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Big Fun: The Mini-Cooper

Is bigger always better? Not according to BMW, the maker – actually re-maker – of the classic British Mini. About 10,000 Classic Minis were sold in the United States from 1960-1967 and, after a 35-year hiatus, the MINI is back – and being dubbed the first “it” car of the 21st century. (The BMW folks spell the new MINI with all caps to distinguish it from the Mini of yesteryear.) The MINI – available in the MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S – hit U.S. soil again this year, and dealers can’t keep ’em on the lot. It’s MINI-mania. Take it from the MINI Web site: The SUV backlash starts now.

  • The Web site states, “Soon small will mean huge the way bad means good.” What’s up with that?

Translation: The MINI is cool, as in hot. It’s also small. The car was originally designed in the 1950s, amid fuel shortages in a number of countries, including England. And it’s still pretty fuel efficient – 33.6 mpg in European tests.

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  • Just how mini is the MINI?

It’s about a foot shorter than the VW Beetle.

  • Is the MINI targeted only to the Little People of America?

No. But that’s a good question. Unless you play center for the Boston Celtics, you’ll most likely fit just fine in the MINI. The bulldog-like stance of the MINI means that the wheels are spread out to the corners as far as possible, and a “plant-on” roof allows for quite a bit of cabin space – even if you’re 6 feet 7.

  • I don’t believe you. Name some people who’ve driven a MINI.

Queen Elizabeth II drove the original Mini (“from monarch to milkman,” went the pitch for the car that spanned the social spectrum), Matt Damon drives the classic Mini in the movie, “The Bourne Identity,” and Michael Caine – who plays Austin Powers similarly swingin’ father in “Goldmember” – drives the new MINI.

  • Just how mini is the MINI’s price tag?

Not as mini as the original, which sold for $800. Today’s MINI runs $16,850 for the basic model, no frills, and $19,850 for the S, no frills.

  • I like to drive over 30 mph.

So do the makers of the MINI. Just because the MINI’s small and good on gas, don’t assume that it doesn’t have any zip. The MINI Cooper S goes from 0 to 62 in just 7.4 seconds, thanks to a mechanically driven supercharger and intercooler. Cool indeed.

  • What would happen in a collision? Am I toast?

No. A MINI’s engine will essentially give up its own life to help protect the legs of the driver and front passenger. The engine and gearbox are designed to break away from their mounts in a head-on collision and absorb the impact away from the passenger cockpit. The MINI will also automatically unlock the doors and turn on its interior and hazard lights after an accident. If the airbags have been deployed, the MINI will automatically cut off the fuel pump and shut off the connection between the battery and starter cable to help prevent an electrical fire.

  • With all of these safety features and snazzy good looks, won’t everyone want my MINI?

They might, but it’d be awfully hard for them to take yours – thanks to an engine- immobilizer system that only recognizes your MINI’s key. The system uses rolling-code technology so that every time the key is removed from the ignition, the code changes. Even thieves using a digital scanning device would have a tough time taking your MINI. They’ll just have to get their own.

Writer Debbie Briggs is managing editor of BodyShop Business.

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