oh, 2015 mini cooper, shalt thou be my noble steed?
August 20, 2014 3:46 PM   Subscribe

questions about the reliability and driveability of the mini cooper.

the current koroshiyamobile is almost at 190k miles. while for an acura, it shouldn't even be breaking a sweat, it was a first-year model of the TSX, and as such, i seem to have had every problem that it could have had. and now i have a new one - it's burning oil to the tune of 1qt every 1000 miles. no bueno, and not a happy me.

it's currently in the shop to be diagnosed, and for me to decide what the next steps are. assuming that my poor baby (i have loved this car, people. LOVED.) is done for (i.e. since the car is only worth about $5k, i am not paying $4k if it needs a short block replacement), how are the current crop of mini coopers? i am looking at a 2015 custom build roadster s.

i have a friend who has it, and she loves it/has had no problems. her car, though, is only 1 year old. i know there were some big issues with the older ones (2005-2007) for people on the green. have these gotten better? the mechanic who is working on my current car said, "mini coopers - fun to drive, but you'll never get 190k out of it. also, i will buy your tsx.". what say you, recentish owners of the awesomely fun cooper?

also, i am getting a stick in bay area traffic. i have already been there and done that with the tsx (and it took it like a champ), but how well does the cooper manual transmission hold up to abuse?

i realize i can get another tsx. i do. but. i am getting older and i want fun and convertible.
posted by koroshiya to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i should mention i have no desire to get a miata. if i'm going small and convertible, it's gonna be a cooper.
posted by koroshiya at 3:47 PM on August 20, 2014

I've got a 2014 Roadster S, and have had no issues with it at all. But it's still young, and I leased it specifically so I'd be in the clear if it lives up to the BMW reputation.

It's a ton of fun to drive, and well worth it in that respect. I'm in LA, and even with the terrible drivers and traffic I'm always happy to be on the road. I do drive an automatic, though. Judging by the amount the car has to shift in day to day traffic, I think I'd go insane with a manual.

Some notes about the Roadster: The convertible top is semi-automatic: you've got to initially twist and push a handle before the car will open the top the rest of the way, and close it up on the way back. There's a hidden compartment above the glove compartment, just push in on the dash. And the bluetooth integration can be used with Siri, but only kinda: You need to activate Siri through your iPhone, but after that the car'll take over (thinking it's a phone call). And you'll rarely find anyone else on the road with your car, which is nice in a snowflake sort of way.
posted by karanlyons at 3:51 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

the mechanic who is working on my current car said, "...also, i will buy your tsx."

I say find another mechanic.
posted by mlis at 3:54 PM on August 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have a ~6 year old Mini Cooper S (turbocharged) manual, and drive in bay area traffic (not much stop and go commute, but some). I've also driven unkillable Hondas (at least one was >150k miles with no surprises). It's totally driveable in traffic.

I'm with your mechanic that you won't get 190k miles out of your Mini unless you are superhumanly diligent about maintenance, and here's why.

1) the engine burns some oil, like a quart every 500 - 1500 miles.
2) this is in-spec, from the driver's manual
3) the dipstick is the hardest to read of any car I've owned
4) there is no low-oil warning light

What I'm saying is, this is a car where you have to be involved as a driver in monitoring it. Check the oil every fill up. Then, maybe then, you can get it to 190k.

But yes, it's not built to the reliability standards of a Honda or Acura. That said, I've had mine for a year, and it still puts a smile on my face.
posted by zippy at 4:08 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Minis did get a lot better. But. Beware that the '15 Cooper is a first-year model for the new body style and engine.
posted by hwyengr at 4:18 PM on August 20, 2014

hwyengr: That's only true of the hardtop, I believe; the new body and engine haven't trickled down to the rest of the line yet. The 2015 Roadster, at least, will be basically the same as the 2014, and some years previous as well.
posted by karanlyons at 4:24 PM on August 20, 2014

Our JCW MC didn't have any notable problems to 86K (then sold it). Clutch/ trans were still strong. But things overall were looser and noisier. Definitely get the manual if you are a driver. And ditch the run-flat tires if they're oem.
But I will side with your mechanic. It will be a big leap from a TSX.
Here's a kind of interesting comparison here (tho not exactly your models).
posted by artdrectr at 4:27 PM on August 20, 2014

I also have a 6 year old Cooper S manual. I've had it since new.

It has always consumed oil. I have to put in about 4 quarts between changes which works out to about once every 2500 miles. It's at 85K miles. Between warranty work and stuff I paid for out of pocket, it's had about 10K in repairs so far. Timing chain tensioner, fuel pump, 4-5 gaskets, turbo oil line. It is VERY MUCH not a Honday.

BTW the 2015 roadster is of the same generation as my car and zippy's.
posted by splicer at 4:31 PM on August 20, 2014

i think i worded the above wrong. i am having to add a quart every 1000 miles to keep it between the two points on the dipstick.

i guess the point is moot though, the acura's piston rings are shot. i am getting a second opinion this weekend and then test driving a new tsx as well to make sure the mini is what i really want. keep the opinions/experiences coming, though! i appreciate them.
posted by koroshiya at 5:08 PM on August 20, 2014

My 2006 Cooper S six-speed manual has 91K miles and runs like a champ. It's a fun car to own. Its only issues have been that a) sometimes the passenger seat airbag switch is squirrelly and b) one of the engine mount bolts seized up. FWIW I have two friends with the same car in SF and they both love it.
posted by carmicha at 5:11 PM on August 20, 2014

By the way, when I bought my Cooper used, I was also considering some reliable but sporty Japanese cars. I found truedelta helpful in getting a sense for repair histories. The interface is a little wonky, but they've got plenty of user-reported data on repair histories.
posted by zippy at 5:30 PM on August 20, 2014

i am having to add a quart every 1000 miles to keep it between the two points on the dipstick.

That is actually within manufacturers tolerances for a brand new car. It's ... just not that much of an issue. The problem is it seems OMG TERRIBLE because you're not used to it. Burning oil in itself is not at all an issue - oil is, after all, just 'not finished yet petrol' - so don't use that as a metric. You don't really *need* to do anything to fix it unless it gets worse (and over a short period).

The new Mini is too new (in terms of design and the like) for any information here to be of use. Although from what I understand they have been getting progressively better in terms of engineering.

how well does the cooper manual transmission hold up to abuse?

It's a manual transmission. They are less complex than the modern auto's and stop start traffic may mean a clutch replacement earlier than other examples, but that's more an LA problem than a manual gearbox problem.

i should mention i have no desire to get a miata. if i'm going small and convertible, it's gonna be a cooper.

Based on your desire for 'fun and convertible', your choice of a Cooper is flawed unless there are some other parameters we don't know about (like, Mazda are responsible for some heinous crime in your past?). The Miata is a significantly better car by all metrics except 'interior space'. Honestly, please test drive one before you make your final decision.
posted by Brockles at 7:30 PM on August 20, 2014

I bought a 2013 Roadster S and it's great. The only issues I have are the road noise and a bit of a rattle in the housing right under the roll bars. I just turn up the stereo and I'm planning on checking out the rattle (I think I can probably shim it a little to quiet that.) I got the stock tires and I'll have to replace them before the bad weather hits this winter. I took delivery October 2012 and drive about 20,000 a year so I don't know if that's considered early for replacement or about normal.

Oh, and the hill assist (holds the brake for a few seconds until you get moving) will be nice in the bay area.

Based on your desire for 'fun and convertible', your choice of a Cooper is flawed

I don't agree with this at all. My Mini great fun to drive and obviously it is convertible. When I was researching cars, I did hear the Miata is a better car generally. I never test drove one because I don't care for the look of them and I liked how much I could customize. I like my Roadster quite a bit. It handles well and is responsive and gets good gas mileage (last I checked I think I was getting around 32 on the highway). It's comfortable and esthetically it's better by far than the Miata in my opinion. I got exactly the car I wanted and it does what I need it to and I would and would buy the same one again if given the choice.
posted by Beti at 8:00 PM on August 20, 2014

If I'm understanding your current car situation correctly, your TSX is circa 2004. If you've not done much driving in more contemporary vehicles (esp ones of non-Japanese extraction), you may want to take an extra level of due diligence when test driving the Cooper. It's ride isn't for everyone. A good road test would be to see if you can find some potholes and speed bumps and steep angled driveways, and see how you feel about its suspension and handling. May not be a dealbreaker for you and your driving conditions, but something to consider.

Also, if longevity of ownership is a goal, adding a convertible top to the mix introduces more potential points of failure, some of them verrrrrry expensive. And some of them comically catastrophic -- a softop that is stuck half-way up in bad weather suuucks. (Me, in your shoes, I'd rent a convertible now and then to scratch that itch, and keep the daily driver a hardtop.)

I agree with Brockles that there are perhaps better vehicles ("better" across multiple metrics) for your particular situation, esp. since you say you LOVED the TSX. I'm thinking that the handling and performance upgrades that have taken place in most cars since 2004 will go a long way toward upping your fun quotient, even in less "sporty" makes/models, so you may not "need" what the Cooper has to offer to be happy. A contemporary Japanese ride might really surprise you with how super fun it is.

So, give that Cooper a good hard riding, maybe try a few Japanese options for comparison, and get whichever car you really love, based on real-world experience?
posted by nacho fries at 9:36 PM on August 20, 2014

Brockles has a good point: at least check out the Miata. Much fun to drive and far more reliable, by reputation anyway, than the Mini Cooper.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:59 AM on August 21, 2014

I had an absolutely mint '90 Miata and it was about the most perfectly honed car I've ever owned, and I've owned a lot of cars. Handles better than anything on the road, engineering was just perfect in every way, never missed a beat except when I had an old and intermittent spark plug wire and another time when it filled up with water because the peculiar internal drains the drain the sunroof had plugged up, which meant I had water slosh forward and into the ECU, which is weirdly located on the floor in the passenger footwell (I wet-vac'd out all the water, dried the ECU with a hair dryer, and everything was fine). The engine in the Miata is a 300-400k+ engine if you take care of things.

Unfortunately, I was about three inches too tall for mine (I'm comically long in the trunk), and ultimately I had a work injury that led to my physical therapist recommending I sell the Miata and ride my motorcycle instead as a part of the therapy for chronic pain. When I sold the Miata, I made an $800 profit over what I'd paid for it, and I just contented myself with my prescription motorcycle instead, but the Miata was possibly the best car I've owned when you sum up the practical and emotional qualities it had. Tiny, tiny trunk, though (I added an old-school luggage rack, which helped), but after a while, it was sort of liberating as a tool to make me travel with less stuff.

My reservation with the Mini is always that it's a BMW, and there's a very, very good reason why you can find so many recent BMWs for reasonable prices for sale right at the moment the warranties run out. They're great to rent, but German engineering does not ever equal reliable or thrifty transportation since about 1972.
posted by sonascope at 8:13 AM on August 21, 2014

Safety info: IIS and NCAP indicate the hardtop is relatively safe, which apart from rollover should be similar to the convertible.

Some folks are mentioning reliability issues with the Mini with Consumer reports and True Delta are the most popular sources of new car data and they paint a pretty poor picture of the Mini. I would suggest looking at a third source that is based on older information from when vehicles are traded in, which lags behind but provides a decent overview of the brand. Methodology reviewed here, and note Mini makes the list of ten worst. Trade in data indicates that only a very small number of Mini's car even make it to 180 000 miles, which might be partly a factor of the car's popularity in urban spaces. However less milage wouldn't explain why the brand gets the lowest score for Manufacturing Quality Index of all the brands surveyed. Finally the last chart on the trade in link or this one listing ten best/worst which is specific to the Cooper is given a score of 3.6, and for comparison, a Toyota 4runner gets 95.

So while it is possible for Mini to have turned things around for 2015, and for you to get have a favorable experience like the owners above, I would also suggest leasing it for a short while, or if you purchase plan on moving on once the warranty is up.
posted by zenon at 11:12 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm exactly six feet tall. I found driving the Mini Cooper 2012 hardtop (rental) intolerably claustrophobic, and in a particular way that would only be worse in a convertible: I felt like I had to slouch down to not be looking out the top four inches of the windshield. And I like to sit low and back, I wasn't scrunched up on the wheel at all. Actually could not see stop lights if I was too close to them. Thing was quick and nimble, but I can't imagine longer drives in it.

Maybe you want a real BMW. In for a penny . . .
posted by spitbull at 11:20 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is also the issue of dashboard controls visibility. I don't know about you, but I like being able to actually read the display while driving. The dashboard layout plus steering wheel configuration just doesn't work for me. Very frustrating. I don't care how "cool" they look -- if I have to slouch and crane my neck to get a good view of those displays, that's piss-poor design. It's probably something for you to test carefully for yourself -- it might just be my height that's the issue.
posted by nacho fries at 9:56 AM on September 1, 2014

New 2015 Miata skyactiv due for official release Wednesday.

I'd reconsider.
posted by spitbull at 11:22 AM on September 1, 2014

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