Is a Mini Cooper a good car for a collage student?
September 13, 2016 8:03 PM   Subscribe

I am buying my first car, and need a little help. I need a good car for light commuting to school, and city driving. I also want something with a little pep. Is a Mini Cooper a good choice?

I'm looking for a car that has some get-up-and-go, but I drive 20 minutes to work/school, so good MPG is a plus. I also like small cars. So a Mini Cooper S seems like a good choice. I will probably get an older one (like 2007-2010). Is it worth it to get an S? Is there anything I should consider before I buy? Is there a better alternative?
posted by The Reverend to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people are talking about this generation's Ford Focus RS as a good option for a budget hot-hatch. Not sure how it compares to the used Mini on price, but it's also small and has pretty decent cargo capacity. Might be worth a look.
posted by Alterscape at 8:10 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

It is a great fun car and easy to park, but you need to be able to eat an annual $500 - 1500 in unplanned engine repairs (water pump, timing chain) and be diligent on checking the oil level.
posted by zippy at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

I really wanted a Mini Cooper, but then I looked into the reliability and found it to be concerning. Some anecdata from quora. So consider that, especially for your specific year before you buy.
posted by bluecore at 8:12 PM on September 13, 2016

With the repairs, I should add "with a half or full day in the shop."
posted by zippy at 8:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend traded in her new Mini Cooper after only two years because maintenance costs & frequency far exceeded cuteness cachet. She got a Honda Fit. I had a satisfactory no-frills used Ford Focus.
posted by gregoreo at 8:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I ended up with a Honda Fit when looking for a small car with some pep. The manual is surprisingly fun to drive, it barely needs any maintenance, and it's cheaper than a Mini Cooper or VW Golf.
posted by asphericalcow at 8:20 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Focus RS isn't a budget anything right now, it's getting $5k dealer markups over its $35k MSRP because of rarity and demand.

I had an '06 Cooper S, which was the last year of the first body style. Like many mass produced items, they got a lot of the kinks worked out by the end of the run. 2007 was a brand new engine, so you might want to look for cars closer to the end of that run.

But, it's a great city car! Back then the only thing shorter was a Smart, so a whole new world of parking spaces will open up to you. Next to no cargo space with the back seats up, but plenty with them down.
posted by hwyengr at 8:22 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do not think a MINI is a car for a college student, no. Buy something with a far more reliable service history.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:23 PM on September 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

I was looking at a Mini Cooper for similar reasons but went with a Honda Fit and I adore it.
posted by sallybrown at 8:25 PM on September 13, 2016

Depends -- are you a film major?

If you are, you will regret having a Mini the moment you are called upon to ferry 8 friends and a whole dolly rig over to the next shoot because you're the only one on set with a car

And by regret I mean you will spend 15 minutes in traffic praying to god that no cop rolls by and notices your clown car is packed to the brim with sweaty students and pieces of dolly track sticking out every which way

Other than that, YMMV
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:48 PM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

In another scenario I'd point out that many Mini service centers will offer you a temp car to drive during repairs but honestly you'll be better served financially right now by a Honda Fit or a Toyota Yaris or similar, at this stage in your life.
posted by padraigin at 8:50 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

An average car costs around $12,000 per year to own in its first few years. That drops for older cars a lot, but cost to insure (based on your age and the car), reliability and new/depreciation costs (what you pay for if you lease) can bump up for a desirable car like the Mini Cooper too. Can you afford $12,000 per year? If your answer is yes, then go for it.

So look at the whole envelope, cost to buy or lease sure, but reliability, fuel and insurance too. This is why used but still reliable small cars are so popular; Fits are cheap, Yaris' and Elentras are cheaper still.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 PM on September 13, 2016

Driving a Mini around town (even a non-S model) is exceptionally fun. There's something about the way it moves that's just awesome. I've driven a lot of small cars and none of them can compare.
posted by actionstations at 8:57 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fit / Yaris / Mazda 3. (Though I do know that the Yaris sedan is a dull car to drive; I have no experience with the hatchback.) If you don't know for sure that you can pay the pep premium, save that for later.
posted by holgate at 8:58 PM on September 13, 2016

A Mini needs, as other folks have mentioned, more frequent and more expensive repairs. (Mini is owned by BMW if I recall correctly, and has BMW-levels costs for parts and labor.)

Also, Minis from 2011 and back all require premium not regular/cheap gas.... So it'll get the same mpg as a Honda Fit, but with a higher purchase price, a higher upkeep cost, and a higher per-mile cost. No, it is not a good car for a college student, unless your family has plenty of money.
posted by easily confused at 8:59 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

So. Many. Repairs.

posted by jbenben at 9:11 PM on September 13, 2016

Subaru Impreza or WRX? I have a regular Impreza and think it's pretty peppy, but not like something made by BMW. It also doesn't have the repair costs of a BMW product.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:25 PM on September 13, 2016

I have a toyota yaris. It does every single thing the Mini or the Smartcar does, but without the unreliability of those platform.
posted by Ferreous at 9:39 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mini Coopers are overpriced and not known for being reliable.

If you're looking for an affordable car that you'll be driving for a long time, get a non-flashy car like a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic.

I would never in a million years buy a 10 year old Mini Cooper. It's going to need a ton of work, and you'll pay out the nose.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

In addition to what others have said about repairs, my boss traded in her beloved Mini Cooper in part because it was awful in winter weather. I don't know if that's a factor for you.
posted by Kriesa at 10:22 PM on September 13, 2016

i have a 2015 mini roadster s. i love mine. HOWEVER. i bought mine new, and i knew the reputation, and it is the only car i've ever bought that i've gotten the extended warranty on. i also got the extended service package that covers everything but my tires. both have more than paid for themselves - i've had my top replaced twice in the past three months due to a design issue that was causing a problem.

before you start looking, you can go to north american motoring and look at the boards for the year and type you're looking at owning. they are also really receptive to questions, so ask away.

that said, it's the most fun car i've ever had, and it is the easiest thing to park. my boyfriend has immense problems parallel parking due to depth perception issues, and he can park mine on a dime. and yeah, it is hella peppy.
posted by koroshiya at 10:33 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Prius has a Power Mode button that offers get-up-and-go when you want it.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:38 PM on September 13, 2016

I had a non-S, non-Cooper 2007 Mini and loved zipping around town in it. The Cooper S version is a rocket strapped to a roller-skate and should be an absolute blast, but might be too firm on a long commute. The newer one has variable suspension settings so there may be a comfort mode that you can live with, but I would check first.

They use oil at a ridiculous rate - 1 litre/quart per 1000 miles is "within tolerance" according to BMW. It needs the fully-synthetic stuff made from unicorn tears I can only imagine.

Mine broke, apparently due to oil starvation although I never saw an oil warning light. Apparently it can happen if you corner hard for a few seconds, so make sure you keep things topped up.

Is it a good car for a college student? Absolutely not. But I still miss mine.
posted by paulash at 12:35 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've owned a 2010 Mini (a Mini One, not a Mini Cooper) since 2013 and done nearly 30,000 miles in that time. I'm reading this wondering if we're talking about the same car here - are the ones for the US market manufactured to a different standard, or subjected to much harsher environments? I ask because in the UK it's rated very well for reliability, and I've had no such problems with mine.

I do agree on the practicality point. I am 6'2" and about 270lb and find my Mini perfectly comfortable, but you are not going to get more than two moderate-size people in the back, and you'd better hope they don't have much luggage.
posted by Major Clanger at 1:46 AM on September 14, 2016

Actually, I do have one issue with the Mini: if, like me, you are more than about 5'10" tall, then unless your driving position has your nose up against the windscreen you will find that your line of vision upwards is cut off. I often have to bend my head down at junctions to see when the traffic lights have changed.
posted by Major Clanger at 1:49 AM on September 14, 2016

When I was a college student, I had many occasions when I wanted to move large object, E.g. furniture. When my children were college students, I bought a mini-van. A tiny car with no carrying capacity seems to me an odd choice.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:27 AM on September 14, 2016

My friend has had one for many years, loves it, and lives around Vail, Colorado where they regularly exceed 300" of snow a year so I would challenge the suggestion that it doesn't do well in winter weather.
posted by cecic at 4:58 AM on September 14, 2016

Came in to say that a used Mini is a poor choice for a college student's beater unless you just don't need to give a shit about money.

Since you don't mention hauling lots of stuff around: if you don't need to worry about snow, and you fit in one, then I would just get a Miata. Good mileage, near bulletproof reliability and a vast network for parts and service, and absurdly fun.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:24 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Would you like to hear the words "Honda Fit" again? If so, this comment is the right one for you.
posted by komara at 7:02 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I owned a 10 year old(2004 vintage) Mini cooper for a few years and I miss it every time I see one on the road despite it being an objectively terrible car. Fun to drive, easy to park, and processing a certain style it nevertheless got surprisingly poor fuel millage, was expensive to repair (no serious problems though), and the special oil it required just seemed to drain back to whatever ethereal dimension it was distilled from.

There are better choices unless you really want to be the sort of person that drives a Mini Cooper.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:03 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about a Fiat? Small and cute, and more affordable. I had a 2012 (just traded it in for a bigger car to drive across the country) and I loved it!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:10 AM on September 14, 2016

A Mini Cooper will tend to be on the expensive end of the scale if it ever needs repairs. I'd opt for a lightly used Honda Civic Si, if you're looking for a bit of pep. Keep in mind that your insurance will ding you for being A.) Young, and B.) Driving a sporty car.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:48 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I absolutely love my Mini, but I bought it new with the extended service agreement, and I'm at a point in my life where I can afford to deal with more expensive repairs, premium gasoline, etc. For a college student I would recommend the Honda Fit with the fun to drive manual transmission.
posted by thejanna at 7:49 AM on September 14, 2016

Get a Toyota. Ultra reliable, minimal maintenance.

When I was in college I got a Tercel Hatchback, and then I had it for thirteen years. So then I bought another Toyota. Which is now twelve years old and in great condition. We just bought our third Toyota.
posted by vignettist at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

May I suggest a BMW i3? You want pep? YEEHAW. It's a freaking torque monster, soooo much fun, way faster than any car listed above. Seriously, drive one and you'll see.

Used 2014 models are starting to show up. Low-ball the seller, don't pay any attention to the listed price. More info here -- click on the PDF.
posted by intermod at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2016

I've had a 2002 Cooper, which was the very first year it was back on the market. Half the car was made in England, half in Germany, and it was… an adventure to repair. The company paid for two new transmissions under warranty. Despite the repairs, I liked it enough to buy a 2013 Cooper, and sold the 2002 to a mechanic, who's still driving it today.

If you're handy and the idea of replacing the thermostat doesn't make you want to take to your bed with the vapors, it can work. I love my car, but it drinks oil. I'd suggest buying an ODB code reader and app, the mechanics' manual, and have at least 2 quarts of oil and a spare ignition coil in the car at all times.
posted by culfinglin at 6:53 PM on September 14, 2016

I did a ton of research not too long ago on small, used hatchbacks. I also did a lot of test driving. Mini Coopers are adorbs but they have a bad service record and actually get shitty gas mileage for their size. Get it if it brings you massive amounts of joy but not because it's practical because it ain't. For the record, I ended up with a Mazda 3 hatchback and I am surprised with how much pep it has. It's actually fun to drive and it gets really good gas mileage.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:31 PM on September 15, 2016

We love our Fiat 500 Pop -- half the price of a Mini, and much better as far as maintenance. It just turned 3, and besides regular oil changes, we've only ever had to take it in once for a plastic part that broke (which was covered under warranty). It's been fine for road trips, and my husband drove it from Florida to Arizona when we moved across the country with no problems whatsoever.

I test-drove the Mazda 3, Chevy Spark, Ford Focus, Toyota Yaris, Smart ForTwo, Mini Cooper, and Scion iQ. The Fiat had the most pep of any of them (though I had to test-drive automatic transmission on a few, since for some models, a manual is surprisingly hard to find). It also won for comfort, instrument placement, base-model features, and was one of the lowest prices of the lot.
posted by themissy at 11:41 AM on September 16, 2016

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