The modern Mini is one of those love-it-or-hate-it cars that has found a solid constituency on the love-it side. If you’re part of that group and haven’t already bought one new, you may be wondering if you should consider buying used.
A chance meeting between John Cooper and Aurelio Lampredi at the 1959 Italian Grand Prix is cemented in Mini folklore.
Having driven an early Mini prototype to the race, Cooper was accosted by Fiat engineer Lampredi, begging him to borrow the wee wundercar. Returning it hours later, the Italian heralded it as the future of automobile design, before adding, “If it weren’t so ugly, I’d shoot myself.”
In many ways, most modern automobiles do owe something to the Mini: unibody construction, front-wheel drive, transverse engine orientation and four-wheel independent suspension, among other features. Sir Alec Issigonis didn’t devise all of its technology, but he successfully married it all in one impossibly tidy package.
Mr. Bean’s auto remained in production – largely unaltered – for 41 years, although exports to America were curtailed in 1967 and Canadian sales petered out in 1979.
BMW bought the money-losing Rover Group in 1994 and, having failed to stem its heavy losses, dismantled the British automaker in 2000. Capitalizing on the brand equity, BMW retained the rights to the Mini nameplate and made plans to reinvent Britain’s minicar.
The last Rover Mini, a red Cooper Sport, rolled off its Birmingham assembly line in October 2000 driven by pop singer Lulu and, sadly, not Mr. Bean.
2007-13 Mini Cooper review, features and powertrains
Introduced for 2002, BMW’s Mini hatchback was considerably larger than Alec Issigonis’s original three-metre masterpiece – 58 cm longer, 50 cm wider and about 400 kg heavier – recast to meet modern crash standards. Visually, it replicated many of the original’s styling cues.
The funky cockpit was punctuated by a massive centre-mounted speedometer, metallic trim and retro toggle switches. Buyers were treated to standard air conditioning, power accessories and numerous safety systems. The original’s non-existent rear legroom was faithfully reproduced.
The front-drive Mini was a sales hit, which spurred BMW to redesign it from the ground up for 2007 to meet more stringent safety standards. The 6-centimetre-longer hood allowed the battery to move into the engine compartment and the headlamps to be affixed independently of the front fenders.
Ever mindful of weight gain, engineers specified a new rear axle and aluminum suspension bits. An electric power-steering unit provided sharper responses without drawing on the engine output.
A new aluminum engine lived under the hood. The old Chrysler-designed 1.6L four-cylinder was replaced by a 118-hp 1.6L DOHC Valvetronic four produced by BMW and Peugeot. The net gain of 3 hp was perceptible, along with the improved fuel economy.
The Cooper S featured direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger strapped to the four banger, good for 172 hp and 177 lb-ft of thrust (the previous S used a supercharger). Both engines worked with a six-speed Getrag manual gearbox or six-speed conventional automatic supplied by Aisin-Warner. Mercifully, the trouble-prone CVT of the previous Mini was dumped.
The elongated Clubman wagon offered a more spacious back seat accessible through one rear half-door, but remained a four-seater. The second-generation convertible finally arrived for 2009 with its enhanced interior and pop-up rollbar.
The John Cooper Works edition featured a higher-output (208 hp) turbo engine, stiffer sport suspension and light alloy wheels with low-profile rubber. All normally aspirated Coopers got an uptick in power to 121 hp for 2011.
Read More: Race-inspired 2020 Mini John Cooper Works GP
Driving the Mini Cooper
BMW infused big dollops of driving fun in a small car that, on paper, might have been mistaken for an econobox. It happily replicated the Mini experience on the road, that of an eco-friendly hipster with go-kart reflexes.
Base Coopers were not cat-quick – zero to 97 km/h took 7.7 seconds with a stick – but every Mini stopped exceedingly well and hung onto snaky curves like acrylic paint. The turbocharged S took just 6.2 seconds to attain highway velocity.
Fuel economy was good – consumption as low as 7 litres/100 km (34 mpg US) on the highway with a light foot – but not spectacular, especially considering both engines demanded premium gasoline, a sore point with Canadian drivers.
Drivers also clucked about the Mini’s low-profile tires. While they generate copious grip, they exact a punishing ride – especially run-flat tires with their rigid sidewalls. The stiff ride can be wearisome over long distances, although engineers had exorcised some of the previous car’s jittery ride from the newer Mini.
“The run-flat tires are bricks,” blogged one. They also wear quickly and are costly to replace. But with no spare tire, the Mini has a deep and practical cargo hold for such a small car.
What do Mini Cooper owners say?
The interminably cute second-generation Mini won exuberant fans with its avant-garde styling, broad palette of paint colours, great agility and endless red-lining on the laugh-o-meter.
“Gives me more fun than I’ve ever experienced in a seating position,” quipped one enthusiastic owner of his 2010 Clubman S.
Unfortunately, having long been ranked in the basement of J.D. Power dependability ratings, the U.K.-made Mini can induce headaches both within warranty period and beyond it.
Chiefly, the BMW-Peugeot engine is notorious for its failing timing chain and tensioners. A telltale “death rattle” underhood and oil leaks are often the first signs of pending engine seizure. A U.S. class-action lawsuit singles out 2007-10 models.
Excessive carbon build-up in the turbo engine can introduce start-up and drivability issues. The turbocharger itself can fail, and it’s expensive to replace.
Manual-transmission drivers may experience the clutch wearing out at low odometer readings; one owner claimed he got only 20,000 km out of a replacement clutch. Another noted that replacing the clutch became an annual ritual.
Other maladies included leaky water pumps and thermostat housings, short-lived fuel pumps and oxygen sensors, oil consumption and truculent power windows. The front passenger seat occupant detection system can malfunction, which will disarm the passenger airbag. Because BMW uses European componentry, Mini repair costs are never small.
“Have spent over $10,000 on repairing everything from oxygen sensor, thermostat, water pump, fuel pump, fuel injector, transmission flush, throttle body, and more,” confessed one hapless owner who had bought a 2007 Cooper S with 84,000 km on the clock.
Bottom line, the Mini Cooper is a fun car to lease and return before the warranty ends. Or better yet, just rent one when the mood hits. But as a used purchase, it’s best if you avert your eyes.
Used Mini Cooper Review (2007-13)
Typical price range: $7,500-$16,000
- Go-kart thrills
- Adventurous design
- Handy city size
- Punishing rear seat
- Twitchy ride
- Engine failures
Things to Watch Out For:
- Rattling engine upon start-up
- Random starting issues
- Fluid leaks
- Slipping clutch (if equipped)
- Errant warning lights
- Expensive run-flat tires