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TLDR Review, 2003 Mini Cooper R50

So what do I really think of the Mini Cooper?

What is it?

A 2003 Mini Cooper (not S). 116HP of pure normally aspirated Tritec 1.6L power, driven through the front wheels via a 5 speed gearbox.


It’s spacious, surprisingly so… unless you want to sit in the rear seat. If you have legs, don’t even try. Oh, and the boot is tiny (well, compared to the Fit) but can take a handful of supermarket bags without issue. The seats are supportive and comfortable, and I do quite like the half leather interior trim.

The dash is simple, and obviously being a Mini the speedo is dead center along with the temp and fuel gauges, but doesn’t take long to get used to. The soft touch surfaces on the dash don’t wear well, like almost every car that uses that rubbish, but its only in a few places. The door “cards” also don’t wear amazingly well, having suffered scratches in the plastic on mine. The rest of the interior is hard, textured plastic. Hard wearing, but not luxurious. The standard speakers make a good amount of clear, bass-y sound which is nice. It’s quite impressive for such a small car.


It’s cute and it’s yellow. I kinda like the styling of it, with its short and squat look. On the Liquid Yellow colour, bonnet stripes are a must, and the black accents (roof and mirrors) are far better than the white. The Cooper gets a nicer looking set of bumpers than the One does, but not as flash as the sportier Cooper S.


It’s fun. I didn’t really expect it to be as 116HP is just so little power, but if you keep it over 4000RPM the engine just sings and the car pulls nicely. Under 4000RPM the engine is badly lacking and can really lug trying to get up hills. The gearbox is slick and shifts well, although I feel the clutch is too light (but coming from the industrial weight clutch in Tess, most cars will be), but the bite is predictable and it’s very easy to drive. The handling is great fun; with wheels pushed out to each corner, you can really chuck it into corners and it just hangs on and around you go. I suspect part of that is from the 17″ wheels and sport suspension mine is fitted with. Gotta keep it up the revs though.


Get the best spec you can, and hold out for the options you want as there are many different combos. NZDM cars seem to be better specced than JDM imports. Coolant issues are a common thing for these, like most BMWs, so make sure it’s been maintained well. Another common problem is the strut top mounts and mushrooming issue. There are also abundant reports of the 5 speed gearboxes in these early Minis falling to bits, so make sure it shifts smoothly and doesn’t make any odd noises. Keep it maintained with quality fluids. Rattles in the interior are common, but beyond that, they seem to be fairly simple and reliable. They are still British cars, built by Germans though, so don’t expect too much.


I have kinda fallen for this wee thing. I got it as a trade for the MX5 as I figured it would probably be easier to find a new home for than a soft top, but didn’t expect to actually really enjoy driving it. Sure, I have had some issues with mine, but most of them were from a lack of prior maintenance. Thankfully it wasn’t too far gone or too hard to get it back up to scratch. Stepping up to the Cooper S with the supercharger would be the best option, as the engine just needs that extra kick down low, but I guess for an around town car the Cooper is easy to drive, comfortable, fun and cheap to run.

A++ would trade again.

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