A Shocking Confession

I’ll just come right out and say it: After 20+ years of being unengaged at best in the world of automobiles outside of their strictly utilitarian purpose of hauling my pasty white ass from Point A to Point B, I’m totally in love with my new car, the Mini Cooper S Countryman All 4. It’s not the sort of love that will compel me to start going to “Mini Meets” and get new Mini friends, to whom I can talk about my new Mini-centric lifestyle — I mean, where am I going to fit those in around my science fiction conventions — but it’s the sort of love where I am actually happy to get out of the house and drive places, whatever that place may be, because I get to tool about in my little car. I’m like a dog excited for a walk — oh boy! A walk!! — except my walk is a drive, and my leash has all wheel drive and satellite radio.

I’m vaguely discomfited by this and wonder if it’s some sort of late-onset midlife crisis thing, which I wasn’t aware of until after I got the car (which, I’ll note, was gotten at the instigation of my wife, since her 1997 Sidekick is in the midst of dying on us). I suspect it might be, in which case, I suppose it’s better this than a 23-year-old, which was the other midlife crisis option. 23-year-olds don’t come with satellite radio, and if they do, it’s not tuned to a station that has anything I want to hear.

I think possibly the reason I like this car so damn much may be that it is actually the first car I’ve owned that wasn’t simply purchased for pragmatic reasons. I mean, it was purchased for pragmatic reasons — Krissy’s car dying, we needed a car with four doors and all wheel drive, not too expensive, and one we can have on hand for years to come — but, come on. If we were aiming for entirely and blandly functional, we could have got a Subaru Forester for cheaper (sorry, Forester fans). We also got the Mini because it’s supposed to be a fun, cool car, and it is just that. And now I drive about in it, a happy dorky dork who is dorky about his car.

I didn’t mean for it happen. But, well. There are so many things we don’t mean to have happen. This is probably one of the more innocuous of those possible things.

84 thoughts on “A Shocking Confession

  1. “Late-onset” midlife crisis!? Jesus Christ. Try again, junior. “Early-onset,” maybe. Anyway, there’s still time for considering the 23-year-old.

  2. Everything looks better with a muddy fan-tail behind the wheels… and sometimes up to the roof, depending on tire size.

    Glad you’re enjoying the new car. Never really paid much attention to the Minis before myself – being around six and a half foot tall tends to narrow vehicle choices, though I suppose there’s always the sunroof. But I will admit it’s a stylish looking little car – maybe not my style, which is likely best defined as ‘lack thereof’ – but stylish none the same. And you’re enjoying it, which is the ultimate test after all. Hope you continue to enjoy it for many years to come.

  3. I maintain that you could’ve gotten the super cool “we race this shit across Europe” Subaru Impreza for cheaper.

  4. My only concern is that it’s a Mini… which is a “Cheap” BMW in the same way that Volkswagens were supposed to be “Cheap” Audi’s… which means they likely put in cheaper parts in sensitive areas that have a nasty tendency to die right around the time the warranty wears off and cost mid-hundreds of dollars to diagnose, fix, and replace… at which point the nifty wears off and your angry, angry pragmatic self comes to scold you for daring to go for “The shiny”.

    I had a 1999 VW Golf at a point in my life where I couldn’t afford VW (Audi) Maintenance. It turned me off German cars forever. I only hope the same doesn’t happen to you but worry there might be a series of “That damned mini!” posts in 4 years or 50,000 miles time

  5. The global auto industry has had excess manufacturing capacity since about the time your Sidekick was built. That’s driven out nearly all of the mediocre models. Today’s cars are better.

    Another factor is that every car is good at something, and what the Mini is good at is closer to the type of driving you do. The Sidekick is probably more fun than the Mini on dirt and gravel roads, less fun on pavement. When you bought the Sidekick, there just weren’t many choices good at snow-covered pavement. Well, Audi, so lets make that affordable cars good at snow-covered pavement.

  6. epilonious:

    The Mini has a pretty good track record in terms of build quality, and the reviews of this one are also pretty good so far. And we have the maintenance package on it, so we’ll be fine for several years at least.

  7. Dude. This is the definition of success, is to to be able to go get a vehicle that makes you giggle, BECAUSE YOU CAN. Mine just happen to be two-wheeled…

    I woulda gotten the Forester myself. One, I’m a Scot, which means I’m a cheap bastard. And two, it hauls more stuff, which, if I’m going to go to the pain and agony of having four wheels again after being a helmet-head for two years, I’m going to get something that hauls the freakin’ kitchen sink. Forester, or a Voyager, or maybe even a Sprinter… :)

    But, hey, it makes YOU giggle. And obviously Krissy didn’t hate it either. These are good things.

  8. I think you’re right about the pragmatism thing — you’ve reached a point where you picked out a car for some entirely un-pragmatic reason. (Been there, done that. Although I’ll point out that my mid-life-crisis car was a station wagon…)

    While I consider this a good thing, you may find yourself being annoyed if/when you get a second new car, because you’ve become accustomed to some features in the Mini :).

  9. All of that verbiage, and you didn’t even get the convertible??!? I had a crappy day, full of bad work, difficult family problems (including a wife three timezones away) and a fair amount of simple, frank stupidity (including a bit of mine). Nonetheless, a fair amount of my day was spent driving around (unnecessarily, stupidly) in my ’05 Cooper convertible, top down, and that made it a good day. The Tardis-like “look how much room we have” effect of a top-up Cooper is impressive, but nothing like the “we’re one with the sky!” effect of a Cooper convertible.

  10. The operating costs of a 23 year old can be pretty high, but the play value is off the charts wonderful.

  11. My wife likes them but was put off by a review on Topgear we saw that pointed out there was only enough room in the back seat for two people. Which means I wouldn’t fit my three enormous children in the back. Is that true? Is there some goofy arm rest thing in the middle of the back seat in your one Mr Scalzi?

    My fault for being so fruitful really.

  12. Don’t know about the Countryman, but the only way you could fit three people in that back of a standard Cooper is with a food processor.

  13. I had the pleasure of driving a Mini for a few weeks awhile back. What an amazingly fun car to drive! It’s like a go cart.

  14. I don’t know what you’d want a 23-year-old car for. Probably wouldn’t get great mileage, and doesn’t it need to be 25 for the cool vintage factor to kick in? And then, you know, a a 23 year old… um…. oh. Never mind.

  15. No, what’s middle aged is griping about all the newfangled gizmos they put on cars these days because for crissakes who NEEDS an ABS system, when I was a kid we groudon learned how to pump the brakes like a grownup, and the damn thing doesn’t even have a real key, and how are you supposed to change your own spark plugs with all these electronic doodad chips in it, I ask you?

    I mean, um. Hypothetically.

  16. Good to come clean. I will say that my own dorky fun car feeling – my now 9.5 year old VW Golf turbodiesel was my first new car – has never gone away. I still enjoy driving it. Hooray for hatchbacks.

  17. Glad to see you got the turbocharged S version. But did you get the standard or the automatic transmission?

  18. The moment when you realize you got the car you wanted is fantastic. My last car was a 2004 Chevy Cavalier, purchased because my previous car died unexpectedly and the Cavalier was the best of several terrible options for my price range. What I really wanted was a Mazda 3, but the Cavalier had 0% financing, which the 3 did not offer. That was the deal breaker.

    Last spring I got me a 2010 Mazda 6 (at 0% financing). I chose it over the Honda Accord, the new Hyundai Sonata, and the Subaru Outback. Every once in a while I still think it would be fun to have the extra versatility of the Outback (way more fun than the Forester…). But, man, I love me my Mazda.

  19. I have friends who own a Mini and a Forester, and now I’m wondering what that says about them….

  20. “Standard, of course. ”

    Good choice. I just switched back to a standard after 5 years of an automatic. I also have just purchased my first “non pragmatic” car, and I am having much the same reaction you are. Fun cars are fun. Who knew?

  21. I’ll second uruha @6. Even the 300 hp STi’s have four doors. I’ve seen a car seat in the back of one. If your going to rip on a Subaru, pick on the B9 Tribeca. That’s just a cruel joke of a car.

  22. Sometimes it really is about a particular car. I liked my trusty Toyota Corrolla, but when it got totaled in a flood I decided to get something that was a little nicer than I strictly needed, and a little more comfortable than any I’d had before–a Honda CR-V, in my case. 5 years later I’m still generally going OH YAY MY CAR! when I get in it.

  23. John: I should have told you about the black car on gravel driveway thing.

    JT: Penn Jillette drives a Mini and he is not a small man.

  24. I’m not sure I understand.

    Are you apologizing for having fun?

    If so, dude, go make yourself feel giddy

  25. JT – My ‘little’ sister is 6’6″ and says she is comfy driving a Mini. Only way to know is to go drive one.

  26. I’ve been having a similar experience of Joy brought on by a vehicle.

    Though mine is a bicycle. dorky dork love of my bicycle.

  27. I don’t think it’s a midlife crisis until you get a Miata convertible. That seems to be all the rage for middle aged men here.

  28. Are you sure it wasn’t the Super Bowl commecial that got you thinking about it? Just kidding, that was a horrible waste of thirty seconds …. I am glad you are enjoying it, but don’t daly to long, now that Fuzzy is released I hope you are working on your next novel.

  29. Don’t worry, my husband got a large tattoo and a very fancy motorcycle when he turned 30. I wonder what he’ll come up with for 40? Hopefully not a 23 year old.

    I feel the same about my Mini clubman: driving can be fun? Wha? I had previously viewed cars as purely functional lumps to get one from A to B with a minimum of near death experiences, possibly because my parents always buy an old banger in decent shape and run it into the ground. 10 years in California

  30. I feel the same way about my car, which was the first I ever bought. (I inherited my previous car, and before that I lived in NYC and took a train to work, so I just borrowed Mom and Dad’s when I needed one.)

    There are points in one’s life when one has “disposable” income, and chooses to dispose it on something fun. If all other needs are looked after, there’s nothing wrong with that, and you shouldn’t feel weird for finding it in a car–as you note, you deliberately sought it out in this car.

    The American car culture is all around you. Even if you’re not a “car guy,” you were raised in a broader environment where car = freedom = enjoyable. It is unsurprising that some of that has seeped into you, and can be triggered by the right car.

  31. Arnold – no big middle armrest – but the back is shaped into 2 bucket seats and has seat belts only for those 2 seats.

    John – In an automatic, the only way that makes sense to drive is in Sport mode with manual shifting – Too much initial play on the gas pedal outside of Sport mode, and in Sport mode it’s just insane about keeping the gears down. BTW.. .did you get your mini box of goodies? If not, I recommend registering on their website. ;-)

  32. No headroom in a Mini, or at least not enough for my head and back. What counts is “seating height”. I have a friend, Andy, who’s within an eighth of an inch of my height (6’4″), when we’re both barefoot. Some days I’m taller, some days he is. So, same seating height? Not at all. Mine is 40″, Andy’s is 30″. My inseam is 32″, his is 40″. I need headroom, he needs legroom. We are close to the extremes of variation for our height. I like my new Forester. It’s different than the old one, bigger, heavier. I wish the new one was friskier, like the old one, which died saving my life in a collision, but the power sunroof and huge headroom are nice.

    Glad you’re enjoying your new car, Scalzi. It’s important to appreciate the good things in life.

  33. I have a Mazda3 hatch and it is a ton of fun. I wish I’d gotten the turbo Mazdaspeed version but it still makes me giggle while driving. That is important and I didn’t have it before.

  34. I maintain that the previous-generation Forester would have won you over, JS – it’s not as high up off the ground as the current (2009-11) model but still provides a commanding driving position, and it has a much nicer interior than the current version, which is nearly all hard plastics including the door panels. We have an ’06 (5-speed stick, non-turbo) that is a blast; it’s not only a good family car but is also very maneuverable AND incredibly easy to see out of in all directions, which can come in handy when fast reactions are required. The rear seat can handle three in a pinch. Also, it offers huge outside mirrors (superior to those on the current model) and a huge sunroof. Too bad that the Forester in its original configuration, which lasted 12 model years, has been superseded – although the current one does have its fans, who generally hadn’t been Subaru loyalists before.

  35. John,
    I don’t think this is a sign of a mid-life crisis. Mini’s are just really fun cars. My factual basis for such a conclusion? – I have a Mini (the 2-door model) and I am a little-bit-extra-happy every time I get in. And since I cannot possibly be going through a mid-life crisis, therefore, it must be the Mini. Glad you are enjoying it.

  36. Except that it is a manual transmission I tend to feel the same way about my now 14 year old Honda Civic Hatchback. To this day I walk out into the garage and think “What a cute little car.”

    My dad had a very similar reaction after 45 years of being unengaged when he got his Prius. I had never before seen my dad actually getting into driving!

  37. As a fellow Mini owner, welcome to the club! I knew I loved the Mini before I bought mine, but I am not otherwise a car person either. I’ve had mine for 3 years now, and it’s still fun to drive around. Enjoy!

  38. It’s not a mid-life crisis, just the sudden realization that cars can also be entertainment. That discovery generally leads to adolescent behavior in a car, which could make you feel younger, triggering thoughts of a mid-life crisis. But since this seems to be an accidental discovery, your real concern should be that the Mini could be a gateway car, leading you down the dark road to truly juvenile cars like the M3, GT500, Evo or heaven help you an Alfa Romeo.

  39. I bought my Mini in 2006 when I was 54 and told people it was my mid-life crisis anti-dote. My little red Mini was the closest thing I could buy today that felt like the Triumph Spitfire I bought with my own money back in the 70’s (my parents fully expected that car to kill me.) I adore this car! And yes, it’s perfectly fine to enjoy the toy because even though it is great fun to drive, it is really quite practical. Even at today’s prices I can fill my tank for under $50 and drive for 2 weeks. Not bad. Until I can afford a hybrid, it’s the best car on the road. I’m out of warranty now and so far no big surprises. It’s a well-built car. I don’t like the dealership so I’m looking for other service alternatives when the inevitable happens.

    Oh, and I didn’t succumb to the “Mini-lifestyle” either. That’s just a little bit too dorky, even for me! Have fun with your car. You’ll never regret the decision. Now when you ditch the Countryman for the Cooper S, you have totally come over to the dark side, Luke.

  40. htom@46 – It’s amazing how things can differ like that. My husband is almost 6 inches taller than me but we have the same inseam because I’m all legs and he’s all torso.

  41. Love of driving is inherent in some people…but it’s not “activated” until they get a car that is actually a pleasure to drive.

    First car: ’65 Impala. Great car, not fun to drive. Second car: ’78 Toyota Corolla Deluxe. Efficient car, not fun to drive. Third car: Opel Record Station Wagen, lemon yellow. Bad car, not fun to drive. Next? ’78 BMW 325i. Bad car, great to drive. And I lived in Germany, and got to drive the autobahn. Since then, I look for cars I want to drive.

    You’re hooked now, mate.

  42. When I bought my current car, a 2007 Mazda 3, I told the dealer that I was only concerned with one option; the bigger engine. I still get 30+ mpg on the freeway.

    I flirted with buying a Mazda 8 but I have this aversion to premium gas.

    Unless you have really have no choice life is too short to drive cars that bore you to death; remember, alertness is a safety feature!

  43. I see what you did there. I was just about to snicker at the Mini Meets comment, and then you pointed out Science Fiction conventions. Nicely done. We are all dorks about something I suppose!

  44. I had my fun on a Mini Cooper S 2002 (standard transmission of course) for 5 years. It was the first car I bought (that wasn’t a car my mom gave me). I even went to the Mini meets and rallies. Went from Montreal to the Rockies for a snowboarding trip and back and then to the Atlantic, the scenic drives on Cape Breton Island. I’ve had a lot of fun. I understand you. Minis are fun. But I sold mine to make place for other priorities, like having a family and having to save some money for the house. When my kids are old enough to take care of themselves, I’ll go back to a Mini that’s almost certain. They’ll be all electric by then I suppose. No more shifting, but I can get past it for an electric engine. Maybe they’ll have fake standard transmissions to simulate the feeling for nostalgia’s sake.

  45. Most people that buy Mini’s love them and are quite vocal about their affection. That says something. The only other cars that I can think of that bring the same level of loyalty are Porsches and BMW M3’s. Pretty good company…

  46. I loved my Mini too- every time I got into that car, I felt a little joy. I sold it when I moved to a city with good public transport, but I do a car co-op now and still end up with a Mini most of the time … only bummer is the co-op car is an automatic- mine was a manual, so much more fun. Loved. That. Car. Great story of how I got it, too, from a kid who won it at a trade show but couldn’t keep it because it didn’t fit his drums. Have fun!

  47. My wife and I are having a comparable experience with our recently purchased Jeep Wrangler. We adore that vehicle in an almost unseemly way.

    @Richard

    And Jeep Wranglers. You even get a little “Jeep wave” when you pass another Wrangler.

  48. Hah! Funny thing, I’m kinda in love with my Forester for roughly the same reasons. It’s fun, it has Sat Radio, I can get both dogs in the back and it’s a nice ride.

    If I’d wanted cheaper I’d have bought a KIA whatever-the-hell-they-call-it…

  49. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. A part of this feeling is that cars built now are much, MUCH better than anything from the 1990s… in the same way that until the last couple of years, any Ford built and designed outside the USA was better than one built in it.

  50. John, I know you believe in diversifying your income streams, so I hope your mini dealer paid you well for this ;)

    Gottacook – i’m a big fan of the current gen Forester actually (I have a ’10). The interior is imperfect, and the engine is slightly underpowered, but it handles wonderfully in turns and such, doesn’t care about ice (in Chicago here), and has plenty of visibility – and the sunroof is a plus of course :)

  51. I drive about in it, a happy dorky dork who is dorky about his car. OK Mini Cooper, there’s your take-away quote. Can’t wait to see the 2-page center advertisement of Mr. Scalzi and his Countryman and the BIG quote.

  52. I have had almost exactly the same experience in the past year. I, too, was not at all a “car person”. All cars I’d ever owned had been nothing more than transportation. Then I bought a Smart Car, and suddenly I was in love. I even went to one of those meet ups, just to see what a whole herd of Smart Car looks like.

    I don’t think it’s a crisis. I think it’s just the nature of the tiny car. I would bet that your experience in your Mini have been much like mine in my Smart: everywhere you go people glance and smile. Sometimes they even want to ask you about your tiny little car. It’s like you are driving around in a cute little puppy.

    How can you not finally care about your car when people are just so much more pleasant when you drive it? It’s a perfectly natural response.

    PS: Smart Car >> Mini Cooper … I’m just sayin’.

  53. This post reminds me of that scene in “Life” where Charlie is chanting,
    “I am not attached to this car, I am not attached to this car.”
    Shifts gears. Shrugs.
    “I’m a little attached to this car.”

    [I think it was a Bentley.]

  54. I was the same. I drove my ’97 Honda Civic into the ground, and didn’t give a crap about cars. That is, until I got my Mini two years ago this week. She’s my little blue TARDIS and I love her to bits, particularly when we’re screaming around turns in the Santa Cruz mountains.

  55. Half a year ago, I bought the most sensible car I’ve had yet.

    …It’s a Jag XJ8, a 3.2 litre V8 from 1998. Hey, it’s less than two decades old and has working electrics and no inherent severe rust problems – that’s more sensible than usual for me. (Ford bought up Jaguar in 1989 and put a lot of resources into actually putting them together properly.) No manual gearbox available on the V8, sadly, but the J-gate shifter makes up for it IMHO.

  56. Closing in on 40 and after a driving lifetime of chunky Toyotas, I got a Hyundai coupe. It’s ridiculously poor on fuel efficiency but I love it. 6′ 4″ boyfriend not so happy but hey ho! Enjoy the buzz, John.

  57. #68 – yes, it was a Bentley. I watched that episode last night for the nth time, where n > 3 .

  58. Agree on the standard but not everyone can drive one – case in point, my dear wife. We have severe traffic jams and her left leg (clutch) cramps quite badly. While our JCW Clubman is a stick, she hates to drive it. Oops. But for her new car we’re looking at a Nissan Juke SV. It’s the equivalent of a Countryman S for $24K optioned up. I like Mini but I hope they are paying attention as they now have competition – 188 HP vs 180HP, 2900 lbs vs 3050 lbs…

  59. My husband worked for three years as a service advisor at a Mini dealership — and we’ve been ridiculously in love with the car ever since. Can’t afford one yet, but we’ll be pining for one until we do.

    I call dibs on that future bundle of Mini love, though, because I learned to drive in one: a 1988 Mini Cooper. It had a choke. My dad claimed that if I learned to drive that car well, I could drive anything.

    So far, he’s right. ; )

  60. I completely understand and agree: my Mini S convertible was my “anti-mom car”, purchased after my youngest left home and a careless driver turned left thru traffic and totalled my faithful (but not particularly fun) Altima. I’ve always enjoyed driving, but this is something totally different. It’s like driving a Hot Wheels! I named him Louie, because the first time I had to hit the gas to get through an intersection and felt the hum of the supercharger, I knew it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

  61. I would be pretty excited about that car too. I didn’t even realize they made a Mini with either four doors or all wheel drive, much both. I’m still happy with my Forester, though.

  62. At least once in your life, you should own a car that you really love, not just as a mode of transport, but as a driving pleasure.

  63. Huh. I *always* get cars I like to performance drive.

    Except for the rental car lottery when travelling…

    (as an aside, someone up there a ways forgot to mention that their midlife crisis wagon was a sports wagon from a sports car company. for shame ;-)

  64. I feel much the same way about my Juke, which I got at around the same time.

    @darms (#74) I encourage you to go for it! I’m around 98% happy with this car, which is an unprecedented statistic.

  65. It’s very cute; lacks the union flag on the top though (however AIUI multi-coloured cars are weirdly hard to insure for some reason)… great that you have the vehicle of your dreams, even if you didn’t KNOW that that was what you were buying :-) (mine is of the two wheel, zero engine kind… maybe one day I will have it)

  66. Heh. Picked up a slightly used Impala. Is plain white car that should work out fine once kid gets to driving age. But turns out it is a lot of fun to drive. Who knew? I associated fun with the Novas and Camaros of my youth ( when the were running).

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