2009 BMW Mini Cooper S 1.6 N14 turbo from North America

Summary:

Lots of smiles, multiple expensive broken hearts

Faults:

Timing chain, guides, tensioner all replaced via service bulletin at 32K.

Water pump/sensor at 22K.

Shows signs of carbon buildup on intake valves (hesitates/sputters under hard highway acceleration, etc).

Brakes front/rear.

New non-run-flat tires.

Several plastic pieces are broken. Can't understand how, with all the wonderful things German engineering is capable of, they still haven't managed to get car plastic right. Sigh.

General Comments:

This is a GREAT car if you can work on cars yourself OR if you buy a MINI Next/CPO or private warranty. This is an enthusiast's car, plain and simple. If you are not comfortable doing your own repairs and maintenance, or don't know anyone who is, buy a Ford/Honda/Toyota instead.

This is an AWFUL car if you buy it out of warranty and have to pay someone else to fix it. Again, if you are not comfortable doing your own repairs and maintenance, or don't know anyone who is, buy a Ford/Honda/Toyota instead.

This car is one of the best-looking and driving front-wheel-drive cars on the road, period. It handles like a go-kart, and accelerates better than anything this size has the right. It feels heavy and solidly-built, has 6 airbags, and inspires confidence in traffic, or driving in town. It gets great mileage (I have the S, and NEVER get less than 30 MPG driving it hard all the time, and on the highway, I get 34 MPG without fail). Women and kids love it. I love it. When I walk out to my garage in the morning to commute to work, it literally makes me smile every time I see it. I've had it for 2 years, and it still makes me happy.

Mine has the lounge leather heated seats, and most other options including the sunroof. It is flat-out a beautiful car. I replaced the stock MINI Boost stereo with MBQuart/Rockford Fosgate stuff, and that was pretty much the only design flaw: the radio is AWFUL. The upgraded HK system doesn't sound much better either, so my advice is to find one with the base Boost setup and at least add a sub. I tore everything out and re-did the whole system, and it was worth every hour and penny to do so.

I also lowered the car and swapped out the run-flat Dunlops for regular tires. It rides and handles way better. I have a can of Fix-A-Flat, a mini air compressor, and AAA instead, as the MINI S doesn't come with a spare tire. The base Cooper does.

Now for the bad. This car has some well-known design/engineering/manufacturing issues.

1. The N14 engine, found in the '07-'10 r55/56/57 MCSs was manufactured with a faulty timing chain tensioner. It apparently allows too much slack in the timing chain, and as a result, allows the chain to slap around against the chain guides. Eventually, the guides break, the chain stretches, and the engine WILL fail, catastrophically, as this is an interference-type engine design. For years, MINI/BMW claimed there was no such issue, until this past year, when they finally sent out a service bulletin to affected cars' owners to repair or replace the timing setup for free. Mine was repaired by MINI at no charge, but others whose cars failed prior to the service bulletin weren't so lucky. The internet forums are FULL of MCS owners who had to replace engines at their own expense until MINI fessed up to the problem. MINI has reimbursed these owners as far as I know, but I'm sure they lost more than one customer as a result. The 2011 and later MSC has the N18 engine, which doesn't have the same issue apparently. Google "Mini Cooper Death Rattle" for more info.

2. The N14 engine is prone to oil buildup/coking on the intake valves due to the design of the PCV system design. Oil blows out of the PCV valve, through the vacuum tube, into the intake manifold, where it becomes burned onto the intake valves as it's a direct injection motor and thus gas doesn't clean off the valves as it would with a conventional injection setup. This causes acceleration hesitation, can throw engine fault codes, and worsens gas mileage, to the point that some cars have become undriveable until either being treated with Sea Foam or similar engine treatments, OR by blasting the intake valves clean with walnut shells. MINI denies this is an issue even though it's well documented on various forums. Google "Mini Cooper Carbon Buildup;" you'll find plenty of stories. Mine also has had this problem. Running half a bottle of Sea Foam through the vacuum line every oil change appears to take care of it, so hopefully it doesn't get to the point where the head needs to come off and valves need replacing. The dealers know about this too, and many use Sea Foam or similar products to treat it, but MINI's official position has been silence, as best as I can tell.

3. The Dunlop run-flat tires run approx $400 apiece. That's APIECE. Add to that the cost of rebuilding the TPMS sensors, and you're looking at $1500 every time it needs tires. If you buy one, invest in a AAA membership, and swap out the RFs for regular tires. It'll be quieter, ride better, and it won't cost you $1500 for tires. You're welcome.

4. BMW repair costs. The car is designed, engineered, and built by BMW. It is VERY expensive to maintain this car if you choose to do so at the dealership. Learn to do maintenance stuff yourself, find a friend who does and will, or find a local indie Euro car garage and become friends. Also, this is a German car, and as such, requires a higher level of maintenance than your average American or Japanese car. It's just the way they are. Things on this car are wear items where they really aren't on other cars. Control arms/bushings, etc., need regular replacing on German/Euro cars and not on Toyotas, for example.

5. BMW recommends oil change intervals of 10K-20K with synthetic oil. I think 10K is probably pushing it for a small, high-compression turbo engine. Do 5k-7.5k to stay safe. I use Wix filters and Mobil 1 0W30 every 5k-7.5k (recommended by BMW/MINI for this car) and have no issues. You're on your own if you go 20k miles between changes.

6. The car also has a well-known issue where the water temperature sensor and thermostat fails at extremely low miles. Mine went at 20k I think. However, the thermostat sticks open, so the car IS drivable for some time until you get around to fixing it. The downside is that the thermostat and temperature sensor are both molded into this ridiculous Jarvik-heart-looking contraption that costs over $100 just for the part, rather than the $8 a thermostat SHOULD cost. Again, this is something that's well known on the forums.

So that's pretty much it: it is a great car when it's all working right, and an AWFUL car when it isn't. It will make you smile every time you look at it, but it will break your heart too, multiple times, and expensively.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 16th July, 2014

17th Jul 2014, 16:13

First styling is subjective, what might be beautiful to some, might be ugly to others. For example, I consider a classic Jaguar XKE a beautiful automobile. A Mini? Not so much.

Next, the Mini does have four tires, doesn't it? 4x $400 would be $1,600. So how can it cost $1,500 for tires and rebuilding the tire pressure monitors? Do they subtract money for rebuilding them?

17th Jul 2014, 17:39

I forgot to mention, other than the points about styling & tire cost, this was about as in-depth and comprehensive review as I have read.

In fact, your review was the reason I googled 'Mini Death Rattle' and read some very interesting threads regarding this issue.

Thanks for an overall excellent review!

18th Jul 2014, 21:38

I was set on getting a new 2014 Mini Cooper, but my wife flatly refused and insisted I buy an American car. We have never had any problem of any kind with Ford, GM or Chrysler vehicles before 100,000 miles. I gave in and bought another Ford. After reading all the problems encountered with the Mini at such ludicrously low mileage, I am glad I heeded my wife's advice.

20th Jul 2014, 04:10

Excellent review!!!

Every (potential) Mini owner needs to read it as a primer as to what they are in store for - fun cars, but "spendy" to live with ;)

2009 BMW Mini Cooper S 1.6 litre turbo from North America

Summary:

If you drive it, you will love it!

Faults:

Noting has gone wrong with the car.

General Comments:

This car has the best combination of performance and gas mileage that I have seen.

I have the 09 Turbo with a six speed manual, and I am averaging 34 miles per gallon.

It is great to drive a vehicle that is not like everything else on the road.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 25th June, 2012

2009 BMW Mini Cooper petrol from UK and Ireland

Summary:

BMW have still got a winner

Faults:

Nothing so far.

General Comments:

This car replaced the older model that I was very pleased with, however the new model is a vast improvement in just about every area. So far I have had no problems with the car, and the fuel consumption has been greatly improved, and it’s still fun to drive.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 30th April, 2010