Join us on our Great Ocean Road adventure in the BMW X2, MINI 3 Door and MINI Convertible

SINGAPORE (Feb 4): It’s a rainy October day in Australia. We are at Avalon Airport in Victoria, a 50-minute drive south of Melbourne, excited and ready to embark on our Great Ocean Road adventure.

Our all-female press party of lifestyle journalists from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia are instructed to pair up and choose the first of three cars we will be test driving during the road trip: the BMW X2, MINI 3 Door and MINI Convertible. I’m the first to pair up but the last to pick a car, and so our bashful dawdle results in our Singapore-Malaysia coalition getting the last pick of the lot — the convertible. Super awesome save for the fact that we will not be able to put the top down due to the drizzle.

Main image: The MINI Convertible in Starlight Blue with white striped bonnet and matching mirror caps at the Great Ocean Road

Standing over our sweet ride, I joke with Daniel, one of the BMW Australia reps, that the most expensive speeding ticket I have ever gotten in my life was on a personal trip in Australia two years ago — it exceeded the cost of my flight from Singapore to Sydney. He assures me that the anti-speeding function built into the MINI would alert the driver if we go over the limit, deterring any speeding fantasies I may be harbouring — and ensuring a safe journey for us all. We laugh, but from the slight look of alarm on his face, I know our sporty Starlight Blue convertible with white striped bonnet is the one he will be watching out for as our six-car convoy takes to the open road.

The new Union Jack design LED taillights pay homage to the MINI’s British roots

Before we set off, we call the concierge service for directions to the first destination on the itinerary: Birregurra Farm Foods, where we will stop over for lunch. There is a built-in 4G SIM card powering the new generation MINI Connected, which enables digital services such as Intelligent Emergency Call, Time-to-Leave Notifications (push messages to assist punctual departure), Send to Car (imports destinations from a smartphone to the car) and Remote Services (locks the car’s doors from a smartphone).

The voice on the other end is friendly with an American accent, delivering the address to our car via the Real Time Traffic Information function with a side of banter about the weather, where we learn — with a tinge of envy — that it is sunny in Manila.

Weather notwithstanding, we bundle into the “Free Spirit” (what they call the convertible in the MINI family) and I pack into the passenger seat, more eager to explore the handsome cockpit than put the pedal to the metal. We load up our Spotify Road Trip playlist and we are off!

Ever the aesthete, I fall instantly in love with the gorgeous Malt Brown interior, caressing the fine top-grain leather and hand-finished craftsmanship. The MINI is all personality and big on customisation. Besides the standard Carbon Black, colour options for the knee roll and arm rests include Glowing Red and Satellite Grey. The decorative trim and door ellipses can also be customised with your choice of colour, while the fascia on the dashboard is designed to please one’s inner narcissist, as you  have the option of personalising it with your name. You can take your pick of cool wheel rims, too: Roulette or Propeller Spoke or the new Rail Spoke in burnished Jet Black.

Superb cornering

We arrive at Birregurra Farm Foods in the quaint, quiet town of Birregurra for a lovely lunch featuring organic produce sourced from the café’s own farm nearby.

We are reminded to take with us the money kit in each car, which we are supposed to utilise to purchase breakfast ingredients at several dedicated stops along the route for our private chef to whip up our breakfast tomorrow. The good folks of BMW have planned a sort of scavenger hunt for us, but swap out “scavenger” for “luxurious comfort from the confines of continental automobiles”. It’s fun and I’m digging it. We head to the adjoining provedore and butchery and ring up some bacon and eggs.

After lunch, we switch drivers. I take the wheel, and am impressed by the braided welt trim that gives the multifunctional steering wheel a rich artisan feel.

As the weather grows -increasingly ominous, our trusty MINI hugs the roads as we meander through the tight turns of the rural town of Forrest, which is engulfed in fog en route to the Great Ocean Road.

As the rain grows heavier, I find myself thankful to be in the trusty MINI, with its lower centre of gravity and solid, heavier steering. I also enjoy the novelty of our path ahead being guided by the Union Jack LED taillights — a new feature of the MINIs — as we trail behind the Solaris Orange MINI 3 Door ahead of us in the convoy.

There is another feature that I’m particularly grateful for as we navigate through the misty Forrest: the MINI Head-Up Display. The transparent screen pops up from the dashboard directly in my field of vision and displays essential information such as driving speed and navigation instructions so I don’t have to keep looking over to the Centre Instrument unit, allowing me to keep my eyes firmly on the road in the fog.

The BMW X2 in Galvanic Gold alongside the MINI 3 Door in Solaris Orange, parked outside the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery

The MINI’s 7-speed Steptronic transmission with double clutch is serving me well with its seamless shifting between gears, and I deem it best not to test the manual mode in the inclement weather.

We eventually emerge from the fog-ridden forest and are greeted by a wonderful expanse of sea. The drive along the coast is as picturesque as I remember, even under the grey-filtered sky. It’s my second time doing the Great Ocean Road drive but my first in such a fabulous ride, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the MINI’s superb cornering around the winding roads of the coastline.

We turn off left at Apollo Bay towards Lorne, about an hour shy of the famed Twelve Apostles in the opposite direction. We arrive at Ocean House for our overnight stay and quickly get changed for the private Pilates session that has been booked for us. Perfect — we need a good stretch after the three-hour, 181km drive.

Sleek & sporty

It’s a beautiful morning as we fuel up on breakfast prepared for us by our private chef with the ingredients we gathered the day prior. In the distance, the ocean is sparkling under the golden rays of the sun and I’m wistful about the trade we’ll soon have to make.

We swap our MINI Convertible for the BMX X2, and the appreciation for the spaciousness of the Sports Activity Coupe — BMW’s first in the premium compact segment — is instantaneous. It feels like an upgrade.

The X2, a new addition to the BMW X series, is also referred to as the -“Rebel” of the X family. With its sleek, dynamic contours and double kidney grille, the first-ever X2 is mighty sporty and flaunts a coupe-like vibe. And it is absolutely gorgeous in Galvanic Gold.

We make our way to the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery where we get creative in a hands-on chocolate-making class.

The MINI Centre Instrument unit displays all the MINI Connected digital services such as navigation and media functions enabled via in-built 4G connectivity

The X2 is outside waiting for us when we are done and it’s time for another driver switch, so I take the wheel. The difference is palpable. It’s a -smoother and more relaxed ride with this all-wheel drive. We retract the panorama glass roof a little to let some sunshine in.

Like the MINI Connected, the BMW Connected+ system pairs smartphone with vehicle, intelligently planning routes with innovative features such as the “Share live trip status” that securely sends your location to friends and family.

Today, it is taking us to Queenscliff Ferry, where we will drive the X2 right onto the ferry to Sorrento, a coastal town on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

After a seaside lunch, we slip into our final ride: the MINI 3 Door. And as we drive this baby home to BMW Australia’s head office back up north towards Melbourne, our friends zip past us in the MINI Convertible with the soft top down. The sun is out, the vibe is right and it’s been an awesome road trip. I turn to my co-pilot and say, “It’s a great day to be in a convertible.”

Jamie Nonis is a lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for all things beautiful

This article appeared in Issue 867 (Feb 4) of The Edge Singapore.

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