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Used MINI Cooper buyers’ guide
Introduced in 2001, the all-new BMW MINI was designed by Frank Stephenson: also known for the BMW X5, Ferrari F430 and McLaren MP4-12C. Small wonder that new MINI quickly became the benchmark for compact sporting hatchbacks, and went on to win many awards, both as a new and used car.
Modern MINIs are made in Britain. Panels are stamped in Swindon, engines are built in Warwickshire and assembly is carried out at Cowley in Oxfordshire. On that basis alone, it's worth considering as a used purchase.
The first new MINI Coopers had a 115hp 1600cc engine, built in Brazil on a Chrysler joint venture. Supercharging the 2002 Cooper S took power to 163hp. Now we had a 'proper' Cooper, with Cooper Works tuning available.
MINI's had a number of facelifts since 2001. The 2005MY (model year) featured the first major update for Gen 1 cars, with styling tweaks, a dashboard update and better transmissions for normally aspirated Coopers, as well as a power hike for Cooper S to 170hp.
2007MY brought the completely revamped Gen 2 cars, along with a new 1.6-litre engine for Cooper and Cooper S, from the joint venture with Peugeot. Producing 120hp in the Cooper, the S model's supercharger was dropped in favour of a twin-scroll turbocharger. The blown Cooper produces 175hp.
The first Cooper and Cooper S models came in 3-door hatchback guise only. MINI Convertible was introduced for 2005 but not restyled until 2009: well after the '07 hatchbacks. Clubman estate came in 2008. MINI Coupe arrived in 2011. All have been Cooperised, so there's one for every taste and pocket.
Where to buy
Independent UK motor traders love MINI cars. The same is true of BMW dealers: used MINI targets within the franchised network are huge. There's no shortage of previously enjoyed MINIs on dealer forecourts.
Private sellers offer plenty of MINIs, but lack the market overview informing motor trade sentiment and thus prices. As a result, MINIs sold privately are sometimes pricey versus what trade offerings. Do your Autotrader homework.
With stacks of MINI Cooper and Cooper S models to choose from, take your time and see a few. Make sure you are buying the car that is exactly right for you and factor in the value of a decent warranty: these cars are not without their problems.
Price points: Up to £5k
Early Coopers start at £3k in private sale. £5k will buy a sensible-mileage facelift Cooper in a good colour from an independent dealer.
For supercharged cars sold privately, £5k will probably find you an '05 Cooper S with under 60k miles and good service history. Dealer offering for early '04 cars will hover near here. Cars with spec (full leather, factory sat nav etc) will be priced higher, so if you want those bits then prepare to haggle.
MINI prices have always been highly sensitive to colour. Traders reckon Yellow is about the least popular, with Black the easiest sell. 'Best colour' is in the eye of the beholder, but consider using colour to bargain sellers down. Do not sprint onto the forecourt, squawking about how you love the colour of a yellow Cooper!
Any to avoid
Pre-facelift Coopers use a Rover-derived 5-speed gearbox that can be troublesome. This was replaced with a 5-speed Getrag in 2005. All early MINIs use Electro-Hydraulic Power Steering (EHPS), which is also known to play up. BMW say they fixed it in early 2005, but '05 MINIs are still at risk. If it goes wrong you are changing the pump (£800ish), so there's a good argument for avoiding early Coopers.
The MINI rear axle is complex engineering that dictates handling: wandery steering can be a symptom of back-end wear and tear. 2002 cars had a handbrake lever recall - check it's been done.
Gearbox issues manifest themselves with a whiny drive and clunky shift - cheap Cooper S 6-speeds may also clunk a bit. Warning lights should wave with the ignition on: watch for bulbs not working. ABS light could be a short in the loom (£££) and airbag warning lights are common. The control module managing cabin electrics is known to fail, so check your toggles work.
Price points: £5k - £9k
Convertible MINIs start at £5k, most with Copper paint: a Convertible-only colour that can be hard to shift. Remember: while fashion colours come and go, blacks and dark blues are always in demand on prestige brands.
The number of MINIs offered from £5k to £5,500 reminds us to look a little higher than the price point: particularly at the popular £5k mark. Come resale time, a facelift car with spec (e.g. panoramic roof) will always find a home faster. £300 extra could be money well spent.
Top of this bracket buys a high-ish mile '08 Cooper Clubman D: the 1.6-litre oil burner with an almost-estate body costing £20 a year to tax and claimed capable of 68mpg combined. Add a pinch of salt to that. Gen 2 petrols are said to hit 48mpg for Cooper and 40mpg for Cooper S, but owners report 33 mpg maximum for turbo'd Cooper S in mixed driving and 38mpg on the motorway. Early Cooper S is even thirstier.
It's too early to mothball the best early Cooper S ahead of future classic status. Values will come down a bit further, and high supply means prices will enter a long period of stability before they ever rise faster than inflation.
Best future classic? A high-spec, one-owner car with full history. Remember that the least favourite colours now will be lost over time, and tastes go in circles. When light metallic green comes back and you've got the only one, you'll be quids in. But that's a long way off.
Any to avoid
There's little point buying a pre-facelift Cooper above £5k, no matter what the mileage or condition. CVT might sound like a good idea for townies but take an extended test drive on the roads you normally use. MINI CVT is an acquired taste and also rules out a limited slip diff.
Same as cheaper models: power steering problems affect Convertibles up to 2007. Electrical issues: check all your warning lights. MINI recently recalled 235,000 cars from 2006 to 2011, to change electric water pumps that can catch fire. Some S owners report timing chain rattles/failures.
Cooper S comes on both 16- and 17-inch wheels. 17s on runflat tyres are notoriously noisy, especially on the motorway. Check runflat condition carefully as they're expensive to replace.
Price points: £9k+
£9k buys a privately sold 2008 Cooper Sidewalk Convertible with 20k miles. It also buys a same-age Clubman Cooper Diesel with 65k miles from an independent trader, or a 2008 Clubman Cooper with 35k miles from a main agent. The same money will buy a 2007 Cooper S 3-door with under 25k miles, full leather and a panoramic roof, from a franchised MINI dealer.
As price rises, the pound-note relationship between the bodystyles, or same models on the same plate increasingly hangs on spec, colour, history and mileage. In this respect, price patterns for used MINI relate more closely to high-end Porsches than to their hot-hatch competitors. As with high-end Porsches, when you find your ideal MINI used, you have to move fast: high-spec cars with a private, pampered life never hang around.
Find a used MINI Cooper for over £9k
MINI Coupe costs from £16,000. Read any launch road test and note up to £8k in options added to the price as tested. The base car depreciates at a different rate to the options, so expect £8k of options to be worth £4k or less after a year or two, depending on what else is on the market at the same time.
Any to avoid
Cooper S is a prime target for tuning and modifying. Cooper Works styling packages and performance enhancements will add a bit of value, as will some (but not all) aftermarket suppliers. If you're buying a tweaked Mini Cooper, get the standard bits as well. Knock the price if they're not present.
Bearing in mind the water pump recall, and reports of timing chain problems on later cars, what warranty cover have you got?
Not all warranties are the same. A top-spec aftermarket warranty can be a ton of hassle, as many warranty companies expect you to pay for the work then claim it back. Many warranties rely on actual failures so preventative changes are often not covered.
One advantage of a main dealer purchase is that MINI's TLC servicing package can be extended for cars maintained within the dealer network. The BMW warranty also includes some parts causing MOT failure. Dealer servicing is cheaper for cars over four years old.
No warranty is truly all-inclusive, but a quick forum trawl suggests more positivity towards costly manufacturer warranty than aftermarket products. MINI dealers consistently top the US JD Power service rankings, and UK dealers also appear to have a reasonable reputation amongst enthusiasts.
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My experience is the exact opposite of your posting - I bought my Cooper Clubman in August 2008; it was a demonstrator with 6,400 miles on the clock. In the first month I had a problem with the club door refusing to open but this was resolved when a design modification was fitted by the dealer. Four years later it has travelled 38,000 miles with an excellent reliability record compared with other cars that I have owned. In addition to routine servicing under TLC it has had new heating elements in the driver's seat fitted under warranty, new front disks and pads, a replacement air con heat exchanger holed by an errant stone and 2 new tyres.
All in all I am still as thrilled with my MINI Clubman as I was on the day that I bought it. It has loads of extras fitted including the panoramic sunroof, cruise control, auto lights and wipers, parking sensors, leather interior and heated front seats. It is a compact luxury car, used every day for commuting to work, 100% reliable and an absolute pleasure to drive. My local MINI dealership couldn't be more friendly and helpful and finally although I will admit to being an Engineer I don't work for either BMW or MINI.
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