Getting Manual-ly Schooled the MINI Cooper Way

Ronda Racha Penrice
5 min readApr 4

MINI Cooper has a class that teaches you how to switch gears

Photo Credit: Ronda Racha Penrice

Every now and again a fellow automotive writer, typically male, will say something to me about not driving manual. To be honest, I’ve never really been bothered by it. But I was never against it either. Now I did try it a few years back and let’s just say it didn’t go as well as it could have, considering I got stuck for a minute because suddenly I didn’t really know how to make the car go again. Fortunately, I got out of that jam and made it back home. I can’t remember exactly how long ago that was, but I do know I never attempted driving stick again. But when MINI Cooper said it wasn’t giving up on selling manual cars in the US and there was a MINI Manual Class at the BMW Performance Driving Center in Thermal, California, near Palm Springs, to show you how drive them, I figured I was being given a chance to learn how not to ever get stuck again.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of MINI Cooper

Apparently, I’m very much on trend. See MINI, which is powered by BMW if you didn’t know, commissioned a survey and found that while nearly half of all the Gen Z responders and over 40 percent of all the women responders didn’t know how to drive a manual, more than half were willing to learn, with almost 70 percent of respondents aged 18–24 being the most eager. And there’s a reason they should be. MINI has four new manual models — -MINI Cooper Convertible, MINI Cooper S Convertible, MINI Cooper 4-Door Hardtop, and MINI Cooper S 4-Door Hardtop, bringing their total offerings to seven overall. So that’s a lot of gear-shifting in a good way.

Getting to Palm Springs got a bit screwy when I hit a snag at TSA and missed the flight, which was a rare connecting one for me. Flying from Atlanta is usually a direct affair. This time I had to go through Texas and spend a few hours waiting for the flight. When I did get to Palm Springs, the open-air airport was lovely. The drive to the JW Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert in the Coachella Valley (yes that Coachella), allowed me to take in how much the area had grown.

Ronda Racha Penrice

ATL-based Ronda Racha Penrice is a writer/cultural critic specializing in film/TV, lifestyle, and more. She is the author of Black American History For Dummies.