The above picture is our R53 Cooper S. Its a late 2006 with all the toys. Works engine conversion, Diff, Works bodykit and 18" rims, Recaro heated leather, Climate control, Harmon Kardon Hi Fi, Sport Suspension, Chilli Pack, visibility pack, Interior and exterior plastics in Ultra Blue, 1320 Mini upgrades plus ITG filter and reduced pulley. In house Manic Motorsport mapping, similar to our UK 'Open Class' MINI CHALLENGE race-mapping, but stronger :)
There is no doubt, the R53 is a future classic, a rare or highly optioned model can already fetch 5 times the price of the same low spec, high mileage car in a less desirable colour. Many believe the MINI GP to be the finest of the generation and its hard to argue. The knock on effect is that these cars can retain 60% of their original sticker price, over a decade later. Yes you should have purchased one before, but its not too late.
The Generation 1 new Mini was a last swan song to the ROVER brand, a brand that stood up and showed the world what the British car industry was about in 1990's, mainly corner cutting and drinking tea, moaning about it, then going on strike. They were world leaders at this and its well documented.
ROVER always had the basics right though, their delivery was somewhat lacking but the German powerhouse of BMW could put that right, surely? In short, no it could not, but BMW needed a small car and the Mini division looked promising. They were not wrong.
Take said ROVER Mini, add an archaic Chrysler engine previously used in such junk as the 'Plop Rod' PT Cruiser, et voila! ( The BMW 6 Cylinders just wasn't going to fit). Well nearly, no Cooper S could be that slow, so a Supercharger was added and the new 'Rovsler' was born. A British built car, called a MINI, not a Mini. One that is ROVER designed, Chrysler powered and made by BMW. So whats it like from an owners perspective?
In my mind it looks the most like a Mini should when sat next to its Gen 2/ Gen 3 cousins in the garage. Its round, rather small by todays standards too. All credit to ROVER, it looks right in todays world of oversized cars. Get in and immediately the paper light doors and central dial remind you its more a ROVER Mini than BMW MINI. The cabin is small, its a 2+2 and large adults will struggle in the back, or with their back thereafter. Especially when holding your shopping because the boot/ trunk is about as big as the glovebox/ Firearm compartment.
On the road, the R53 is a total hoot. It feels old school, it is old school. It corners like a hot hatch used to, lift off oversteer is something that never bores you with this car, it rotates at will. All the time it feels like you can reign it in at the drop of a hat. It feels planted, the original factory sport suspension is good enough to push the car hard and the Supercharger whine is now epic (With the reduced pulley fitted) . Its light and it feels it, turn in is sharp once you get used to the balance of the car and the inherent need to understeer. The R56 Cooper S brakes on this car bring it to a stop in good fashion. I don't drive the car that often but when I do, I always get out of it and think I should drive it more often. The Supercharger set up encourages you to rev it, the charger whine increases along with the power and its addictive. I then walk away, look back and contemplate if its better than its newer cousins. Here is my conclusion on the R53 positives list, but is it enough to take the crown? ...
Its the most Mini like of the BMW MINI's
The Recaro seats are really good
The seat heating works better than the later cars
The Harmon Kardon has more Bass than the later cars
Turn in is sharper
The Supercharger whine is devine
Its Ultra Blue, its beautiful
More people stop to ask about this car, so its more interesting by default
Plus, you can touch the back window, yet it has parking sensors. A bonus for the Russ Swift's among us, its impossible to get parking wrong.
Overall, its a great car with many factors pushing it for that top spot. On the downside, its the most expensive to keep on the road, the most expensive to tax and has the fuel economy of a V8 Chrysler engine, without the Power, torque and symphony of the extra cylinders. The interior plastics are very plasticky too, but this is a Chrysler powered ROVER remember. Foremost though, its a Mini and its plain to see why so many people love their R53, its small, responsive, stylish and worthy of the Mini name in my opinion. A perfect follow on from the classic.
Exterior 9/10 It looks spot on
Interior 7/10 Great seats but plastics are cheap
Power 7/10 Good but not good enough in standard form
Weight 8/10 Its smaller and lighter than most
Handling 8/10 It turns in well, lots of lift of fun to be had
Sound 9/10 Supercharger whine/pops and crackles on overrun :)
Practicality 6/10 Its a 2+2 with minimal storage
Tune-ability 7/10 Old school bolt ons give a lot, at a hefty price
Cost to run 5/10 Drinks fuel like an M4
Smile factor 8/10 Awesome fun and pride of ownership
Total score 74/100. So the benchmark is set, how will the R56 and F56 compare, is there even any competition?