Used car spotlight: Mini Cooper S Mk2 (R56)
The second-gen sporty Minis are becoming as cheap as first-gens now, but what should you look out for?
Whether it deserves it or not, it's fair to say that the second generation of Mini Cooper S has always been overshadowed by one obvious thing: the switch from supercharging to turbocharging as its way of providing more oomph.
Superchargers have always been seen as the more exotic and more thrilling option of making a car faster. The engine keeps a natural feel, there's no lag, and, more often than not, you get one hell of a soundtrack. Turbos, on the other hand, are found pretty much everywhere these days, and so aren't seen to be anywhere near as special.
The second generation may initially seem like a bit of a dud when compared to its dad, then, but there is of course way more than how power is made that makes or breaks a vehicle. Read on to find out why the Mk2 Cooper S is a special little thing, and what you need to keep your eye on should you want one.
Earlier pre-facelift R56 Cooper S
What price is the second-gen Mini these days?
A good question with not a very clear-cut answer. The second-gen ran all the way from 2006 to 2013 with many upgrades both visually and mechanically along the way (more on that later). Thus, depending on the year you want, the price you'll pay varies massively. Prices start from £2,000 for a leggy early model, moving on to around £6,000 for the mid-life engine update, and top out at nearly £10k for pristine examples.
There's a Mk2 for nearly every budget out there, but certain models will almost certainly prove more troublesome than others, as we'll touch on shortly.
Why should I shortlist the Mini?
Simply put, the Mini is a sublime driver's car. Sure, it certainly isn't the lightweight that made the original so famous, but despite the penalty in mass, it still manages to feel astonishingly nimble on the road. The complete lack of overhang from the wheels, relatively dinky dimensions and a quite firm suspension setup all play a vital role in enabling the Mini to put a smile on your face.
In truth, you don't even need the Cooper S to extract the Mini's wonderful chassis. But as petrolheads, it would be impossible to say no to some extra power, wouldn't it? The turbo 1.6l found in the second-gen Cooper S produces anywhere between 175bhp and 190bhp depending on the model year. Any version is enough to get the Mini from 0-60 in the low 7-second range and top out at 140mph. Plenty, I'm sure you'll agree, for such a little car.
The Mk2 interior. Facelift models swapped the silver/grey trim for black.
Where the Mk2 really shines, though, is the step-up in build quality when compared against the original BMW Mini from 2001. It's fair to say that the first-gen Mini had one cheap plastic panel too many, and was prone to a lot of squeaking and rattling as you drove along. The Mk2 feels a lot more BMW-esque inside (which admittedly can also be a reason to dislike it) that gives a sense of sturdiness and quality when compared to the average supermini. Sure, it was no 5-Series inside, but the Mk2 turned the Mini into an enjoyable place to be.
Finally, the Mini is just different. The brand has never been one to shy away from that fact, and for many people, standing out is one of the most important things to have in a car. In a sea of Fiesta STs and Clio RenaultSports, the Mini subjectively oozes a bit more style and glamour.
Cool, I want one now. What do I need to look for?
It's saddening to say, but the Mk2 Mini Cooper S has more than its fair share of issues that you should be very aware of if you're serious about buying one. Let's crack through all the major stuff.
Firstly: timing chain, timing chain, timing chain. With the original engine fitted to the Mk2 Cooper S (codenamed N14; obvious from a lack of plastic cover), it wasn't so much a question of 'if' the chain would fail, but more 'when' - especially if the servicing hasn't been quite up to scratch. More specifically, the tensioner would fail, causing the chain to move around violently and giving the characteristic 'death rattle'. If you're looking at an earlier N14 model (typically 2006 til 2011), read through the service history like a hawk. If the chain has already been replaced, that's a bonus. Later 'N18' engines (2010-2014) supposedly fixed this issue, but there are still reports of failures, so don't let it off quite so easily.
High-pressure fuel pumps tend to be a common failure, too. Whilst their replacement isn't the complete end of the world, the job can be labour intensive, so try looking for a vehicle that's already had this job done in recent times.
Check out for any leaks under the engine. If it's dripping oil, that is likely to suggest a failure of crankshaft oil seals. If it's leaking coolant, there's a good chance one of the coolant pipes has been damaged by a rubbing part in the compact engine bay and will need a replacement ASAP.
Beyond that, generally check for how well it's been looked after. The Cooper S is a sporty car - chances are previous owners have definitely made the car work hard before. Ensure the servicing has been regular, corners haven't been cut with consumables such as tyres, and observe if the Cooper S isn't too cosmetically tired.
Any other random facts to know about ownership?
Sure. Fuel consumption isn't too bad for a hot hatch. You'll be hard-pressed to get it below 30MPG, even in stop-start city driving. On a run, 45MPG is very achievable, and over 50MPG isn't impossible if you really try hard with the cruising. Older models with the N14 engine are officially rated to return worse economy, so take a few MPG off from those figures if you fancy an early example.
You sit quite low, and the ride is quite firm - a luxury boat this is not. Take extra care with potholes and speed humps, otherwise the result can very easily be expensive-sounding. The seats are soft, though, and provide a great deal of relief for an otherwise unforgiving ride.
In sport mode, the exhaust will pop and bang when the engine is warmed up. It's purely for peacocking and is ECU-controlled, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. When most of its competitors are fairly flat-sounding, the Mini Mk2 adds a bit of cheek to its presence.
Pay close attention when buying, and you can end up with one of the most unique and bang-for-buck cars on the road today.