Random Thoughts on MINI Loaners and the CVT

As many of you know MINI service loaners are a rarity at most dealerships and getting them even at dealers who provide them can be difficult. My local dealer has “one or two” avalaible but in a year and a half I had never gotten one… until now.

I recently dropped off my MINI at the dealer with a loose seam on my leatherette sport seats. Once the issue was determined to be a warranty situation I was told it'll be 2 days and given an Enterprise car. After the wrong part was delivered (due to mislabelling at the warehouse) I was informed that I wouldn't be getting my car back until the Tuesday after labor day. At that point I immediately realized that a stripped down Toyota Echo rental wouldn't sufice for 4 more days.

The Echo was almost as tall as a small SUV but just barely larger longer than a MINI – making for one of the most ungainly looking cars I had ever sen. It had body roll that would have made a Buick owner envious and was as sluggish as MINI on three cylinders might be. Worst of all it felt as if it was built with one tenth the metal and structural intregraty that the MINI has. Needless to say it had to go.

After a quick call from the dealer's parts manager (who I know well) I was able to procure the dealership's only demo/loaner MINI for the weekend.

So enter a fairly stripped down Yellow and Black Cooper. It was optioned with 16″ Wheel/Runflats, DSC, chrome line, and the CVT. Of course I looked at this experience as an opportunity to compare various options and packages to what I had on my Cooper. While I didn't actually have the opportunity to spec our car it did come as loaded as was available in April of 2002. It's a Indie/White with Sport, Premium packges, heated seats, Xenons, 17″ S-lites, Chrome Line, Euro Parcel shelf, MINI FINI Cup Holder, Remus Exhaust, etc etc etc.

Upon first entering the cabin of the loaner I was greeted with many less buttons and no leather steering wheel. I love the idea of the manual heating and cooling controls but they seem a bit less well-executed in comparison to any 3 series from the past 15 years. The steering wheel texture really will take some getting used to as well. I never would have thought I had to have a leather steering wheel but man I really miss it already. Well maybe I don't need one but I really like the feel 🙂

While I love my Xenons I imagine the lack of them won't be a big deal until I get out of the city this weekend. As it stands I barely noticed the difference once I started driving.

The CVT is the biggest change I had to deal with overall. I had driven a CVT before and had come away from the experience determined that it just wasn't the right option for me. I think a lot of that experience and my current opinions has to do with the lack of a software upgrade on both CVT MINIs I've driven. I'm absolutely shocked at how much of a stumble there is in this car from a standing start. In the 90 dgree + heat of a Chicago afternoon it's almost embaressing when pulling away from a light. MINIUSA this is a real issue!

The other huge difference between this car and my own Cooper is the absense of the full length sunroof. You really can't overestimate the difference this makes in the overall feel of the cabin. Of course it's something that you wouldn't miss if you didn't live with it daily. The problem is I live with it daily and I certainly miss it 🙂

So all this comparing got me thinking about all the personal desicions that go into specing a new MINI. The difference between ordering a MINI and ordering, lets say, a Ford Focus is that the MINI is typically a much greater expression of your own personality. Thus it makes the process almost a series of very personal choices.

So it seems that there really is no bad spec when it comes to a MINI – only what you are used to and how it works with your lifestyle.

  • Donna

    Thank you for addressing the “stumble”…how can we get MINI to listen and act on this?

  • Wow – what a difference a day makes. The CVT feels so much better this morning in cooler temps.

  • Frank

    Gabe, I currently own a 2002 Cooper CVT (August 2002 build) with 12.9K miles. If you ever come down to Miami, I will let you experience how wonderful my car drives. It drives and feels like a 1600cc engine should be…PERFECT.

    I have no yo-yoing, no bogging, no stumble, no stutter, no stalling, no hesitation, nada, zero, zilch, zip.

    I have perfect linear acceleration, awesome throttle response from the get go (In all 3 CVT programming modes), excellent fule economy, no rough idling with the A/C in out 90F+ and 100% humidity weather.

    I have software update version 33.2 which was installed in my car on May 17th, 2003 and after 5K miles the car drives much, much better in comparison when we first took delivery in early Sept 2002 and when it had software version 30 from the factory…totally different car.

    Your experience with the CVT loaners is by no means representative of the experience with the majority of privately owned CVTs. Even the lead MINI tech at my dealer tells me time and time again that when he drives my car it is one of the smoothest and better driving CVTs in South Florida.

  • Thanks for chiming in on this topic Frank – I was hoping you would.

    I know several CVT owners that absolutely love their car and their transmission so I knew what I was experiencing wasn't normal. I would love to take yours out as a comparison if I ever make it down that way – how about January 🙂

    Seriously though my experience this morning with the CVT was much much different. This may not be normal but the acceleration has this sort of elastic feel to it. When you punch it – it takes just an instant to spool up. But once things get moving you surge forward very smoothly with a good amount power. When you let off you it seems the CVT very gradually gears down. It all adds up to this elastic sort of feel that, once your used to, is pretty fun.

    Would I ever opt for the CVT personally – probably not. I'm a diehard when it comes to a manual I suppose. Would I recommend it to others looking for some commuting relief – yes.

  • Frank

    My Cooper CVT does not have a sunroof and my upcoming '04 MCS will not have one either. I test drove a couple of cars with it but was not sufficiently convinced to spring up the extra $800 for it. Don't get me wrong, the Webasto Panorama sunroof is a very nice concept on its own as it covers 60% of the roof area and gives a lot of light to the interior. But it is not without is shortcomings:

    • Biggest mistake IMO is the lack of solid shades. The factory meshes fail to filter the direct sun rays getting inside the cabin when the car is parked outside. Add to this a barely sufficient A/C and you'll have a rolling oven on wheels. Very badly conceived for tropical climates.

    • The sunroof when fully open gets very loud at speeds above 30MPH.

    • The sunroof tends to rattle after a few months of use

    • Adds around 60 pounds of weight to the roof.

    The lack of solid shades is what broke the Camel's back. perhaps in colder Northern climates this is not much of an issue, but in South Florida the MINI sunroof unfortunately is a no-no.

  • Some good points Frank. I'm convinced that the rattles can be overcome. I've got almost 30k on my Cooper and no rattles in the sunroof area at all.

    However the lack of a true shade must be a serious issue in South Florida. I can completely see how that would be a deal breaker. Of course in the northern climates we need all the light we can get 😉 I personally love the sunroof shades as they are – they create this cabana effect that I love. The MINI being an English car designed in the UK I guess this is just one of those issues we just have to deal with.

  • Frank

    Gabe, your CVT loaner driving experience mirrors that of our CVT when we first took delivery last year. The car felt like a “Snowmobile”…the rubber band driving effect and “Herky Jerky” effect when releasing the E-gas pedal was nothing sort of annoying.

    Our car came with update 29 or 30. Shortly after we took it home, the dealer downloaded 31 and it was even worse. The steering wheel would shake and vibrate very badly with the A/C on while the engine idling and in Drive. As soon as I got update 32.1 back in February it did ironed out a lot of these out of whack behaviors, but still was rough around the edges. Update 33.2 has been the cleanest of the bunch but it is not 100% perfect yet. Still has its very occassional glitches. I think MINI will soon release update 34.1 or 34.2 which appears to be in prototype form as we speak (Someone I know that was having tons of problems with a 5-speed Cooper, MINI HQ in NJ, gave him the 34.x prototype and he says that the car drives and feels perfect for the first time in over 14 months of ownership).

    I agree, MINIUSA has a big hot potato in thier hands with these software updates. They are damaging thier reputation with unhappy owners as each days goes by that they fail to provide a final fix.

    Gabe, you are welcome to come to Miami in January…it should be nice a cool then. Looking forward to meet you in person.

  • Frank

    Gabe, the CVT has lots of engine braking power effect which is unsual on an Automatic car, but then again the CVT is not your everyday slushbox.

    After driving a MCS and CVT back to back, the CVT has much more engine braking power effect than the MCS. I think that while a bit weird in the beginning is a nice safety feature that helps minimize brake pad wear and increases braking effectiviness.

  • Vanwall

    Sorry you had a bad experience, Gabe. I have a CVT Cooper and as yet, after 30,000+ miles, none of the problems I've heard about. Must be a Wednesday car! And I agree with Frank – the engine braking is amazingly effective.

    I've also got the sunroof, and maybe once a year, at a particular time of a sunny day, I wonder if I need a solid shade, and then I say – Nah, I like 'em like they are. I'm in San Diego, and have driven a lot to AZ, in the summer, too, and I feel claustrophobic in a non-sunroof MINI now.

         Rob in Dago

  • I know this is a bit late but I felt like suggesting maybe MINI purposely lets in as much as light/heat as possible because back in Britain it’s REALLY REALLY REALLY COLD? Just my two cents.

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  • Grabt Tucker

    My CVT mini was a nightmare. It would try to take off in the equivalent of 3rd gear. Ver dangerous when going across an intersection. After sending back to the dealer (Team McMillan in New Zealand) 6 times I tried to trade it in on a cooper S and Team McMillam tried to shaft me on the trade in.
    I now drive a great VW golf TDI way more car for the money

  • Sorry to hear, Grabt. But I have to respectfully and firmly disagree with the “more car for the money” comment- it just isn’t. Please allow my 6-speed MCS with a 16% pulley, CAI, and one-ball exhaust drive the point home!

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