2007 Mini Cooper S

Chris Harris
Tom Salt

The central speedometer has grown. Looking at it is like watching a film from the front row: your eyes have to focus on the area of interest, and that just isn't very helpful in a passenger car. Then there's the new center console: the heater controls work well enough, but the remaining switchgear appears to have been placed in a small bag, attached to a small incendiary device, detonated, and then glued in place where the pieces landed. There are fiddly little buttons everywhere. I found a few more each time I looked. The volume control for the radio is nowhere near the tuning knob. I am thirty-one years old, and I can operate an iPod blindfolded, but these controls I find baffling.

That's because everything defers to style in the new Mini, perhaps more so than in the old car, whose controls were at least vaguely fathomable. Equally, I have no doubt that prospective customers won't care about ergonomics.

Onward toward our destination. The C1313 cuts through the valleys between Lleida and Andorra, and we make the mistake of joining it late in its journey north. Mistake? Potentially fast-moving traffic must have been thwarted by trucks for at least an hour by the time the Mini joins the flow. Frustrations are bubbling over into some diabolical passing moves: the type that require oncoming traffic to drive into ditches. Here, the Mini's other great strength shines through: it engenders universally positive reactions from other drivers. Even in such angry surroundings, people smile at it. But I don't think for a minute that any of them recognize it as a new model.

The crossing into Andorra is small and low-key. I love browsing these European borders and observing the immediate changes. New fonts for all the signage, different police car liveries; marked differences from the country just yards away.

It would be a pleasure to inform you that Andorra blends its geographical location and status as a tax-free principality to create a Monaco for winter-sports fanatics. But as we drove around the capital, Andorra la Vella, it quickly became apparent that there are some grim sacrifices to be made if you want to avoid donating a portion of your earnings to the state each year. Like living in a retail hellhole. The place is littered with used-car showrooms and tire stores.

So we give up trying to find somewhere attractive to shoot photos and settle for an espresso and a slice of Andorra's national dish--which appears to be pizza. Outside the eatery, among all this fiscal madness, the Mini still looks relaxed and confident. It has universal appeal. It is a better car than its predecessor, even if the differences are incremental.

And it is reassuring to note that having proved that destinations are always a disappointment, we have ahead of us such an enjoyable little ride in which to experience the best part of any journey: the drive home.

4 of 4

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