Mini Cooper
(2001 - 2008)

  • The styling
  • The image
  • Entertaining driving experience
  • Unique interior design
  • Terrifying amounts of potential common issues
  • Ride quality has degraded over time
  • Interior/exterior trim becoming brittle
  • Not very roomy
Overview

An iconic english nameplate now owned by giant German automotive manufacturer BMW, designed by a Moroccan-born American, powered by an engine made in Brazil by a company part owned by American car giant Chrysler and bolted together in the UK. The first-generation Mini hatch may have possibly been one of the most multicultural vehicles on the market.

While the styling, image and driving enjoyment are important factors in the Mini’s attraction and success, now this generation has been around for nearly two decades, more than a few reliability and mechanical issues are beginning to rear their head.

Plus a downside to the sharp handling and dynamic driving experience is that, after many years and thousands of kilometres, the ride has become fairly harsh, all the more so on rough Aussie roads and therefore the interior trim can sound and feel like it is attempting to self-destruct.

This first generation of the new Mini also received a facelift in 2004 for the upcoming 2005 model year, receiving some exterior aesthetic changes that we’ll cover below, but aside from the looks, this update brought with it an improvement in equipment and interior materials, a Getrag five-speed manual transmission for the base Cooper and some very worthy mechanical changes under the skin, especially in terms of the Cooper S.

We understand the Mini’s appeal, but these days, nearly 20 years on and thousands of kilometres later, buying one requires much caution.

Ads goes here
What goes wrong
  • The black plastic has a habit of fading to become a patchy grey colour. This is can be remedied with some quality car care products
  • Rust can commonly impact the bottoms of the doors, under the weather stripping on the door edge, the join between the plastic body kit and the metal and above the number plate on the tailgate, around the taillights and check the subframe
  • As Minis are becoming more affordable, many people fail to comprehensively insure them and if involved in an accident, rather than paying top dollar to have them repaired properly, shortcuts may be taken so it’s critical to check all the panel gaps, be sure to check that the paint matches, make sure the paint is also consistent in feel and texture and look for any signs of overspray, especially in the engine bay
  • Check the wheels for signs of gutter rash or any serious impact. As most Minis spend their lives in metropolitan areas, hitting a gutter when parking or side swiping a median strip can be quite common
  • Window mechanisms can fail and fixing this issue can be fiddly and time consuming
  • The door lock cables are weak and can fail
  • Check for signs of water stains on the carpet in convertible versions and ask to have the carpets removed to check the floor under them.
  • The convertible roofs are known to leak and there are reports of the roof mechanism failing. If this occurs when it starts raining, it can drench the interior in water
  • The sunroof on the hardtop versions are known to leak and the water channels can fill up with debris leading to water filling up the footwells of the interior and this can lead to rust
  • There are reports of the fan unit failing within the air conditioning which requires the entire dash to be removed to repair it. This is a substantial job and can cost thousands
  • The seat bolsters can become overly squishy and the adjustment cables inside the seats are known to fail
  • The interior plastics (especially on pre-2004 models) can become brittle and fragile, especially on any moving parts or chromed items
  • Check that the warning lights work and go out: the airbag light can simply be the connections under the seat and the ABS light may require a whole new-under bonnet unit
  • The Mini is becoming renowned for a vast array of electronic gremlins from infotainment issues to power mirror and window problems to the seats recognising there are passengers sitting in them even when they are not. This results in the seat belt warning chime sounding until the issue is resolved
  • Diff bearings known to fail on early pre-2004 manual gearboxes
  • Power steering pumps known to fail
  • Oil leaks around the crank seal, the crank sensor O-ring and the rear main oil seal and excessive oil consumption are very common. Rectifying these leaks can become labour intensive
  • Spark plugs seals and rocker cover gaskets can leak too, but are easily sorted
  • Cooper S engine concerns revolve around overheating, which can cause cracked cylinder heads. This is caused by the fact that the cooling fans are prone to faults and as such don’t cut in
  • Thermostats can be a problem on all models, either leaking when the seal goes brittle or the unit seizing altogether and causing the car to overheat.
  • Replacement keys are very expensive
  • The rigid brakes pipes underneath the car can also suffer from corrosion
  • Coolant tanks tend to fail with monotonous regularity
  • The Rover-derived R65 ‘Midland’ gearbox in early pre-facelift Minis is fragile and a common failure point. Clutch failure is common too
  • Engine mounts are known to wear and may require replacement
  • Hydraulic tappet or timing chain tensioner problems are becoming common
  • Cooling system issues are common in warmer climates
  • Water pumps are known to fail
  • Expansion tanks can leak
  • Many suspension components are showing wear including the ball joints, front control arm/wishbone bushes and anti-roll bar bushes
  • The strut top mounting areas under the bonnet can also ‘mushroom’, causing alignment issues
  • Strut-top bearings known to fail
  • Tyre pressure sensors can fail
  • A vast range of electrical gremlins are known to create issues and faults
  • ECU problems can plague earlier examples showing up as lurching in gear, idling issues and random stalling
  • It’s common for the dipstick to break on the Cooper S models
  • CVT transmissions are to be avoided at all costs. These are riddled with issues
  • The radiator and radiator support panel are susceptible to damage due to their location and require the front end of the car to be removed to access the components to repair
  • It should be noted that gaining access to many of the engine faults and issues may require the front of the car to be removed which can become labour intensive and the costs associated can add up
Model range, pricing and features

Cooper (2001 - 2006) Convertible (2004 - 2008)

  • Price when new: $29,500 - $44,300
  • Price used: $5,000 - $14,000

While other markets received the base model Mini One and the diesel-engined Mini One/D, Australia kicked off the range with the sportier Mini Cooper.

Thanks to this generation of Mini being one of the first mainstream cars to offer a huge range of customisation from the factory, it’s quite uncommon to see two identical Minis even though they may technically fall under the single “Cooper” variant.

Cooper-based limited and special editions such as the Checkmate, Chilli, Park Lane and convertible-only Sidewalk were also available during the life cycle (details listed below).

Standard Cooper features:

  • 15-inch alloy wheels
  • 6-speaker stereo
  • ABS
  • Adjustable steering column. – Tilt only
  • Air conditioning
  • 6-airbags
  • Leather steering wheel
  • Metallic finish dash board
  • On-board computer
  • CD player
  • Central locking – remote/keyless
  • Corner braking control
  • EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution)
  • Cloth trim
  • Sports suspension
  • Power door mirrors
  • Power windows – front only
  • Electronic stability control (optional)
  • Automatic traction control (optional)
  • 17- inch alloy wheels (optional)
  • Xenon headlamps (optional)
  • Climate control (optional)
  • Alarm (optional)
  • Heated front seats (optional)
  • Sports seats (optional)
  • Heated folding mirrors (optional)
  • Various sticker packs (optional)
  • Various coloured interior trim inserts (optional)
  • Leather seats (optional)
  • Leather trim (optional)
  • Woodgrain trim (optional)
  • Cockpit chrono pack (optional)
  • Rear parking sensors (optional)
  • Cruise control (optional)
  • Fog lamps (optional)
  • Satellite navigation (optional)
  • Headlamp washer (optional)
  • Rain sensing wipers (optional)
  • Premium sound system (optional)
  • Body kit (optional)
  • Sunroof (optional)
  • Limited-slip differential (optional)
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) (Checkmate)
  • 17-inch flame spoke alloy wheels (Checkmate)
  • Front and rear fog lights (Checkmate)
  • Checkerboard side decals (Checkmate)
  • Silver bonnet stripes (Checkmate)
  • Silver roof and mirror caps (Checkmate)
  • Checkmate cloth/leather interior trim (Checkmate)
  • Multifunction steering wheel (Chilli)
  • Combination cloth and leather seats (Chilli)
  • 17-inch alloy wheels (Chilli)
  • Grey leather seats (Park Lane)
  • Two-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel (Park Lane)
  • Climate control air conditioning (Park Lane)
  • Extra chrome touches inside and out (Park Lane)
  • Harman/Kardon premium CD sound (Park Lane)
  • 16-inch alloy wheels (Park Lane)
  • 17” Night Spoke light alloy wheels (Sidewalk)
  • Bi-colour leather steering wheel and gear knob (Sidewalk)
  • ‘Sidewalk’ interior trim, floor mats, badges and door inserts (Sidewalk)

Cooper S (2002 - 2006)

  • Price when new: $38,500 - $53,300
  • Price used: $6,000 - $25,000

In terms of equipment and features, fundamentally, the Cooper S is the same as the Cooper although the Cooper S adds a supercharger and various mechanical improvements to the mix to increase performance.

If you’re in the market for a Cooper S (R53) we’d highly recommend sourcing a post-2004 example. As tempting as an early, more affordable Cooper S might look, these are best avoided.

An ’04 plate-onwards facelift R53 Mini may look near identical, but the list of changes under the skin is extensive. In terms of the engine, the supercharger was upgraded to a stronger unit with Teflon-coated blades, the ECU and exhaust were tweaked yielding more power along with an increase in pops and bangs from the tailpipes. Plus, post-’04 cars potentially put their power down more effectively depending on spec; a limited-slip differential was added to the options list.

Like the Cooper, the Cooper S has been available in different limited and special edition trim levels. The Checkmate, Chilli, Park Lane and Cooper S-exclusive Monte Carlo. Extras match that of the Cooper variants with Cooper S exclusive additions listed below.
Topping out the Cooper S range was the optional John Cooper Works pack but it’s important to note that early JCW models use an Eaton supercharger in place of the Rootes blower fitted to the standard Mini Cooper S.

Cooper S adds:

  • Dynamic Stability Control (standard)
  • Halo-style HID headlights (from 2005)
  • Climate-control air-conditioning (Cooper S Chilli)
  • Xenon headlights (Cooper S Chilli)
  • Harman/Kardon stereo (Cooper S Chilli & Checkmate)
  • Sport Package (Monte Carlo)
  • 17″ Anthracite cross-spoke wheels (Monte Carlo)
  • 2 driving lights (Monte Carlo)
  • Chrome side-view mirrors and exterior details (Monte Carlo)
  • Commemorative “Rallye Monte Carlo” Body Decals (Monte Carlo)
  • A GB Badge (Monte Carlo)
  • Replica 33EJB number plate decal (Monte Carlo)
  • Magnetic #37 door panels (Monte Carlo)
  • Carbon fibre dash (Monte Carlo)
  • Matte chrome shift knob with MC40 Pattern (Monte Carlo)
  • Auxiliary gauges (Monte Carlo)
  • Special Red and black leather Rallye seats (Monte Carlo)
  • Individually numbered commemorative plaque with Paddy Hopkirk’s signature (Monte Carlo)
Should you buy it?

We would love nothing more than to say yes as the Mini exudes cool, they’re fun to drive and they have become very affordable to buy, but no, you probably should not buy a Mini.

The cost of maintenance and upkeep will most likely just keep increasing, not to mention the length of time it could be sitting in your mechanic’s workshop or your garage waiting for repairs.

The only time we’d recommend buying a Mini is if you are a massive fan of the brand and you have managed to find a post-2004 unicorn example that has a perfect service history and has been thoroughly cared for.

If you are happy to work on it, maintain it constantly and are prepared for the financial and mental stress, buy the best one you can find, but unfortunately these Minis are few and far between.

Yes they are affordable to buy, exude such a unique and cool image but they are proving to be expensive to maintain and unfortunately, no amount of cool makes up for the anxiety that comes with the potential of impending mechanical failure.

Warranty & servicing

Warranty:

2-years / Unlimited kms

Servicing:

12-months / 15,000kms

Tech specs

Body style:

3-door hatch
2-door convertible

Engine & outputs:

1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine (Cooper)
1.6-litre 4-cylinder supercharged petrol engine (Cooper S)

Power:

85kW (Cooper)
120kW (Cooper S)
125kW (Cooper S from MY05)

Torque:

149Nm (Cooper)
210Nm (Cooper S)
220Nm (Cooper S from MY05)

Transmissions:

CVT front-wheel-drive (Cooper)
5-speed manual, front-wheel-drive (Cooper, Rover R65 gearbox, deleted for 2004 update)
5-speed manual, front-wheel-drive (Cooper, Getrag 52BG from 2004)

6-speed manual, front-wheel-drive (Cooper S, Getrag G285)
6-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive (Cooper S)

Fuel use:

6.9 to 9-litres/100km (combined and depending on variant)

Dimension:

Height: 1416mm
Length: 3655mm
Width: 1688mm
Kerb weight: 1140kg – 1270kg (depending on variant)

Disclaimer

Information correct as of September 17, 2021.

The advice provided on this website is general advice only. It has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this advice, you should consider the appropriateness of the advice, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.

Read our full terms and conditions here.