. It’s reminded me of just how much I enjoy my R53. At nearly 90,000 miles, it’s still the most fun I get to regularly have on four wheels. For all the newer MINIs that tempt me from time to time (can anyone say Paceman?), I always come back to this car — to all its faults and all its charm.