- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

My date with Mini had been planned weeks before so I had no idea how intimately we would get to know each other when the bodacious little traveling companion turned up in my driveway.

Oh, I was pretty sure that we would have a lot of fun together, hugging the curves, flirting with sports cars, dancing our way through traffic. But long hours together in compact quarters with little to do, they were not in the cards. Or so I thought.

Three times in our get-to-know-each-other week together I was summoned to points 150 miles distant with nothing more entertaining to share than a monotonous ribbon of concrete expressway.

Surely, I thought, this relationship might snap under the strain of such tedium.

Each time I was wrong.

Mini accompanied me with robust good cheer, responding eagerly to my every request, maintaining pace with left-lane traffic and asking for nothing more in return than a little something to sip along the way. Top shelf was her preference, of course, but she never required more than one gallon every 34 miles.

And, in between those trips we still found plenty of time to hug, flirt and dance. Not surprisingly, the extra exertion made her thirstier, but she was still a cheap date. Each gallon of premium unleaded lasted about 30 miles.

I was starting to consider the possibility of a long-term relationship when all too soon our week together came to an end. Mini was whisked away to a new suitor, a new adventure. I was left to thinking about what might have been, and what I had learned.

Mini is part sports car, part city car, part economy car and 100 percent fun.

If you like cars, you can’t help but love Mini.

No, you can’t raise a family with her, and you can’t share your traveling time enjoyably with more than one other companion, but the little dynamo will put a smile on your face and set your heart to pounding fling after fling.

The offspring of clever British parents in the 1960s, Mini quickly acquired an ardent and devoted following, and, through a special relationship, acquired the surname Cooper.

But, as she settled into middle age, her life appeared to be quietly slipping away.

A caring, adoptive family from Germany came to the rescue and she returned to the road bigger and stronger.

Following that initial restorative surgery by BMW back in 2000, Mini has gained 800,000 new admirers worldwide in seven years, almost all of whom have relished the decision to buy time with her.

She has also gained a few siblings — an identical, but more powerful twin known as Mini Cooper S and a devil-may-care sister who will go topless at the push of a button.

Not wanting to see the affection cool, BMW put Mini under the knife a second time and when she reappeared in public at the end of 2006 the surgery had been so successful few could detect any change in appearance or demeanor.

She now steps out of the shower at a svelte 2,546 pounds — about 20 pounds more than before.

However, the operation that left no scars was a serious one.

Mini received a heart transplant — a modern 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 16-valve engine. The increased output is almost negligible, 118 horsepower vs. 115, and 114 pounds-feet of torque, vs. 111.

But Mini got some new spring in her step with a slick six-speed manual transmission that replaces the previous five-speed.

She can now sprint to 60 miles an hour in about 8 seconds, a half second quicker than before.

And her reflexes are as sharp as ever.

Thanks to that low center of gravity, wheels planted at the car’s four corners, independent suspension, sharp steering and strong anti-lock disc brakes, she can still stop and go, zig and zag go-kart style without losing her footing.

There is a strong possibility that you might even forget she puts her power to the road through the front wheels.

Her funky sense of style — come-hither body, offbeat instrument panel, quirky controls — remains intact, too.

But down deep, beneath the show and go, Mini is a caring and affectionate friend.

She wants you to travel in safety so she has equipped herself with a full complement of air bags, side curtains and electronic aids to protect you in case some road bully decides to take a whack at her diminutive body.

Mini returns your affection with a reasonably long list of standard convenience accessories — everything from air conditioning to a six-speaker sound system. And she’ll tempt you into a long-term relationship with a reasonable base price of $18,700, including a $650 delivery charge.

Mini was a casual dresser during our date, her accessories limited to a Cold Weather Package, Sport Package, sport suspension and multifunction steering wheel that would have brought her tab to a reasonable $21,250.

But you should think very carefully before you succumb fully to her wily charms. Mini’s funky sense of style and top-shelf tastes can run the bill to $30,000 and beyond.

Heck, think $40,000 or more if you have an eye for that devil-may-care sister and all the baggage that she loves to take with her.

Mini and I spent a memorable week together, one I still recall fondly.

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