Replacing the classic Mini should have been a tall order, but BMW managed the job in style in 2001 – and, as Keith Adams explains, they make a great secondhand purchase today.
Following BMW’s takeover of Rover in 1994, the Mini’s passage into the 21st century was guaranteed. The German company’s boss was a motoring Anglophile and, as he was also the nephew of Sir Alec Issigonis – the creator of the original Mini, any project to build a new one had inside track. As it was, Rover (and BL before it) had several goes at replacing the iconic original, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the project gained the impetus it needed.
The first pre-production, new-era Mini was seen at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2000 that the production version appeared, making its début at the Paris Motor Show three years after. During that time, BMW had dropped Land Rover, MG and Rover from its portfolio of British marques, selling the former to Ford, and leaving the latter two to fend for themselves under the auspices of a home-grown management consortium known as Phoenix.
As for MINI, BMW knew its worth, and that wasn’t going anywhere. Despite the complexity of logistics, production was shifted to Oxford (the Germans had spent a fortune refitting the factory), and a new German-owned era of MINI manufacture begun.
What you get
Unsurprisingly, with the cachet of the MINI badge, allied to (what was by then) BMW ownership, the new car proved an immediate hit when it went on sale in July 2001. Cars flew out of the dealerships, and residuals were tip-top. At the beginning of its life, the MINI achieved unrivalled residuals, with anything up to year-old cars changing hands for new-car list. But was all that excitement really justified?
One thing is sure, no new MINI was ever going to be the quantum leap in technology that the original ‘classic’ Mini of 1959 was. The much larger car that Rover and BMW came up with for 2000 was conventional in many ways, but engineered for sportiness and agility, where passenger accommodation was of secondary concern – in contrast to the original car, which was designed to offer the maximum amount of interior space for the smallest exterior package.
Considering Rover’s form in the sector, it is perhaps of relief to current MINI owners that the K-Series power unit was cast aside for the new car. Although it was light and efficient, and the well-documented headgasket weakness was yet to come to light, the all-aluminium Longbridge-built twin-cam wasn’t an easy fit under the MINI’s low slung bonnet. Instead, a new engine, known as the Tritec (or Pentagon, if you’re a Chrysler fan), was created in a joint venture between Chrysler and BMW – and although its specification looked like a retrograde step over the K-Series, it proved more than willing enough.
As far as the British market went, the Tritec was only ever offered in 1.6-litre form (a 1.4-litre was available in Portugal and Greece). For the MINI One, it developed 90bhp, while in the Cooper versions, that was increased to 115bhp. However, the Cooper S was used an Eaton M45 supercharger to put out a cool 163bhp (later upgunned to 170bhp), and seduced anyone who went for a test drive, with its characteristic whine under full-bore acceleration. All versions were sohc with a 16V cylinder head, and met the Euro III emissions standard.
The initial gearbox line-up was conventional, too – Rover-derived R65 five-speed gearboxes (described by MINI people as the Midlands gearbox) for the One and Cooper, and a Getrag six-speeder for the Cooper S. A CVT auto was also offered, but proved unpopular.
Underneath its retro-styled body, the suspension set-up was cutting edge. At the front, MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar were the order of the day, but at the rear, a costly and space consuming multi-link Z-axle set-up were fitted. The handling was predictably brilliant as a result, even if it was a lavish system for a car at this price point – no doubt, a contributing factor to the fact that BMW failed to make money on these early cars.
Inside, the MINI was styled to resemble the original car. That meant a centrally-mounted speedometer and a pod-like rev counter mounted on the steering column. The dash had the option of a body-coloured finish, while there were plenty of stowage areas for nick-nacks – again evoking memories of the original car. But quality was much higher, as to be expected… even if there were still aspects of its build that weren’t as tight as it should have been.
Right from the beginning, the MINI was marketed as a premium product, and that meant premium pricing. Although the entry-level price point for the MINI One was low, a long options list and ungenerous standard equipment list meant that the in order to make the car habitable, the first owner would end up spending thousands. Keep this in mind today, when looking for a used MINI – as very few cars will have been specified identically.
In July 2003, the Toyota-powered MINI One D was introduced, massively expanding the appeal of the range. The new 75bhp power unit offered 65mpg plus economy for light-footed owners, and low tax thanks to its clean 117g/km emissions output – however, performance was more than adequate, with a 0-60mph time of 12.9 seconds and a top speed of 110mph.
The following year came the convertible as well as a range-wide facelift. Although hard to spot, the 2005 Model Year changes were significant. The slightly revised frontal styling, and uplifted interior specifications denoted a change of transmissions: the troublesome M65 gearboxes were dropped from the line-up, replaced by five-speed Getrags for the MINI One and Cooper.
The Convertible model was also an important addition to the range, as sales of open-topped car in this sector remained strong. The MINI was fitted with a power-operated hood, which could be partially retracted to act as a sunroof for owners who wanted fresh-air without going al fresco. Sales of this model were brisk, despite being a costly option, some measure of the MINI’s success as a premium choice in the small car sector.
That was the basic line-up that served the MINI so well until it was replaced in May 2007, although there were special editions, which helped maintain demand – making it a million-seller in its lifetime.
Variations on a theme
As we’ve previously said, the MINI’s model line-up was always quite simple between 2001 and 2007. Entry-level models were served by the One, while more sporting customers could go for the Cooper and Cooper S models. With the arrival of the diesel model in 2003, the situation remained simple, with the oil-burner allying itself to the One trim level, while the Convertible model found itself on sale in Cooper and Cooper S form.
If this all seems rather simple, it’s because of BMW’s marketing approach of luring customers in with a low list price, and then offering them a long options list to bump up the desirability and price of their purchase. It was certainly a strategy that worked in the early days, although by December 2003, additional trim designations were drafted in to maintain levels of demand.
The Salt and Pepper packs for the MINI One, as they were known, brought together many of the diverse options together. The fixed-price packages were much more simple to understand than the previous menu price list, and proved very popular indeed. Logically enough, Salt was the lowest price of the packages, adding in items that really should have been standard anyway, such as floormats, front fogs and a rev counter. With the £750 Pepper pack, you got alloys and an on-board computer.
The Cooper and Cooper S were similarly offered with these package options, but were extended to include the extra-hot Chilli option, which added more lavish wheel/tyre options and sports suspension. The Convertible model’s trim and package options followed the same pattern as the tin-tops, although the base price level was much higher, leaving potential owners with the possibility of spending well over £25,000 on their MINI.
Finally, there are the John Cooper Works models to consider. Although these were effectively conversions of existing cars, they were MINI approved and offered as part of the range through the dealer network. JCW cars could also be specced to a customer’s individual requirements, but generally came with the performance upgrade (power was boosted to 210bhp thanks to the fitment of a new supercharger and various other mods) and a more aggressive bodykit.
The ultimate version was the 2007 MINI Cooper S Works GP, of which 450 were sold in the UK. Finished by Bertone, individually numbered, rear seats removed, suspension further upgraded and upgraded to 218bhp, it’s fair to say you’ll struggle to find one of these cars for sensible money…
Buying/living with a MINI
MINIs have always been offered with exemplary dealer backup. From the beginning, you could buy your car with the £100 TLC package, a five-year or 50,000 mile servicing menu, which simplified running one of these cars. The good news is that this means that the prospect of finding a badly serviced or abused MINI is actually fairly remote, although there are cars out there at the bottom the scale which have now dropped out of TLC, and may well need a very close look when purchasing.
Despite having a reputation for quality, the MINI does suffer from a number of faults, although it clearly shows the benefit of that excellent dealer network.
Firstly, check the interior closely. Dashboard rattles and faulty fuel gauges aren’t uncommon, while the central locking system is known to play up on early cars. The electrics are fragile on MINIs, and random warning lights and speedo failure can be the prelude to something rather bigger in the loom. The ABS pump wiring can short out on the pump bracket, leaving you with the unpleasant job of replacing the entire loom.
Older cars may now be showing airbag warnings – so take care to check for warning lights. The rear seats are cramped, and that could mean scuff marks on the backs of the front seats, as well as worn front seat tipper mechanisms.
On the road, a MINI should feel tight and responsive, as well as really chuckable. However, do check that it doesn’t pull to the left, as that could signify that the front suspension turrets have been pushed out of alignment. If this has happened, the only way to fix the issue satisfactorily is on a jig. When cornering, also listen out for suspension noises from behind, as rear wishbone on high mileage examples are known to fail. Closely listen to the gearbox, too – the earliest cars on R65 gearboxes can suffer from failure, and the first sign will be differential whine and poor change quality.
More worrisome is the EPAS system. A whine coming from the steering at parking speed is normal but, if it’s too noisy, the steering rack may be low on fluid. Also, if the wiring is corroded, it could well land you without steering assistance, facing you with a £750 bill to repair (pump replacement). It’s the same with the steering column, too, as upper bearings can wear out, although dealers may well sort this out on well-maintained cars as an act of goodwill.
Despite these faults, there’s lots to enjoy about owning a MINI, but just make sure you keep a close eye on it, and if you’re servicing it yourself, pay very close attention to the suspension and electrics. And then enjoy…
Despite sliding new car sales, MINIs remain hot property on the secondhand market. And with good reason – they are cool to look at, excellent to drive, and have an urban chic image that’s hard to top. For us, it’s the handling that makes MINIs such satisfying cars to own, with performance almost a secondary factor, making the One the car to have.
There are more than a few issues to take into consideration when looking for a car to buy, but if you’re careful and know what you’re looking for, buying and servicing your MINI should not cause you any heartaches. And that’s not bad considering the MINI remains one of the coolest cars you can buy – just take care out there.
Despite having been around since 2001, the MINI’s timeless style and cool image plays very much in its favour. What that means is you’re unlikely to find a bargain car out there unless you’re very lucky. Talking private sales, MINI Ones start at £1000, and for that money you’re looking at 100,000 plus miles on a Y-plate, with perhaps a few niggles to sort out.
£2000 is perhaps the most realistic starting point for one of these cars – for this money you’ll get a 2001/2002 model with history and less than 100,000 miles on the clock, and a few years’ service ahead. For £3000, you’re into retail territory or a private car with plenty of options on it – but it’s well worth spending the extra, if you’re after peace of mind. Diesels start much higher up the scale, with £5000 being the entry point for a car worth having – think carefully, though, as petrol Ones are much better value, and currently little more expensive to fuel.
However, MINIs aren’t age dependent, and you’ll quite easily find 2001/2002 cars going for £2000-3000 if the mileage is low, or the equipment spec particularly enticing. So, it’s best to avoid thinking too much in terms of age or mileage – and consider condition as the primary price driver. Also, Y-registration cars are beginning to become collectable, as buyers cotton on to their first-of-line status.
Interestingly, MINI Coopers don’t fetch a price premium over the Ones. Market conditions favour the vanilla cars, where often you will find that a cherished Cooper will actually be worth less than an equivalent entry-level model. Again, £2000-3000 is your optimum starting point unless you’re handy with a spanner set, and make sure that you get the specification you want, as there are plenty of cars to choose from.
As the Cooper S was launched a little later than the One and Cooper, the earliest cars come in on a 2002/52. This leaves your start point for a good example at around £2500 private, £3000 retail. Be careful that you choose a car that’s been left standard and hasn’t been thrashed too much. You’ll know the signs, but it is always good to check out a few cars before making a purchase.
As for the Convertible, these start at £4000, and the sky’s the limit. The market for these is slightly softer as the CC rivals such as the Peugeot 206 and Renault Megane are very much in demand – so don’t pay a premium price…
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.