by Clint Burgess

I finally had the opportunity to fulfill one of my guilty pleasures, driving the Mini Cooper. Since there are no specific Mini dealerships in Eastern Washington that sell Mini Coopers, I solicited car lover Cory Kerr and his little piece of madness on wheels to provide the lowdown on one of the biggest driving experiences in the smallest possible box. It's true what they say about small packages.

The premise of the Mini Cooper is to provide the driver with a superior driving machine as well as the ability to park pretty much anywhere. And don't forget the option to drive on sidewalks, down subway entrances and through shopping malls, should the mood strike you. Actually, the latter examples are usually only accomplished in films, but the Mini is capable of just about anything. The most striking quality the Mini possesses is its size. At 144 inches long and 66.5 inches wide, it is certainly compact. However, there are 41 inches of leg room for the two front passengers, nearly one-third of the vehicle's total length, which is more than enough space for a comfortable ride.

One of the most impressive features on this vehicle is its cornering ability. It literally felt like the car was magnetized to the road beneath. No matter how fast I took turns, there was no possibility of those wheels coming away from the asphalt. This quality and others were what attracted Kerr to the Mini in the first place. "Initially it was the handling and the speed that I liked about the car," he says. Then there was the exceptional gas mileage, the look and the fact that it is a conversation piece. Make no mistake, Minis are hot. While they've been sighted around town more regularly of late, they're still a rarity.

The interior layout of the Mini is unlike anything you've seen before. The speedometer is a giant dial in the center of the dash area where the stereo is usually located. There's a tachometer set just behind the steering wheel that also serves as a multi-function display panel. Ergonomics and functionality play a large part in the layout of the controls and the all-important stereo system. The whole dashboard seriously looks like something out of a space ship. Everything is backlit and easily accessible. Other options on this Mini model included power everything, heated front seats, front and side air bags and a stunning sun roof. Wrap all of this in a tiny package with a 163-horsepower engine and the driver is left wanting for little.

Kerr, however, has bumped into a few drawbacks. "I've only had it up to 100, so I don't know what it tops out at," he says. "The back seat is also a little small." Kerr also notices that drivers seem to want to race him more in the Mini. "I'll pull up to a stop light and some teenager or guy in a muscle car will start revving his engine." But all that's all just a side note when compared to the perks of a Mini. "Girls really like it -- and I recently was able to fit a two-camera/three-light setup for filming in the back." Not bad for a little guy.

Publication date: 03/31/05

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