Fashion labels are usually rather expensive, but the first gen 'new' Mini Cooper S is actually quite cheap. Is now the right time to buy one?
It wasn't as frantic to drive as the Renault Sport Clio 172 or the Honda Civic Type-R, and boot space was an afterthought, but this didn't deter Autocar from making the Mini Cooper S their top hot-hatch when it was subjected to a road test in May 2002. The Cooper S name hadn't graced a Mini for over thirty years by the time the R53 generation came out, but it successfully addressed one of the major criticisms the 'new' Mini had suffered since its launch.
Power. This had always been an issue because the ability of the chassis far outstripped the performance available from the Cooper at the time. To address this problem a Roots supercharger was bolted to the 1.6-litre Tritech engine to coax it up to 163hp. This was enough to propel the 'little' Mini from rest to 62mph in 7.6 seconds. Certainly not the fastest in its class, but by no means an embarrassment.
Where this Mini impressed was in its chassis development: instead of a simple beam axle, it had a boot-space-robbing multi-link Z-axle, as used by the wacky, plastic bodied BMW Z1. This wasn't a normal feature in small cars at the time - it still isn't to this day - as packaging requirements usually win out over more sophisticated suspension set ups. The Cooper S didn't even need any further spring and damper changes over the sport suspension plus option that was available on all models.
But there were some changes. Firstly, there is the bonnet scoop which helps to distinguish the 'S' from lesser Minis. Then there are the more subtle tweaks, such as the 10 per cent increase in body stiffness and 50kg saved by using a front seat frames and a different gearbox, one which had six-speeds rather than the five fitted to cooking-spec Minis.
This particular car mentions plenty of work having been carried out, and it looks to have been cherished. It doesn't come loaded with options like sat nav, but since the factory system will be so slow and so outdated these days, that's probably for the better. Waze or Google maps on your smartphone are vastly superior to any early 2000's navigation system.
Perhaps we should stop going on about it being a German knock-off of an English icon, the Mini Cooper S has all the makings of a future classic. At current market values, it's amazing to think you can get such a usable hot-hatch for so little money. Bad ones are dropping away quickly, so find yourself a tidy one, and with a little preventative maintenance, it'll be worth something in a few years. Take advantage of the dirt cheap Mini prices now, before it's back in fashion again.
I've always had a soft spot for these. I would add the negative that they suffer instability under braking even in a straight line but the cornering setup is the finest of any FWD car I've driven.
The connection to the road through the seat and steering feel rivels a 911 GT3 and the rear end is instantly engagable without ever feeling nervous (in a corner, braking I've mentioned).
The engine has a sublime character and pulls satisfyingly hard to the red line. It feels better than its 163hp figure possibly due to 'adding lightness'.
If you're a power fiend I wouldn't recommend buying one. The 2008 turbo model responds far better to modification and is inherently quicker, my standard 2012 JCW comprehensively destroyed a modified GT230 original when we compared them but the original as a complete package and drivers car is in another league to the later tall, soft, understeering R56 model (especially on track).
Edited by Niffty951 on Saturday 10th March 07:08
jmcc50010 Mar 2018
Been looking at these recently. Definitely time to buy IMO, would probably go for a facelift variant, and definitely no Nav.
Calling it German always seemed a bit mean - a lot of it was engineered by Rover chaps in the UK and then Ricardo took over a chunk of the development work when BMW sold Rover off. Very PH though, like the people who insist that JLR products are Indian
Gus26510 Mar 2018
That’s a bargain - loved mine which was identical to this but black roof and bonnet stripes. Used to chase my brothers E46 M3 and he was amazed he couldn’t easily shake it.
lwindward10 Mar 2018
I love the look of them, my wife hates them with a passion for some reason, I am just put off the with stories of appalling reliability , totally at odds to their quality look.
TTmonkey10 Mar 2018
Price new £14k....? Don't be daft.
A car with even moderate options was £19k. We bought two, one was £26k!