Mini Cooper Opinions?
June 14, 2010 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Other than it (obviously) being small, are there down sides to owning a Mini Cooper convertible?

I'm looking to move from my Mercedes Benz to something with significantly more fuel efficiency. I've found a rather good deal on a 3yo Mini Cooper, which combines good mileage with the fun of a convertible. Other than the fact they're significantly smaller than I'm used to, is there a downside to owning a Mini?
posted by kjs3 to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO, yes. They're a bit crap as a driver's car. I hired one for a couple of weeks last summer and was slightly underwhelmed. The build quality was fine but it's not actually that small a car and as a convertible is a bit on the heavy side. In short: it's not very sporty because of the weight the 1.6l engine has to lug about.

Other than that it was very comfy for extended periods of time. The boot (or trunk) is comically small, of course. With the roof up or down it has fairly poor rearward vision if you're not very tall.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:13 AM on June 14, 2010

They require a higher grade of fuel than regular. So there is a bit more cost involved. That's all I know about them.
posted by Danf at 10:13 AM on June 14, 2010

I was going to say that the repair costs (especially collision) tend to be on the higher end, but if you're coming from Mercedes Benzland I guess that isn't anything new to you.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:13 AM on June 14, 2010

Well, since you're downsizing from a Mercedes, I guess you're already used to the cost/reliability pitfalls of the European Car Ownership Experience.
In my experience, any German car with a convertible top is going to leak, especially more budget models. The Mini would constitute a budget model. Stuff like Audi TT, A4 Cabrio, VW Cabrio, BMW 3 Series convertible, etc. All prone to top leaking. And it's not just the mildew odor that's a problem. These cars house sensitive electronics that are destroyed by water. I'd get a hardtop and save yourself some headaches in the future, beyond the Euro Headaches that I'm sure you're already used to.
posted by Jon-o at 10:17 AM on June 14, 2010

I've got a 2003 Mini Cooper. It's peppy enough (though it's nowhere close to my old RSX Type S) but if you're looking for oomph, take a look at the Cooper S. (Or even JCW if you want to get into it.)

As for space, I'm 6' 3" and I fit fine, but that's with the front seat all the way back, no one is sitting behind me. Since no one is going to be sitting behind me, I just fold that seat down and now I've got a huge trunk!

As for gas, I get 21-22 mpg doing almost completely city driving, though when I did take a drive upstate to visit my sister, I got a whopping 28 mpg crusing at about 70.

As for reliability, I've had it for 3 years, it's just under 100k in mileage and its given me a bit more problems then the Hondas I used to drive (two with way more than 100k miles), though not so much that I'd be turned off from them.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:18 AM on June 14, 2010

Based on a friend's experience during this last winter, they suck in the snow.
posted by sexymofo at 10:26 AM on June 14, 2010

The rear blind spots are meant to be horrible. (Previously.)

Get a Miata/MX-5, perhaps? It really is the modern successor to the classic British sports car, and does about 23 city / 28 hwy.
posted by holgate at 10:26 AM on June 14, 2010

I've owned three Minis, but all hardtops. I had Audis and BMWs before that. ymmv.

I like them - I feel that they're sporty enough, but I've only owned the S model (and two JCWs). I have driven the base model and it's definitely not as peppy as the S. The convertible is a little heavier than the hardtop, so the power to weight ratio is a little different. If you're going to drive it in the snow, make sure you swap the tires out to all-seasons in the winter and see if the one you're looking to buy has the dynamic stability control option. We haven't had any problems with ours in the snow, and we drive in upstate NY in the winter.

Other things to note - the stock run-flat tires are fine, but the hardness of their sidewalls can make the ride a little less cushioned. If you've got the sport package or the JCW model, the sport suspension can also add to that, which will make the ride a bit jarring on uneven road surfaces. Repairs can be expensive, but no more expensive than Mercedes repairs.

Overall, I think they're fun cars and I've had nothing but positive experiences with them (and I disagree with the point about them not being a driver's car) - I just bought my third one two weeks ago, and the friend that bought my first one loved it so much that he's now buying my second. They're reliable and great to own, in my experience.
posted by bedhead at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2010

Have you looked into Smart cars? They are owned by Mercedes Benz and have good fuel efficiency.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2010

There was a big jump in build quality (engines/emissions/interior) with the MK2 BMW minis

The MK2 mini cooper was updated in 2007 but the convertible not until 2009, they look very much the same but trust me you want a MK2

If you want performance + a convertible you need to to go for the S, or you could just get the standard cooper with the big sunroof.
posted by Lanark at 10:53 AM on June 14, 2010

For me, a small car should give me a pay-off in decent gas mileage. The mini-cooper seems to have small space and very poor mileage. Why do it?
posted by SLC Mom at 10:54 AM on June 14, 2010

I have a 2007 Cooper S, though not a convertible so I can't speak to that part. It is deliciously fun to drive, but I'm prone to like small cars that respond quickly. I have no blind spots. The one thing I wish was different is that, because I have the S and there is no room to carry a spare tire, my car has the very stiff run-flat tires. They make me feel like the princess in the Princess and the Pea story: Every crack in the road feels like a bump, every bump feels like a curb, and every pothole feels like I'd really be hating life if I had hemorrhoids.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:57 AM on June 14, 2010

Have you test driven one yet? I drove an S model when I was in the market for a car in '05? '06? and I thought it's a pretty awful car for the price. The mileage rating is piss poor and the performance seemed bad. I drove the manual transmission and I was disappointed by its inability to get moving without a big roaring wind-up from the engine and a corresponding clutch slip.

I bought a used VW GTI VR6 instead and it's totally awesome. It gets better mileage and has a LOT more power.

I have owned two cars with leaky roofs and it's a terrible nagging thing to deal with. Sitting in a wet seat and hearing that "squish" sound right before the wet cold hits your rear is really enough to ruin your day. I would never ever buy a convertible for an everyday driver.

The VW has a sunroof with a smart design. Instead of trying to make it never leak (which is a failing proposition) they have a trough around it that has drain tubes that lead down the columns in front of the doors. They work perfectly. It is a great setup.

(The mini dealer still sends me junk mail and I've put 50,000 miles on my Volkswagen since I visited them.)
posted by fritley at 11:36 AM on June 14, 2010

I have a 2009 JCW hardtop and it is awesome.

Seconding Lanark's comments regarding the 2nd generation. Also, if you're considering the Cooper S (or JCW), fuel efficiency jumped notably with the switch from superchargers to turbochargers. I think the first generation MCS gets about 23-25mpg in my observations. I average about 30MPG.

Regarding ImproviseOrDie's comments, I agree fully about the runflat tires. I opted for non-runflat tires for my snows (and my next summer tires will not be RFTs) and got a AAA membership in case I blow a tire. There was a very notable improvement in ride comfort when leaving the RFTs.

Also seconding fritley's suggestion to test drive one. I was reasonably sure I wanted a MINI when I test-drove, and it helped me make up my mind.

I can't comment on the convertible top. I opted for the dual sunroofs as New England weather doesn't really give me that much top-down time. Having both sunroofs allows for a ton of light. I really enjoy it.

All that said, I absolutely love love love my car. I'm hoping to drive it until the wheels fall off and then some.

If you have any specific questions or concerns, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Tu13es at 12:25 PM on June 14, 2010

A useful source when we were buying a car was this: IIHS insurance losses for different models of car in the US.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:07 PM on June 14, 2010

Our car-sharing service (Autoshare in Toronto) has a convertible Mini Cooper in the lot near us, and I've taken it out a couple of times. Like holgate says, rear and rear-side visibility with the roof up is really, really bad, between the foot-wide C-pillars and the big rear headrests in the middle of the tiny rear window. Be sure to pay close attention to that on test drives.
posted by mendel at 4:19 PM on June 14, 2010

I LOVE my '06 Mini Convertible S. Yes, the ride is a little bumpy on brick streets. My roof has never leaked. If I buy more than a few days worth of groceries I have to put some on the seat instead of the trunk. I ride with the top down a lot. It's a *very* fun and very awesome car.
posted by pinkbungalow at 7:07 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: I ignored the haters; I bought one. It's an S-type convertible with the sport and cold weather package (heated seats rock!).


- If you dislike convertibles and all that goes with them, you will really hate this car. That covers complaints about noise, taut ride, size, leaks, sunburns, bad hair days, storage, security, etc. I knew about that stuff going in; I don't hate that.
- The rear blind spot is formidable. Seriously. You need to tune mirror placement carefully and pay attention when driving. If you're an easily distracted/oblivious driver, this might not be a car for you.
- The 6-speed manual transmission is...crowded. You need to shift with a bit of precision, because it's easy to "downshift" into 4th rather than 2nd, or "upshift" into 3rd instead of 5th. It's also a touch hard to get into 6th, and I managed once to get into reverse instead of 1st due to the layout. It takes a bit of practice.
- The Harman Kardon stereo has some sort of "change the volume based on speed if the top is down" thing that doesn't seem to work well. I'm constantly turning the volume up because it turns it down too far when I stop.
- You need to read the owners manual. The controls are somewhat complicated, and not terribly intuitive.


- This car is stupid, stupid fun to drive. Very quick, very responsive. The tranny is well matched for the engine. It's at least as much fun my old, much missed MG Midget, without the burned oil smell, electrical weirdness and general unreliability, with the bonus that there's room for my daughter in the back. Seriously, it's an absolute joy.
Caveat: I can see where the non-S model would not be nearly as fun. Get the turbo.
- It's not as small as it seems. Two adults and 2-3 kids are comfortable, and 4 adults works in a pinch. While very short, it's also wide. Seats are excellent. It feels solid on the road, and even in notoriously horrific Atlanta traffic, I don't feel uncomfortable mixed in with the 18-wheelers and SUVs.
- It's remarkably well built. Very solid feel, with none of the frame bend I'm used to from the old British roadsters and even the Miata (which I did try and didn't particularly care for). It feels as solid as an MB SLK, at a touch lower price.
- Mileage in my short experience is pretty good (over 27mpg average so far).
- Wind noise is less than expected. Even at speed, it's easy for the front seat passengers to talk at a normal volume. It's a bit less easy to talk to the back seat, but you don't have to yell. I don't have the windscreen, so that might improve things even more.
- It's a head turner. Nearly every time I've taken it out, someone has complimented or asked about it. My child is now the coolest kid in Summer Camp, because Dad has a Mini (you think I'm kidding...I'm not). Much to my girlfriends annoyance, there has been a significant uptick in girls roll down their windows and say "hey...nice car" (also, not kidding).

So, bottom line...if you know you want a convertible, this is a really, really good one. I can't wipe the smile off my face while driving it.
posted by kjs3 at 2:47 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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