2002 BMW Mini R50 1.6L petrol from North America
Most amusing practical FWD car on the market... make sure to buy the right one, or you'll pay for it
Transmission exploded. This is common for non-S, manual-transmission models built before 2005. Replaced with a Getrag 6-speed from the R53 (S) model. This is an expensive, fairly complex conversion that would not be an option for most people. New clutch, flywheel, etc as well. $3500 (parts). 20 hours (labor).
Steering shaft carrier bearing failure. Still driving, but there is an annoying click when you turn the wheel.
Entire suspension system front and back. I removed the subframe and replaced all four dampers, ball joints, control arms, mounts and swaybar parts. Upgraded control arm and swaybar bushings with polyurethane type. $1300 (parts). 15+ hours (labor).
Power steering fan failure. This is currently making the entire cooling fan system inoperable because of poor wiring decisions that were changed for 2003. $150 (parts per fan).
New wheel bearings, one on the front and one on the rear. Easy to replace, however labor is expensive and not really a pressable unit. $150 front, $120 rear (parts). 1.5 hours (labor).
New rear exhaust mount. Rusted body mount bolts required retapping and entire exhaust removal. $160 (parts). 3 hours (labor).
HID headlights are getting dim. These are too expensive for me to consider replacing -- the fog lights, an option this car is equipped with, are very bright. I supplement the headlights with these and have no issues.
I like this car. I got it for a really low price. It looks like it has much lower mileage than it actually does -- likely a highway commuter example.
It's slow, but it's very fun to drive in the way a Miata is. It has a torquey engine, even if it is slow revving and unsophisticated. I have used it at several SCCA solo events, and it has been great. The gear ratios of the Cooper S transmission now in it are wildly inappropriate, but at least I have enough confidence in it to rip the clutch at full throttle when leaving the gate at an autocross event. All of the work and the solid feeling designed into the car by BMW results in the feeling like I can wail on this car on a day-to-day basis (and I do), also much like with the several Miatas I have owned.
The suspension and chassis is stiff. You'll notice this in the first Car and Driver review piece. They compare the spring rate to that of an F40. This is obviously hyperbole, but it is a stiff car. When you hit pot holes and big cracks in the pavement you will know it, and you will try to avoid them. I find I don't cringe like I would in an NA or NB Miata, however (the horror).
I performed all the other work, but I did not replace the transmission -- a good friend, the previous owner, did. If he had not replaced the transmission with the better Getrag unit I would never have purchased this car, even for the good deal I got it for. The factory Midlands 5-speed is complete garbage. I would not advise any person to spend their money on a Mini equipped with one. This is not an exaggeration. The only transmission to have before 2005 is the Getrag 6 speed. The automatic CVT is a laughably expensive time bomb as well (probably worse).
In the end, if giving advice on buying a Mini, I would suggest the R53 or maybe even a turbo R56. Because these cars have a very shallow depreciation curve, however, I probably wouldn't buy a Mini if it hadn't been for the circumstances. When there are S4s and 330cis on the market for around the same price as a well cared for used Mini, I couldn't justify it. The total value of work and parts between my friend is worth possibly three times as much as the car's market value if you were to have taken it to a shop.
I go through cars quickly. I like turbo engines. I have owned 26 cars, and I am 28 years old. I have had several opportunities to sell or trade this and buy something else faster, but I keep saying no after considering how nice it is to have a car I can be completely confident in, since almost every wear part has been replaced. I even purchased (another) 944 Turbo because I convinced myself I would make it daily-driver reliable, but now I think I'm going to sell it for gain and keep this for another six months to a year because it's now reliable and so excellent to just wail on around the city.
Final opinion? Minis are expensive to buy and require more specialized attention than a Japanese equivalent, like most higher-end European-made cars... but it is probably the best front-wheel-drive car to drive on the planet that is in average-consumer-scale production.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 30th August, 2014
A great car to buy used. We have a glut of them for sale in Southern California. When they first came out, they were about $32,000 for the S model... expensive. Consumer Reports loved it for its agility, it being fun to drive, the acceleration (S model), braking, fuel economy and sunroof mode. They didn't like its bad reliability, ride, noise, rear seats, controls and rear visibility. It looks like there are some trade offs on that car... and you might have to pick up one with an extended warranty with it from the original owner or dealer... because I sense that anything from BMW would be expensive to repair.