Few would have thought that a reboot of the classic, iconic Mini would have been met with such universal acclaim. The result of an astonishingly well executed BMW revision, the Mini Cooper and Cooper S were such a success that waiting lists soon developed. Used models started going for higher than the price of a brand new version, such was the demand of the public to get their hands on one of these super fun little cars.
The Mini One was cute, the Mini Cooper funky, but the Mini Cooper S was the one with the performance. 2002's 170bhp supercharged pocket rocket was also available as a convertible from early 2004 and a 210bhp Cooper S Works edition was released later that year. At the start of 2005 the Cooper S received a Steptronic gearbox and later on came a special 'Checkmate' edition.
2006 upgrades were mostly noticeable in an improved interior and slightly larger bodyshell, while later editions such as a diesel S and a two-seater roadster have since become available.
Bang for your buck
The new Minis are a clever blend of the classic original with modern chic and technology. Apart from the usual gadgets and gizmos, the approved used Mini Cooper S features a roof spoiler to the rear, 'sport' edition body coloured bumpers and practical air-flow and engine cooling. Other design advantages are; extra grilles on the front and rear bumpers to further increase air flow, two chrome exhausts, a chrome fuel cap plus two 'Cooper S' marked chrome side grilles with clear indicator covers.
The Checkmate special edition boasted a unique Space Blue metallic paint colour and chequer patterned decal elements on the front wings. There was a cool set of 17 inch Flame alloys, plus silver coloured mirror caps and roof added to the extensive Checkmate body styling kit, along with a U-shaped bonnet decal instead of the Cooper's more usual forward stripes. The front end also benefited from Xenon headlights and a set of fog lamps. The interior was clothed with a special Checkmate fabric and leather, a three-spoke leather trimmed steering wheel, floor mats, a height-adjustable passenger seat, extra stowaway compartments, a trip computer, air conditioning and an interior lights package. More importantly in driving terms, the Checkmate also came with a limited slip differential.
What you'll pay
Although there are plenty of them out there, the Mini inspires owner loyalty, so you won't pick up many bargains. A standard second hand Mini Cooper S for sale from 2002 will still cost you the best part of £10,000, a Cooper S Works edition from the same year will be about £2,000 more and a 2004 convertible version is about another £2,000 on top of that.
What to check
A good value five year 'TLC' servicing package was eagerly taken up by buyers of new Minis so you should find plenty of well looked after used examples. However some niggles have cropped up. There was a recall to adjust fuel filler necks, while a number of ball races on front suspension struts apparently came without protective caps, causing pull to the left and necessitating new struts.
Poorly fitting dashboard elements and roof guttering caused some annoying rattling and a faulty tailgate latch sensor required repeated slamming to disengage the warning light. Under the circumstances, scrutinise paperwork thoroughly and if you're looking at a convertible, check the hood operation carefully.
£130 will get you a clutch assembly, £55 a set of front brake pads, £360 a full replacement exhaust, £100 a new alternator and £120 a starter motor. If you need to replace a headlight you're looking at £165 and about £65 for a front tyre.
How it drives
The Mini was more than a little side project for BMW. All of the German giant's experience has proven that it's about quality, not quantity: in other words, it's not the size, it's what you do with it that counts. The used Mini Cooper S may be small, but it's great fun – 7.2 seconds from 0-60mph sort of fun, 138mph top speed sort of fun. However it's not all about the straight line pull, the Cooper S is a great all rounder, with an excellent little chassis handling corners with aplomb. While the convertible version suffers from a less rigid bodyshell, the Mini Cooper S Works is dynamic enough to make the most jaded squeal with glee on the road.