A HIT right from the start, Mini’s modern retro flicks all the right toggle switches. In fact, toggle switches formed part of the retro package design. Sales were consistently strong (faring better than the VW Beetle) and completely vindicated the theory that such a theme can work rather well.

It should be noted that the current thirdgeneration Mini was revealed in 2007 with the engine now supplied from BMW's own stable in a joint venture with Peugeot. This is when we said goodbye to supercharging and hello to the more common turbocharger on the S, but the Convertible continued with the Chrysler-derived engine until the new Convertible was ready for production in early 2009.

In this report we focus on the earlier models with the Chrysler engines. Manufactured in Cowley, Oxford (incidentally the same factory that produced the iconic original Mini) the first “modern” Cooper was naturally- aspirated, offering 85 kW and 149 N.m whereas the Cooper S was blown via an Eaton supercharger using two counter-rotating scrolls. This version had outputs of 120 kW and 210 N.m. The John Cooper Works (JCW) version was introduced in 2004, with extra boost taking peak power to 147 kW and peak torque up to 240 N.m.

Locally, Steve’s Auto Clinic also released a modified version that gave 150 kW and 258 N.m, using a smaller supercharger pulley to increase the speed and therefore boost together with a Dastek Unichip. This version also had a Dastek intercooler mounted under the nose to improve cooling of the intake air. A Cooper CVT was also made available, which is not what most really want for a sporty car such as this.

Lots – and we really mean lots – of options mean that if you are fussy about colour combinations and kit you need to take some time looking for your ideal package. There are many available on Auto Trader for example.

The Cooper models use conventional tyres whereas the supercharged S uses run-flats that might get you out of a tricky spot but are also expensive to replace should you have a puncture in the sidewall. Most Mini lovers prefer to opt for the S as it accentuates the highly sporty nature of this pocket rocket.

Luggage space is below average for its class at 128 dm³ expanding to a utility figure of 648 dm³ with folded rear seats. The corresponding figures for the convertible are a very tight 88 dm³ to 488 dm³. The Convertible’s roof can be partially opened like a sunroof or completely folded back, so it’s versatile and a lot of fun. It also gives a more spacious feel to the otherwise cramped interior, especially for those in the rear.

The engine was made by Tritec in Brazil and was used in the Chrysler Neon. It’s a strong unit and thankfully doesn’t use that bugbear of so many cars – a cambelt. Instead, a strong chain drive is employed, so no worries there. The block is made from cast iron so is also sturdy. Only one case of a broken camchain was reported, repaired under warranty, and the general consensus is that this is a unit that can take tuning punishment and should last for a long time.

The Cooper used a five-speed gearbox (Midland to early-2004 and Getrag from late 2004 onwards) while the Cooper S had a sixspeed right through. Unlike the engine, there have been rather a lot of gearbox failures, especially the early ones, no doubt exacerbated by the heavy use that these sporty vehicles tend to receive. The Getrag ’boxes can be sticky and rattly (BMW owners know about this) but this doesn’t mean that failure is imminent and they are pretty robust units.

Clutches may also have been beefed-up from 2005 onwards. Engaging reverse can be a problem for some. Gear linkage cables came adrift on early models and needed sorting out with retainer clips by the dealers.

The ride is very hard and therefore not suitably comfortable for many, but the upside is excellent handling as if on rails, with a very sharp turn-in on corners. Squeaks from the suspension are fairly common.

Power steering is hydraulic but with an electric pump instead of the usual belt-driven mechanical pump. Quite a few problems may be experienced, from fl uid unexpectedly ending up on your brick paving (failed seals) to electric motor failures (sometimes temporary) causing sudden very heavy cornering. Some respondents said that the car would pull to the left even after re-alignment. This could be due to over-sensitivity to the camber of the road, something we notice more often with fully electric steering systems.

Some fuel gauges gave false readings. Digital gauges look good, but are not as accurate as the conventional analogue variety. Boot release solenoids provided intermittent faults on some cars. Somewhat strangely, a few windows would open without being asked – possibly a short somewhere between the switches (which are situated close to the console) and the doors.

Seat squeaks are the main problem here.

Rattles were noticed by many, some in the doors, some in the facia. Not serious, but annoying. Windscreens can crack on the lower side due to stress transmitted from the bodywork.

The vast majority of owners waxed lyrical about the enjoyment they got from driving these cars, irrespective of problems they might have experienced.

Make sure that the gearbox is in good condition, see what work has been done over the car’s life and remember that clutches can also have a hard life. Steering issues might crop up, but the Mini remains a great fun car that is still very popular, so values remain respectable, helped by the BMW brand in the background.

There are many used examples from which to choose, including a surprisingly large number of Convertibles, so an exclusive icon packed with the fun factor can be yours from under R100 000 to whatever your budget can handle.

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