It wasn’t an easy decision, and it wasn’t one that I made lightly.
Over the course of two months I ran into one problem after another: Starter issues, engine trouble, clutch issues, steering issues, brake issues, suspension issues. They all piled up to the point where my car, the trusty Volvo 240 wagon, just gave in.
Unfortunately, fixing the car wasn’t the time sensitive option. There were too many things that would keep the car off to road for too long. I couldn’t keep using it as my sole mode of transportation so sadly this meant car shopping.
Car shopping—like most other kinds of shopping—is not something I enjoy. My ideal shopping experience involves very little shopping. Shopping for cars doesn’t quite work this way. When shopping for a car, all the research in the world isn’t particularly helpful if you can’t get the thing you’re looking for.
To begin I narrowed down my search to try and make it as straight forward as possible. I’d decided on looking for a Mini Cooper. After doing my fair share of research into them to make sure they weren’t the least reliable car you could buy, I was comfortable in my decision. Sure, they’re not the most reliable car ever made, but they’re not bad if you know what to look for and pay attention to it over time.
I’d settled in for the used car search with some specific criteria: 05-06 S model or 2011+ S model. Trying to keep the mileage as low as possible, and making sure there were records for maintenance and repairs. No car is going to be perfect, but at the very least, knowing what to look for is key. It turns out, though, that Mini Coopers are hard to find. It’s not that they don’t get listed for sale, it’s that they tend not to stay available for very long if they have low miles and are kept in good condition. I’d managed to test drive one 2011 Clubman S… but it had over 220,000 miles on it, which was a little more than I was willing to take a chance on. Every Mini I managed to find seemed to be sold by the time I tried to contact the sellers.
Did I mention I hate car shopping?
As it turns out, there is a Mini dealership local to me. I figured that while I didn’t want a car payment, it might make more sense to pick up something a little bit newer with fewer miles. I checked out their inventory online to make sure they had something that fit my needs—manual, S model, and not red—and took a Saturday morning drive over there.
I’ve been inside my fair share of dealerships for a variety of reasons. They’re all very much the same—white or grey paint, quiet, and everyone in business attire. The Mini dealership was a little different.
They had combination of dark and bright colors. Everywhere. Music was playing, their waiting area was playing a football game, and nobody was wearing a suit. It was kind of nice.
I was introduced to my sales person and that’s where things got sort of awkward.
What are you looking for in a car?
I mostly knew the answer to this. I wanted a manual and I wanted a Cooper S. That wasn’t red. Seemed easy enough. But there were clarifying questions like what kind of technology? What specific features are you looking for?
I, well, didn’t really have an answer to this. I drive a 35 year old car that has an aftermarket radio in it, only because the original radio was missing from the car. As far as features were concerned, and technology for that matter, I don’t even really know what to ask for. I wanted a car that runs and drives. My requirements weren’t much more depth than this. I’m not about to be picky about whether a car has or doesn’t have a certain feature. Anything they had on the lot is going to be WAY more than what I’m used to dealing with.
Are there any cars you’re specifically looking for?
I looked to make sure there was something here that fit my very limited requirements… but I wasn’t there to look at a specific car.
What’s your price range?
Considering I’d be taking out a loan, I had to kind of think on the fly and do some extremely rough mental math to figure out what I’d be looking at with regard to payments.
With all of that out of the way, and bit of ribbing at my less-than-modern expectation of features in a car, my sales person pulled around something I wasn’t quite expecting: a 2018 Cooper S Carbon. I didn’t really know anything about it, but that would come soon enough.
We took a seat in the car and he handed me the key. It was actually just a fob. I was familiar with cars without traditional keys, and I’d driven a 2011 Mini, which had a receptacle in the dash for the fob. This one, however, did not. I looked at the key, then around the dash, then to the sales person. I was stuck.
“I’ve never driven anything this nice before… how do I start it?”
He chuckled and just told me to depress the clutch and press this big, red “Start/Stop” toggle switch. It popped and gurgled to life. This is where I learned there was a something a little different about this car.
With the car running, and the knowledge that I was a “car guy”, he had me rev the engine. It had an aggressive tone, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then we clicked on Sport Mode and revved again. This time it was a little angrier sounding and have a bit more pop and gurgle. Then he pulled out a second fob—something I wasn’t particularly prepared for. He clicked the button on the fob twice and it started flashing. Revving the engine again provided a yet more aggressive tone and all the popping and gurgling you could want form a small, four cylinder engine.
We’d activated track mode.
Now, normally your run-of-the-mill Cooper S doesn’t have a track mode. It’s not a standard feature. As I came to find out, this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill Cooper S. This particular model was a Carbon Edition Cooper S. The Carbon Edition, as it turns out, comes pre-equipped with the JCW Pro exhaust and tuning package that brings the Cooper S from it’s normal 189 hp up to 208 hp, with an appropriate increase in torque as well. I’d come to learn that this was the most powerful Cooper S available in 2018. That being said, if you opted instead for the Cooper JCW, you would have 228 hp at your disposal, but 208 isn’t too shabby when you’re not expecting it.
Following probably the most fun part, getting to find out the noises it makes, we went over all of the bells and whistles available: 8.8in radio display, Bluetooth and USB phone connectivity, heated leather seats, one-touch power windows, panoramic sunroof, etc. etc. etc.
After that, the only real hurdle left was test drive. A car can have all of the best features and the most power, but if you don’t like driving it, there’s no point in buying it.
Test 1: do I fit in the car?
Quite well, and with room to spare. It turns out they can accommodate drivers over 6 feet tall easily.
Test 2: driving.
Aside from having a different feeling clutch than I was used to, it was pretty comfortable to drive. The electronic throttle was kind of strange, but not enough to concern me. It accelerated and stopped extraordinarily well. I’d never driven a turbo car before, but I can tell you I liked it. A lot.
Test 3: The back seat.
So, one thing that I think is relatively important, though not on the top of my list in particular, is room in the back seat. Well, with the driver’s seat in the position that I sit in, I also fit in the back seat, so that was a pleasant surprise.
For better or for worse, I was pretty well sold on the car when we got back from the test drive. After that, it was just a matter of filling out paperwork.
So, why did I buy something so new?
There were a few considerations I needed to make when buying this car. I needed something that was going to be reliable, no questions asked. I already have one car that is only moderately reliable at best. I also needed something that would be relatively easy for someone else to drive. A 35 year old car with a variety of mechanical issues isn’t exactly something you want to let someone else borrow if you care about their well-being at all. Lastly, I was looking for something that could comfortably be daily driven. Sure, it’s a sport model, but while it can be driven hard, it’s awesomely comfortable when driven normally.
I was also tired of having to fix something to keep being able to drive. While I love working on cars, making it a requirement takes all of the fun out of it and makes every aspect of working on the car urgent, forcing me to put everything else aside in order to just get to and from work.
So far, everything with the Mini has been pretty great. Driving the car is incredibly enjoyable and I’ve been continuing to find new features as each day passes. I’m looking forward to living with the MIni while I move my attention to getting the Volvo back to working order… then getting to more interesting and fun modifications.