Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Car-crazed reporter test-drives the Mini

By Gina Daugherty
The Cincinnati Enquirer

There's a certain irreverence that comes over you when you get behind the wheel of a Mini. It's that childhood feeling of swinging the highest on the swing set: Everybody looks at you because they know you are having the most fun.

It's kind of like that - only better. Little Mini packs a whopper of a ride in a condensed package.

The Mini Cooper S - that's S as in "Supercharged"- is the revved up version of the basic Mini Cooper.

It's the one that the Cincinnati Mini store on Stewart Road let me test drive - I got to take a six-speed, turbo-charged, toggle switchin' tour of Cincinnati. .

Something came over me when I put Mini into first gear. No longer was I "Reporter Woman with the late model Honda Civic." I was "Mini-Motoring Girl with the sunroof open." I was more fun, more carefree.And I could park anywhere.

Mini, though small in stature, made up for its size by competing with the big dogs on I-71, merging nicely amid the big rigs. Winding out in fourth (it's a six-speed) up the exit ramp had the tachometer above the wheel giggling at the reverence I was paying it. Then Bruce Mackey, marketing guru for Cincinnati Mini, who was along for the ride, encouraged me: "Go ahead - you can't hurt her," just as the Blue Ash Police rolled by.

Good thing they weren't around when we took the curvy hill in Madisonville in third, weaving Mini around the turns and dropping it into second just to hear it purr. The tach didn't cry a bit, and never made it above 5,000 in city limits.

Rally reverie

We coasted back down, pretending we had rally goggles on, then moved Mini down the hill, storming the finish line at Monte Carlo. When an unsuspecting, unfun car pulled into our rally reverie, we squeezed between it and a parked car without so much as a glance. Ha. Score one for the Mini.

Parched from white-knuckle driving, we motored to the Rookwood Starbucks. We ordered our lattes in a British accent. I fantasized that Mini was mine and jealously guarded it when pulling out of my prime parking spot.

A new VW Beetle drove past and I couldn't help but think, "Yeah - your car is little and cute. But mine is littler and cuter. You wish you were me." Something washed over me as another Mini drove past, and before I knew it I had beeped twice and waved. The girl driving the blue Mini waved back. Mini drivers are so cool, I thought.

Warning to big guys

With a four-star crash rating, Mini is a five-air bag boasting, fuel-efficient mobile. I couldn't help but feel disgust as a giant, gas-guzzling SUV pulled past. But I figure if threatened, Mini could maneuver her way out of trouble faster than you could say GMC Denali.

As nimble as a go-kart and as quick as a gazelle, the Mini Cooper is worth its 2,500-pound weight in gold - make that Euros. It's a car with personality, a charming import in an age when the American ideal of bigger is not always better.

If I owned a Mini I would name her Thumbelina - long name, small car.

E-mail gdaugherty@enquirer.com

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