My mum, bless her, is 94 and long past caring how old people think — or know — her to be. A bit dodgy on the legs these days and macularly degenerated to the point she can no longer do her beloved crosswords or even read the paper, she’s still as lively as a bag of ferrets.
Savagely independent and still cursing the day she was told she’d have to stop driving, with so much independence bled from her, she still enjoys travelling and is game to be driven pretty much anywhere within comfortable travelling time.
She has willingly taken up the navigator seat, although she is a no-nonsense co-pilot. A trip from Cork to Dublin could be summed up as follows:
“Stay away from that bloody cattle lorry.”
“It’s a big motor home, Mum.”
“I don’t give a damn, stay away from him. Where are we?”
“Nearly at the tunnel.”
“Jesus, what’s that messer doing? Mind him. Christ. Piss or get off the pot, you stupid man. Did you see him?
“Do you want a sucky sweet? At the tunnel? What sort of speed were you driving at? Did you bring my pills?
“I’m grand for the sweet. And I’m sure we have the pills.”
“You’re still driving too fast, slow down, for God’s sake.”
“Ma, we’re stopped at traffic lights.”
“You’re still driving too fast. We only left Dublin 10 minutes ago. And how am I supposed to get out of this bloody thing? Do you want a sucky sweet or not?”
“No Ma, we’ll be home in 10 minutes.”
“Good. I need the loo.”
On a recent visit to Dublin, I was a little concerned that the mode of transport I was testing — Mini’s new convertible — might just be a step too far for Mrs Intrepid. The thought of having a Mini rag-top and an elderly and stately, if often vocal, mum may seem like a nightmarish mismatch, but it turned out to be a surprisingly good combo.
Once we got the passenger seat to a height that eased access and egress, she was away for slates. Evening Mass in Dundrum? No bother. A trip to dad’s grave? A doddle. A quick spin in the Dublin Mountains? Easy-peasy.
Now I will admit that driving such a precious cargo around does demand considerably more nuanced driving than might otherwise normally be the case and there was some dread that a roofless Mini would not be fit for purpose and that a bendy chassis and a karty demeanour might incite a dreaded incantation.
“Are you out of your mind — driving me in that thing? Take me home immediately before I put my back out.”
Thankfully that was not the case.
In fact, she really liked the snug seats and the way she was supported, even while tackling the Tibradden- Glencullen-Kilternan road, a stretch which is neither smooth, straight, nor flat. She enjoyed it no end, in fact.
“It’s a very nice little car, really,” she opined. “Very smooth.”
“That’s my driving, Ma.”
“No it is not. You drive like a maniac. It must be the car.”
And I have to admit she was not far wide of the mark. It was smooth. Terribly smooth for a rag-top anyway.
I’m not a fan of these things at the best of times, but I have to congratulate Mini on producing a convertible which has lashings of driver engagement, no particular driving flaws — as is usually endemic in these things — great grip levels and sharp-as-a-tack handling.
Now I will admit I did not explore the outer reaches of these traits while I had a 94-year-old in the car with me, but during the rest of my time with the car, flying solo, I was able to see that Mini has done a really good job of producing a drivers’ car of the sort not usually to be found in this genre.
And they have been ambitious too. Putting a fancy-dan Cooper S badge on the car is one thing, but fitting it with the same two litre turbocharged petrol engine — outputting some 192 bhp, 280 Nm of torque and blessed with a 7.2 second 0-100km/h time as well as a top speed of 230km/h — as goes in normally roofed Cooper S models, might seem potentially insane.
But it is a trick they have pulled off because whatever they did to muscle-up the chassis, they did a very good job of it. Under cornering pressure — and without the Old Dear on board, natch — it handled like a train. None of the weaving about or undue chassis flexing that generally characterises such vehicles.
Very little vice at all, in fact. There was no time with this Mini that you felt you could not extract the max from it without that worrying niggle at the back of your mind that you might be about to severely endanger your health. I was impressed both by the pace of the car and the manner with which it went about its business.
I did not, I’ll admit, put the roof down while my mother was in the car — mainly for fear her increasingly slight frame would be sucked out the roof like some Bond villain — but given the nature of the beast, the biggest plus point about the whole thing was that it got a pretty unreserved thumbs up from a 94-year-old. That’s impressive.
Love you, Ma.
The Cost: from €26,880 — €43,638 as tested.
The Engine: Cracking unit which had loads of poke but is not ridiculously expensive to run.
The Specification: As you can see from the price differential between standard spec and the press car, any upgrading will cost loads.
The Overall Verdict: I know someone who loved it — and I did too.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved