Recently I had to take my 2011 Mini Cooper S up I-5 for a service appointment at Mini of Portland. A month or so earlier I'd been there for scheduled maintenance.
Which came with a surprise: a technician discovered that my Mini's computer system needed to be reprogrammed/updated so it wouldn't think that I had a non-existent brake problem. The service advisor told me that it could take up to four hours, so I told her "I'll come back on another day."
That day turned into two, irritatingly.
Rather than sitting in the waiting area, I'd gotten a ride to downtown Portland, enjoying a lengthy visit to one of the world's great bookstores, Powell's, when my cell phone rang. I figured it was the Mini dealership telling me my car was ready and the shuttle driver would be picking me up soon.
Instead, it was a technician telling me that, three freaking hours after I'd dropped the car off, the reprogramming would take another five and a half hours. Or longer. Meaning, my Mini wouldn't be ready until the next morning.
Bad news, since I live an hour away in Salem.
Mini of Portland ended up loaning me a 2015 Mini Cooper (base model) to drive home and bring back the next day. My plans for mañana hadn't included another two-plus hours dealing with this warranty problem, so I wasn't in the best of moods when I started the loaner car and began to head for I-5.
Soon I cheered up, though.
Not because I was any happier with the two-day-long computer updating process (does Mini use Windows 95?). What elevated my mood was realizing that I liked my 2011 Mini Cooper way more than the 2015 two-door Mini I'd been loaned.
When I returned to the dealership the next day, I told the service advisor, "Thanks. Driving your loaner car convinced me that I'm going to keep my 2011 Mini for as long as I can. I'd been wondering if the newly redesigned Mini was so much better than the old design, I'd be tempted to get one."
Driving the 2015 Mini for two hours dissolved that temptation -- even taking into account my loaner Mini wasn't the higher powered "S" model that I have. It was the basic look and feel of the new Mini Cooper that turned me off, compared to my beloved 2011 Mini.
Here's photos and commentary on the 2015 and 2011 Mini's.
This is the 2015 Mini, parked in our driveway. I've read that it is longer and wider than the previous Mini incarnation. It sure felt larger. To me, this alone is a major turnoff.
Sure, the 2-door Mini is still small in comparison to most cars. But I really like the increased smallness of my Mini. It's a great car to zip around town in, doing errands, shopping, and whatnot. My 2011 Mini seems like a perfect size.
And remember: it is much larger than the original classic Mini, which I only got to drive once in 1968 or thereabouts. Way fun. The bigger Mini Coopers get, the farther they drift from the basic concept that makes them so appealing -- their unique mini'ness.
The interior of the 2015 Mini also didn't appeal to me as much as my 2011 Mini interior does. The spare, sparse quirkiness is much diluted. The new model's dash is more traditional. For example, I like how the 2011 Mini window controls are in the center stack, not in the doors.
After four years, my wife (who doesn't like my Mini) still asks me "How do you roll down the window?" I hugely enjoy this, along with her complaints about the 2011 Mini engine being loud (that's a feature, not a problem), and the handling/ride being stiff (ditto).
This photo of the 2015 Mini I was loaned shows the overly busy/complicated dash. There's way too much information here, as I'll further comment on below. The colored "mood ring" on the center round console was bothersome.
I really don't care if turning up the volume on the radio makes it turn red. Probably it can be turned off, but its very presence told me that Mini Cooper designers have made a wrong turn.
Plus, note the colored bars to the right of the speedometer. That's the new gas gauge lights. Also much less appealing than how my 2011 Mini tells me how much gas is left. And dual climate controls in such a small car? What's the point? To me this just added more unnecessary clutter.
Ah, my 2011 Mini.
It's sort of hard to compare this photo with the one above of the 2016 Mini, given the black tires/wheels on the new car. However, I like the basic look of my Mini better. It just seems, well, more Mini'ish. Cuter, though I really don't like to use that word to describe the car.
The interior of my 2011 Mini also appeals much more to me. I've enjoyed riding a motorcycle and a Burgman 650 scooter. I like how my Mini has almost as minimal a control panel as a motorcycle/scooter does.
Just the basics. Speedometer. Tachometer. Simple display of outside temperature, average mileage, etc. The info display in the round center area is showing a list of my satellite radio presets. Only the names of the stations. I like how I don't see the name of what song is playing, or whatever, as in the 2015 Mini.
At the bottom is a row of orange lights showing how much gas is left. I glance to the side to see this. The lights aren't constantly in my line of sight as they are in the 2015 Mini.
Again, I enjoy how my 2011 Mini feels like a real driver's car. Meaning, a car that you enjoy driving, with minimal distractions -- like a motorcycle or scooter.
In my 2011 Mini, the only color I see is BMW'ish orange. Simple. There's auxiliary "mood" lighting on the doors, but this is unobtrusive. Very little shows on the dashboard. When the headlights are on, there is no indicator of this. Turning the volume up or down just makes the sound louder or softer. Again, no volume indicator.
Steadily, the Mini Cooper design folks have been turning their cars into more mainstream offerings. They're becoming larger, with some models now being mini-SUVs. Undoubtedly this appeals to many prospective buyers.
But it turns me off. The bigger and fancier Mini's get, the less I like them. So I'll be holding on to my 2011 Mini Cooper S hardtop.
Fortunately, since eventually I'd like to consider another Mini, there are signs the Mini Cooper folks are recognizing the error of their ever-larger ways. A small retro Mini may be in the works.