By Warren Brown
Sunday, May 16, 2010; F01
It is a $4,500 options package that adds nothing to the car's driving ability. But it yields the most beautiful automobile in the 50-year history of the Mini Cooper, and that's pretty much the point.
It is the 2010 Mini Cooper 50 Mayfair, one of two special-edition Minis celebrating the first Mini Cooper cars, introduced in 1959 as 1960 models.
The other is the 2010 Mini Cooper 50 Camden, a beautiful but maddening thing, a possible harbinger of our global driving future. The Camden comes with an electronic driving-habits monitor that comments on driver errors, sometimes employing an acerbic "stupid" when the person behind the wheel does something egregiously wrong.
In choosing the Mayfair edition, we elected beauty without the beast, a substantially more likable choice for me and my road crew -- my wife, Mary Anne, and my assistant for vehicle evaluations, Ria Manglapus.
We frankly admit we loved it because of its looks.
The Mayfair, named after the exclusive residential and shopping district in the center of London, comes with Hot Chocolate Metallic exterior paint. It looks so delicious, you want to lick it. The chocolate theme is carried into the interior, where it mixes with toffee accents, manifested in our car by seats covered with toffee-colored Lounge Leather with white piping and faint-green stitching and vertical toffee pinstripes over a hot-chocolate dashboard.
Driving the Mini 50 Mayfair could substitute for eating. In which case, it would serve as an automobile with super go-kart performance and a weight-control machine.
All that chocolate and toffee is offset by tastefully sculpted chrome surrounds -- the decorative pieces surrounding instrumentation, vents, the gear-shift lever, the parking-brake lever tip, and front and rear cup holders.
Chrome also is used beautifully, judiciously on the exterior -- on the grille, the headlamp and fog-light surrounds, and the door handles. The car is the motorized equivalent of a chocolate sundae.
The cherry on top for the Mini (officially rendered as MINI, all uppercase letters, under its modern-day ownership by Germany's BMW) is its legendary performance and surprising small-car utility. It is why Mary Anne and I bought our first Mini Cooper, indigo body with white roof, in 2001.
We still own the car, drive it every day. We were happy to find that the functional attributes that attracted us to the Mini have been improved in the car's latest iterations.
We wanted a small, fun, safe automobile with reasonable fuel efficiency and utility. We got that in our 2001 Mini -- a front-wheel-drive car with a 1.6-liter, 116-horsepower transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine, with its four wheels pushed to the corners. It zips, competes easily and safely in highway traffic, and gets about 34 miles per gallon on the highway and 24 mpg in the city. It requires premium gasoline. But we don't care. It's a super-cute little car that's a hoot to drive.
The 2010 Mini 50 Mayfair retains all those virtues. It's just prettier. There's a 1.6-liter, transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine with advanced valve engineering (electronically controlled variable-valve timing) that delivers 118 horsepower and 114 foot-pounds of torque. It's linked to a super-smooth six-speed manual transmission. Throw in those looks and you have an irresistible piece of work, a car you drive for therapy.
Brown is a special correspondent.