What else can I get with my Polo money? How about a… Mini Cooper S
Sometimes a small car is not a compromise – it’s a preference. And rightfully so, because if you don’t need the extra space of say a saloon or the ‘off road’ capabilities of a SUV, then a nippy hatchback with a small foot print is one of our preferred methods of travel.
Not all hatchbacks are equal though. Some are more luxurious than others, while others offer more performance. But a new 1,6-litre Polo doesn’t really offer anything except that it is a hatchback and that is affordable, so isn’t there something that we can find on the used car market that has a little more pepper under the bonnet?
Well, how about a Mini Cooper S?
Although the term was only invented in the 1980’s, the original 1963 Mini Cooper S can be considered the original hot hatch.
It took the collaboration of John Cooper and Mini designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, to birth the first Mini Cooper S, a collaboration that had to be kicked off by Mini’s management of the time.
Issigonis was never sold on the idea of a performance Mini, but we are thankful that John Cooper got his way in the end.
In 1961 the first Mini Cooper rolled off the production line, featuring a Morris Mini-Minor motor with an increased capacity of 997cc, and a power bump from 25 kW to 41 kW. In todays terms that is the same relative performance gap between the Audi A3 2.0T and the RS3…
It also featured front disc brakes and a closer-ratio gearbox, both quite uncommon on small cars of the time. Only 1000 units were made, which was just enough to fulfill the homologation rules for Group2 rallying.
1963 saw the advent of the Cooper S. It’s 1071cc engine managed to produce 52 kW and the front wheels received larger servo-assisted brakes, but it was the cars rallying ability that really won it its racing stripes.
Mini’s won the Monte Carlo Rally four years in a row between 1964 and 1967, even though they were disqualified under a dubious decision in 1966, cementing their inclusion into the history pages.
But that was almost half a century ago, 50 years that included an ownership charge, which saw Mini included into the BMW marque.
In 2001 BMW’s first attempt at the heritage rich vehicle was released. It collected its fair share of criticism for being too big and luxurious, and not in the spirit of the 1960’s era Mini, but if sales are anything to go by then the BMW Mini was a roaring success.
Along with the standard 1,6-litre Cooper, BMW also released a Cooper S, in which the S stood for Supercharged. The force induction Mini managed to produce 120 kW and 210 Nm of torque and was easily distinguishable from its lesser brother by its twin center exhaust pipes and bonnet scoop.
In 2007 the second generation of Mini Cooper’s under the BMW group was released, which saw an increase in the size of the Mini and some exterior and interior changes. The biggest change though was that BMW had discontinued the supercharged Cooper S, in favor of a more efficient turbocharged engine.
The turbo powered Cooper S managed to produce 130 kW and 240 Nm of torque (260 Nm if Overboost was engaged) when it was launched, and still featured its signature exhausts and bonnet scoop. It took some work to get the thing off the line without too much lag, but once you got going the 1,6-litre turbocharged engine had a lot of shove to give.
In 2010 the Cooper S received a facelift that added another 5 kW in power and a minor exterior tweaks.
For our budget we’ll be looking at the second generation Cooper S, those equipped with a turbocharger. The supercharged variants are cheaper and some might even say that they offer a better driving experience, but the turbo units are more frugal and don’t look quite as dated.
The second generation of Mini Cooper S’s (referred to as R56) do have some common problems, although it seems that the majority of them relate to abusive driving and missed-maintenance.
Looking for driver abuse is difficult, but be aware of a shift action that is scratchy or that has trouble engaging certain gears.
Checking for a proper maintenance schedule is much easier, and as with any second hand car, a complete and reputable service history is non-negotiable.
There have been reports of an engine rattle occurring on engines with a decent amount of miles on them (about 70,000km) that has been linked back to a timing chain and tensioner problem. Some owners have reported that ignoring this led to the chain dislodging and ruining the entire engine, so be sure to have it looked at if it happens.
Other than that, the regular set of electrical problems have been known to find their way into the cabin of the Mini, such as failing electric window motors.
What we found
Luckily there are more than a few R56’s for sale so finding a colour and equipment level that suits you shouldn’t be too difficult. For our money we are quite keen on a Black 2009 Cooper S with 76,000km on the clock and is on sale for 179,950 from a dealer, but there are many with similar prices and mileage.
In a market like this you have the luxury to shop around and wait for the right sort of package that you are after.
So, new of used?
Considering how wide the pool of used Mini’s is and the average maintenance problems, we would have to say that a Mini Cooper S is a pretty good buy!
Despite the majority of Mini’s being bought for their quirky looks, they are fun to drive and will reward enthusiastic inputs with a great exhaust note and go-kart style handling.