Choosing what car to buy is always tough, but when you’re a foot taller than average and you’re an enthusiast on a budget like me, that choice becomes tougher. I bought my 2017 F55 Mini Cooper S 5-door hatchback from CarMax in 2020 because I was terrified to own one out of warranty. Did I overpay? Probably. Am I happy with my purchase? Genuinely over the moon– here’s why.
I was working as a field validation test driver for Mercedes-Benz Research and Development on their advanced driver-assistance systems, and I was 25 years-old. I wanted something with an automatic emergency braking system, something fast, fun, and budget-conscious. I also wanted to fit comfortably in my car, and I wanted something that was either a convertible or had a massive sunroof since I live in sunny Los Angeles.
AEB was high on my list because of my time working in ADAS; I witnessed firsthand how beneficial these systems could be in case of a silly mistake. I am neither a bad driver nor am I a distracted driver, but I would feel like such an asshole if I bought a new car and then ruined it because of something preventable. I’m anxious, what can I say?
As a lifelong car enthusiast and someone who is certified in performance driving through the AMG Driver’s Academy, I wanted something fun to drive. There are lots of cars that provide driving fun, but not all of them are affordable and can comfortably fit someone with a 40-inch inseam.
I just don’t fit in a Miata, something that saddens me often. I ain’t rich, so I considered running costs like gas mileage and repair costs, too. My finalists were pre-owned BMW 2-Series cabriolets, Volkswagen GTIs, Mini Coopers, and Ecoboost Mustangs.
Ultimately the deciding factor in choosing my Mini was price. Used Minis were a few grand cheaper than comparably specced 2-Series, GTIs, and Mustangs, and I read a lot of encouraging things about F-chassis Mini reliability so I went for it.
When I found my car, I was stoked that it was fully loaded with features including camera-guided cruise control and AEB, a heads-up display, adjustable suspension, Harmon Kardon stereo, and a massive panoramic sunroof. I wished it was a manual, but I was excited to find something so close to checking all of my boxes. I even made a TikTok to show all the surprising features.
Most of all, I was buzzed on how much room there is in the front seat! It’s genuinely comparable to an S-Class in terms of front seat legroom. I can extend my obscenely long legs out straight behind the pedals, something that I cannot do in many cars regardless of their exterior size.
When I took it for a test drive I could not stop laughing. I was coming out of a 2010 Subaru Outback with a CVT so anything would be more fun than that, but my time as a test driver for Mercedes and my prior job as a durability test driver for Porsche and Audi allowed me to drive a lot of expensive, fast, and fun cars and the Mini felt just as refined and way more fun than most of those big heavy machines.
I was smitten, despite a numb BMW electric power steering rack, and a six-speed automatic transmission, everything else about the car was perfect for me. I knew Mini was the way to go for front seat legroom because my 6’2” female friend drives a 2011 Mini Cooper Clubman and we fit great in her car.
I bought my 2017 F55 Mini Cooper S from CarMax in 2020 with about 45,000 miles for about $US18,000 including the five-year or 125,000-mile warranty to soothe my anxieties. The car now sits at 88,000 miles, and it’s been incredibly reliable and satisfying to own.
About a month after buying it, my friends invited me to a track day at Buttonwillow Raceway. It was my first track day, and I drove a Mini that was similar to mine and it held up beautifully in the 100-degree desert summer weather, but it did understeer pretty badly. I ended up glazing over the rear brake pads and absolutely ruining one of the Bridgestone all-season run flat tires, but aside from that it was a champ.
Since my track day experience, I installed a thicker rear sway bar from Whiteline on my car, swapped the stock brake pads for EBC Yellow Stuff pads, and put it on some Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 summer tires. The sway bar and tire combo has significantly improved front-end grip over the car I drove at Buttonwillow, and the EBC pads are kinda mid tbh but do the trick.
The only mechanical maladies I have experienced over my 40,000 miles of ownership are a failed motor mount, water pump, and jiggly sunroof switch, all of which were covered under warranty. As a reminder, the car now has nearly 90,000 miles so those repairs are relatively minimal, all things considered. F-chassis Minis are now ranking in the top-10 list of Consumer Reports reliability rankings, and as an owner I can attest to this.
I love my car–-it makes me smile every time I see it, and it makes me laugh whenever I drive it. It’s not the right car for everyone, but it’s the right car for me and I think a lot of folks reading this story, too. If you can suppress your internalized toxic masculinity for long enough to take one for a drive, I can almost guarantee that you’ll have a laugh.
I love my car. I named her Miss Mini after the late star of Little Women Atlanta, and yes I am queer but that doesn’t mean straight dudes can’t fall in love with this car. Get out and drive one– you’ll see what I mean.
Image: Logan Carter
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