Alternatives to Mini Cooper?
December 13, 2010 4:22 PM   Subscribe

I really wanted a Mini Cooper, but the nearest sales and service location is too far from me. What should I get instead?

I think I will be looking for a new car in early 2011. I had my heart set on a Mini Cooper, but I don't like that the nearest dealer and (more importantly) service location is 40 miles away. I checked my nearby BMW dealership to see if they also did Mini warranty service, and they do not. Maybe I'll still consider it, but I'd like some other options.

I currently drive a 2003 Honda Civic, and my previous car was also a Civic. I still really like Civics, but I feel like something more... fun this time. I like sporty and small, but it doesn't have to be as small as a Mini or Civic. I mostly just drive locally, but every couple of months I do a 600-mile round-trip drive. I would love for the mileage to be the same or better as a Civic. And good handling in winter weather is a must, as I live in New England. I've thought about a Prius, but I've heard the winter handling is iffy. I guess I'm somewhere in a $20-25K price range (can be a bit flexible on this a bit depending on the car) and would like to buy new.

What would you recommend? (Alternatively, if you have a Mini and get it serviced rather far away from you, how much of a problem do you find this? Can you get oil changes closer or does everything have to be done at the dealer while under warranty?)
posted by dayintoday to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My dealer was 40 miles away when I had my MINI. It wasn't that much of a problem - but I live in the Bay Area and both the dealer and my house were close to BART. The first few years of service are included in the price of the car. It would be a bummer to not take advantage of that. My dealer also had wireless and a little "office" you could hang out in while you waited for your car to be ready.
Have you seen the new Fiat 500? Super fun and sporty. Sold through Chrysler so maybe a dealer will be closer?
posted by Wolfie at 4:28 PM on December 13, 2010

The Fiat 500 is coming to the US very soon. Fiat owns part of Chrysler hopefully that bodes well for dealer locations. On preview, what Wolfie said.
posted by zsazsa at 4:31 PM on December 13, 2010

Honda Fit?
posted by norbulator at 4:34 PM on December 13, 2010

Disclaimer: I work at a Honda dealership.

When Honda was showing us the CR-Z back in July, they said that the vehicles most likely to be cross-shopped against said CR-Z were the Mini, the VW Golf TDI, and the Scion...xD, I want to say? Either that or the new tC. Anyway, that might be helpful to you. I have driven a CR-Z, and it is a ton of fun to drive.

Hope it helps!
posted by andrewcilento at 4:39 PM on December 13, 2010

Scion iQ?
posted by chairface at 4:40 PM on December 13, 2010

I've long been interested in a Mini. However I haven't needed a new car. I still don't need a new car. But when I saw the CR-Z I started trying to rationalize... "but it's a Honda, and it's cheaper than the Mini, and it'll be easy to maintain... " and and and.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:52 PM on December 13, 2010

2010 VW GTI
posted by mhaw at 4:52 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

This could have been me two years ago. I loved my Civic Coupe and wanted a Mini, but the dealership was far away. I also looked at used S2000s, but I decided I wanted a backseat. You're in New England, so I'm guessing you don't want a convertible?

I ended up getting a Civic SI Sedan. It's only a tiny bit longer and heavier than the Coupe (like a few inches and 60 lbs), but it has the convenience of four doors. The gas mileage is excellent and it's a lot of fun to drive.

I also realized that I'm addicted to the reliability of a Honda and a car would have to offer an awful lot for me to mess with a lot of maintenance and long trips to the dealership.
posted by annaramma at 5:04 PM on December 13, 2010

I can vouch for the Fit. My wife has a '08 and it definitely has a similar small n' nimble go-kart-fun driving feel. Just keep in mind that it's not particularly fast.

You might also consider the Subaru Impreza Hatchback or Sedan. You could even consider the Impreza WRX if you're ok with your budget being closer to the $25K end. MSRP is $25K and change, but you should be able to get out the door for $25K or maybe a bit less if you negotiate well.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:07 PM on December 13, 2010

Yeah, Mazda 3 5 door.

And the Mazdaspeed flavor is attainable for a bit less than $25K, too.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:11 PM on December 13, 2010

My dealer is about that far away, and it's not a huge problem for me - but I live in the DC area where a 35 mile commute is the daily grind, so YMMV (almost literally). My car came with the first few XX of service, and that includes a loaner, so I'm never car-less, but I also have a very flexible work schedule, can work remotely when I need to, so forth. Having oil changes and such done elsewhere isn't a warranty problem, but it is kind of expensive. I've had my car in for service 3 times in not quite 2 years (all regular service). I have a six speed and fairly regularly get 36 mpg, even with my crappy commute.

After driving this car, I can say I'm not really tempted by anything else. It is a TON of fun.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2010

I have the Cuvic type R. Ridiculously fun to drive, super quick.
posted by Jubey at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2010

Seconding the Subaru Impreza Outback: all-wheel drive gives you great grip in all conditions without having a too tight suspension on New England's frost-heaved roads. Standard roof racks and a lot of packing ability with the hatch and the back seats flopped down. Subaru's have a stellar reliability record as well. It doesn't have the best fit and finish but that gloss wears off anyway. Love mine, '99 with 188k. Had a previous one, '95 and 180+k that got totalled by a Land Rover in the snow.
posted by metatomorrow at 5:21 PM on December 13, 2010

Ford Fiesta? not a horribly fast little car but have heard it's zippy enough. don't think it's really any slower than the Fiat 500 (note that both these cars are readily available in Europe), though the hot Abarth 500 is coming to the US at some point (but not any time soon).

have you looked into whether or not there's an independent BMW/Mini service place nearby? I had a BMW for a while, and I seem to recall that the indie shop I took it to would do BMW-covered warranty work and scheduled maintenance, and they would work on BMW Minis as well. (caveat here: my car was in no way, shape or form under warranty, so I may be misremembering how that all worked. if you know of an indie shop nearby, though, it might be worth asking. if nothing else, if you do go with the Mini, it ought to be cheaper to fix at not-the-dealer.)
posted by mrg at 5:26 PM on December 13, 2010

I spent awhile drooling over the mini and ended up getting a Scion xA instead. It's made me happy. It's cute in a not-as-flashy way. I believe that it's been replaced by the xD.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:27 PM on December 13, 2010

Smart car! The cabriolets are especially cute, in my opinion!
posted by lollusc at 5:45 PM on December 13, 2010

2011 Subaru imprezza WRX; it's incedibly fun to drive, great in winter (AWD), and has nice cabin tech (heated seats, Bluetooth streaming, hands free calling, iPod interface...)

I just got one two weeks ago :)
posted by axismundi at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2010

Casting my vote for the VW GTI - TONS of fun to drive!
But if you can't spend that much go for the newly redesigned very hot Golf (nee Rabbit). It is BEAUTIFUL. At under $20K it is affordable German design and technology, handles like a BMW, great on gas, sharp look, no fussy bits to break down, etc. I've got the 2-door hatchback, and two years in I am thrilled with it!.
posted by henry scobie at 6:45 PM on December 13, 2010

I'd personally go fo the Mini anyway. The maintenance schedule isnt bad, and it's free while under warranty. But if you're not up for it, I'd check out the Audi A3, the VW GTI, and the Subaru WRX.
posted by spilon at 7:18 PM on December 13, 2010

I was in the same situation and opted (happily!) for a VW New Beetle. It is a blast to drive. I have the diesel version and average about 40 city/46 highway MPG. I've taken it on several 600+ mile trips and it was surprisingly very comfy for being smallish. (Sadly (IMHO), the new 2011 model is more 'oval' than the recognizable round shape if that matters to you.)

Otherwise, I can second (third? fourth?) the recommendations of the GTI, Mazdaspeed3, Civic SI, and WRX. I have friends who own those and *love* them!

There are so many options in this bracket, I'd recommend that you just go out and drive a bunch of cars -- when you find The One you will know it. :)

Good luck!
posted by abigredchair at 7:26 PM on December 13, 2010

I don't know if they're available where you are, but this comparison between the Citroen DS3 D-Sport & the Mini Cooper S suggests they're aimed at the same kind of market.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:29 PM on December 13, 2010

Personally, I'd go for the MINI too. Those 40 miles to the dealership could be looked at as fun driving time!

Although, if you want recommendations, most of the "fun, small cars" have already been mentioned.

- VW Golf, or if you want to spend a little extra, the GTI. Super fast, super little, and you can get wacky interior cloth patterns (tartan plaid!!!)

- Mazda Miata. This is tiny, and quite impractical, but many would say that pound for pound, this is the best sports car value on the market. At least go test drive one to compare everything else to.

- Could you afford a BMW 1 series? These are fairly rare, so its got the unique factor, plus all of the quality, luxury, and performance of a Bimmer.

- Is there a Mercedes-Benz dealer in your area? You could check out a Smart Car.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 7:41 PM on December 13, 2010

We picked up a Mazda3 about six weeks ago and really like it so far.

We also drove a (non-WRX) Impreza and a Civic SI. The Impreza was just kind of cheap feeling... didn't feel like it would stay nice for 10/12/15 years. The Civic SI was nice enough, but kind of like the old Prelude we were replacing it felt like it didn't get fun until you cranked the revs up really high. While I wouldn't be surprised if the Civic SI was in some objective way actually sportier, the 3 feels sportier puttering around town.

*So far*, the 3 has been pretty good in the snow/slush with all-seasons on it, but we haven't gotten a heavy storm yet. Certainly it's much better than the Prelude was, but the Prelude was old enough that it didn't have traction control or stability control or any of that. In the end, we figured that we can always throw a set of Blizzaks or Haakapeliittas on it if we needed better snow handling.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:53 PM on December 13, 2010

My preferred Mini dealership is about 33 miles from me, and we don't find it to be that big a deal, especially with a new Mini. Maintenance is free for the first few years, and they give us a loaner every time we take the car in for something under warranty. We just look at it as a little adventure and go explore the local shops and stuff if we have to wait.

If not the Mini, then the Fiat 500 or the Smart Car are good bets. Also, my in-laws have a Scion xD and they love it.
posted by bedhead at 7:57 PM on December 13, 2010

I really, really can't imagine a US Smart unless you (A) have another car or (B) don't mind mooching rides off your friends anytime you need to move more than groceries. Small as the Mini is, they make it look like a Escalade.

And they don't even get that good mileage.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:04 PM on December 13, 2010

We own a Mini. And we live in rural NH. Nearest dealer is Peabody, MA. It generally hasn't been a problem, despite the distance. Biggest issue is makng sure you can get appointments on weekends.

It's a good vehicle for our 19 mile commute. And it's fun to drive.
posted by kaszeta at 8:15 PM on December 13, 2010

IMO, nothing takes the place of a MINI. 40 miles is nothing - I'd drive 100+ to have my MINI. You may reconsider.

Besides, you'll almost get that many miles per gallon in a MINI!
posted by karizma at 8:31 PM on December 13, 2010

I've been told by my boyfriend that my MINI drives like his Chrysler Crossfire (such a cute car! Whee!)
posted by Night_owl at 10:01 PM on December 13, 2010

2010 VW GTI
uh, that car comes at a hefty premium over the regular golf that is IMHO not warranted.

you should really test drive a 1-series BMW (I have yet to see a non-station wagen version on the road in germany but it looks nice enough on the website). fun, zippy car. also consider the audi A3. I'm a big fan of picking up a one year-old car for a hefty discount with low mileage. consider a dealership vehicle or a lease return. it's basically free cash.

I personally just had a 2008 Audi TT convertible with the 1.8T engine and that was just wicked fun.
posted by krautland at 10:10 PM on December 13, 2010

I really, really can't imagine a US Smart unless...
you'd be surprised how well the smart works in urban day-to-day driving and just what you can get into them. that said, I'd advise against getting one in the US. you can't get the fun diesel engine and the transmission they offer in the states is sluggish as hell.
posted by krautland at 10:15 PM on December 13, 2010

Don't get the Golf unless it's a diesel. Don't get the Mazda3; it's a great car but the mileage is noticeably worse than what you're driving now. If you get the Fit, get the Fit Sport, but the previous generation was a more fun car than the current one (though the current one is safer.) Based on what I've seen from the 500, stay far far away unless your dealer is within walking distance. The Fiesta is a good bet, if not as much fun as the european version. The Yaris and Fit are great on mileage and reliability (I have a Versa myself) but not really fun per se. Subarus have the same problem as Mazda3s -- bad gas mileage. There are lots of Hyundais and Kias that might fit the bill for you, so cross-shop them, but not much fun to be had there.

But all that aside, what I would do if I were you is this: wait for the 2012 Ford Focus, coming to the US in 2011. It's attractive, it's going to have good gas mileage, and it's going to have to same setup as they sell in Europe, so it's going to be fuuuuun.
posted by davejay at 11:25 PM on December 13, 2010

Oh, wait! I forgot one more: the Mazda2. It's the same platform as the Ford Fiesta, but cheaper and less complicated. Also better looking. Plus you won't see lots of them on the roads. For the money and the size, I was pleasantly surprised, and if I didn't have a family to haul around (and a ridiculous addiction to leather steering wheels and sunroofs) I would definitely buy one.
posted by davejay at 11:29 PM on December 13, 2010

and the Mazda2 is more fun than the Fiesta; lighter, better tires, less americanized suspension
posted by davejay at 11:30 PM on December 13, 2010

2012 Focus RS (wicked fast), Mazda2, Honda Fit
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 2:44 AM on December 14, 2010

Check with the nearest BMW dealer... many of them have techs trained and parts stocked for Mini service. (It is a BMW subsidiary.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:25 AM on December 14, 2010

Nthing the comments that 40 miles is not a long way to go. The Mini warranty package is very good.

Broadly speaking, the direct competition is:

Audi A1/VW Polo in GTi specs
BMW 1 series
Fiat 500 Abarth
Ford Fiesta/Mazda 2
Suzuki Swift
Skoda Fabia (especially in vRS spec) (I think this is probably Europe only)
.. to a lesser degree, the Toyota Yaris and iQ
Honda Fit

The less direct competition is:

VW Golf/Audi A3/VW Scirocco
Ford Focus RS (the Mazda 3 uses the same chassis, but does not have an RS-type option)
Honda Civic

The Abarth is the best equivalent - quick, fun to drive, quirky, rare. The BMW 1 Series is a good choice, but is expensive. As is the Audi A1. Polos are underrated, but not very unique. Suzuki Swifts are a very decent car but lack status. Fiestas and the Mazda2 lack a bit of oomph, as does the Yaris. The iQ (and Smart Cars) are small and interesting but are city vehicles, not built for performance.

If you were able to get a Skodia Fabia vRS, you'd be buying a top notch VW engine and chassis at a lower price. Golfs, Sciroccos and Audi A3s are similar, but the Golf is the best pick. A Ford Focus RS is the pick of the bigger cars.

The new Civic is not, in Type R spec, a patch on the old one. A leftfield choice would be either:

Mazda RX8, which is quirky and a good drive. But thirsty.
An old Honda S2000.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:51 AM on December 14, 2010

Ford Focus RS (the Mazda 3 uses the same chassis, but does not have an RS-type option)

Neither does the US Focus.

Also, Skoda does not sell in the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:20 AM on December 14, 2010

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Volvo C30.

When I was looking into getting a new car in the spring 2007, I almost waited for the C30 to be available in the US (I purchased a VW GLI instead). Sometimes I regret that decision since the C30 seems like a fun car.
posted by bCat at 5:26 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in New England (NH) and I own a MINI (2009 JCW hardtop). It's about 40 miles to the closest dealership (MINI of Peabody).

First off, if you're in or near NH, there's a MINI dealership being built in Bedford. Not sure when it'll be done, but that might help your decision.

I've had my car for about 2.5 years and tend to visit the dealership maybe once every six months, if that, for various reasons. Once I can no longer get free stuff done under warranty, I don't plan to return to MoP. My experiences there have been less than stellar, amongst other things. There are also other shops that service (and/or specialize in) MINIs that I'll be going to instead. That said, there are people who have had better experiences than I and don't mind going to MoP.

You can do oil changes yourself. I have, though I'm taking advantage of the free ones until that expires.

So yeah, driving to the dealership is kind of a pain, but it doesn't happen often. If your car has no problems, you'll likely only need to go once a year for oil changes.

Okay, all that said, I love my MINI. I still look forward to climbing in every single time. As someone else said, I'm not really tempted by any other car, even after having mine for a few years. It's tons of fun and I strongly recommend at least test driving one. I'd be glad to talk your ear off via memail if you have more questions.

Good luck!
posted by Tu13es at 5:41 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So many great suggestions that I hadn't thought of! Thank you! I may look into the Mini again after all (can't beat the free maintenance, even if it's farther away) and will definitely look into a bunch of the other ideas here.
posted by dayintoday at 6:17 PM on December 14, 2010

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