2002 MCS Report (3 years/61,412 miles)

This report comes from long-time MotoringFIle contributor Dave Bunting:

On June 7th, 2002 I flew from Denver to New York, purchased my 2002 MINI COOPER S, and hit the road to drive back to Denver.

But the story of my MINI induction actually begins in early 2001 when I put my name on a wait list for a car that hadn’t been sold in the U.S. in decades, and one that I wouldn’t even test drive for another year. For those that may not recall, when MINI launched in the U.S. in March of 2002, the COOPER was the only model available. The COOPER S deliveries started a couple months after that. The first COOPER and COOPER S cars to be sold were referred to as “pre-specs”, since MINI/MINIUSA had come up with a list of set specifications for each color (i.e. if you wanted a red COOPER S, you got a white roof, 17″ s-lites, leatherette, and nothing else). My MINI was “pre-spec” Dark Silver, which meant that it came with the Premium and Sport packages and the Lapis Blue leather interior. One indulgence at the time was to purchase the R90’s as a way of making my MINI a bit more unique and less of a pre-spec. With that small change, my pre-spec was pretty close to the MINI I would have custom spec’d in the 2002 MY (Black, Indi Blue, and BRG weren’t available on the S in 2002).

During that first year of MINI ownership, my MINI was at the dealership on 10 different occasions. The windshield was replaced on four different occasions and the coolant expansion tank was replaced three times. Both of those issues were common on the early build MCS. A software change in October 2002 finally fixed the cold start condition that made it difficult to start the car on the first, second, third, and sometimes not even on the fourth try. Those experiences had me questioning my decision to purchase a MINI in the first place. Having the popular car of the moment with all the attention that came with it, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be when the windshield was cracking, the coolant tank was leaking, and the car wouldn’t start properly. Happily the tide turned starting at the beginning of the second year, and my MINI has been trouble free with just scheduled service visits every 15,000 miles.

The first year wasn’t as bleak as the above might have you believe. My MINI did over 29,000 miles with of motoring, with road trips from New York to Denver, Denver to the Canadian Rockies, and Denver to California.

Since that day in 2002, a lot has come to pass. Through MINI ownership I met some new friends, helped start one of the first MINI clubs in the country (MINI5280 in Denver), and took up autocross.

As I look back on the past three years, I have enjoyed my MINI a lot. However, I have been contemplating replacing my ’02 MCS with an ’06. Much like Gabe, I’m looking to go in a different direction with a new purchase. While Gabe went from an ’02 Indi Blue MC to an ’05 Black MCS, I’m considering going in the opposite direction: ’02 Dark Silver MCS to ’06 Solar Red MC. The revisions throughout the car and particularly the new gearbox on the ’05 MC have impressed me on the occasions I have had to drive the ’05. As of late I have been using my car mostly for commuting and I have found that don’t need the additional power of the S (it’s nice, but I don’t need it). I also have always had an appreciation for the lower hood design of the COOPER compared to the S, and with the revised “high grille” MK2 coming out in 2007, I would like to get one of the lastof the low hood MINIs (all the better to clip pedestrians with. (kidding!).

  • Eric

    Nice review Dave! 😉 Your MINI is one of the original New MINI pioneers!

  • Eddie M

    Good luck with your next MINI. I guess there are folks out there who question such a move, particularly in light of the next gen’s more advanced drivetrain. However, like you, I am a big fan of the current design and plan to acquire an 06 MCS (DS/W) prior to the MK2. The differnce being, I plan to keep my mildly modded 02 MCS.

    Let’s MINI 🙂

  • Ian

    Nice read – Thanks! I love all the different ways we MINI owners love our cars … my first MINI was also June 2002, but I am driving #3 now 😉

  • I still may wind up with a MK2 at some point, but I’d like to get a newer MK1 for now. After my first year experience with my ’02, I’m not looking to be on the “bleeding edge” of early adoption again.

  • AlanB

    Great story! Mine’s different. Picked my MCS up on July 3, 2002 DS/W after waiting 1.5 years on the list. I have only 15K but fewer problems. I love this car every day I drive it! The only car I have ever owned that gets better. Of couse, my 4th MINI. Started with an 850 in 1969 and sold my RHD ’64 Morris Cooper “S” 1275 after purchasing the new MCs. Still fun!

  • Steven

    You don’t need a MINI, either. A Geo or a Kia would get you to work for far less than the MINI costs. You don’t get a car with more power because you need it.

    You don’t need a sunroof. You don’t need the Harmon Kardon stereo system. You don’t need leather seats. You don’t need an on-board computer. You don’t need bonnet stripes. You don’t need to drive a MINI. There are other, cheaper, more fuel efficient commuter cars out there. Perhaps you would be happier with one of those.

  • What that suppose to be some type of argument against getting a Cooper??

  • db

    Nice write up Dave!

    How many miles are you up to now? I’ll be hitting 90K in the next week or two.

  • I chose to buy an ’05 MC to commute in also, and did it because it was a good middle ground between the Lexus IS 300 I was salivating over and the Honda Civic Hybrid or Toyota Prius that my environmentally aware side told me I should be buying.

    I could also have gone for something dull and uninteresting, but that wouldn’t allow me to smile on my way to work every day the way I do now. And I think I smile even more than I would have in the Lexus (knowing that I have more money left in my pocket) and probably more than I would have in an MCS, for the same reason.

    I love my MC!

  • Chris M

    What a great looking car (and great pictures, too)! The s-lites work very well with the dark silver color.

    I have an ’05 MCS and I’m very happy with it, but like Dave would seriously consider an MC for my next Mini. For most of my weekday driving, there’s little opportunity to take advantage of the increased power and torque, and there’s something to be said for minimalism. But it’s a judgement call. Luckily there are roads nearby that allow my MCS engine a workout on the weekends!

  • db: a little over 61,000 miles. Lightly used by comparison

    Steven: You’re right to some degree. We don’t need any of that stuff and could all drive soulless tin containers with wheels.

    However, like everyone else that visits this site and the other MINI enthusiast sites, I enjoy owning a MINI. I’m a big believer in the brand and a philosophy of making a driver’s car that puts its small size to good use. To a large degree the MINI set out to prove the point that it wasn’t just possible to do more with less, but rather that it does more because of its small size.

    In much the same way, I feel the COOPER makes a convincing case that just as much fun can be had in a car that also happens to have an engine that makes less power, weighs less, and is less complicated. The fact that it costs less isn’t really a factor for me. If I wanted another S, I’d get another S (not that there is anything wrong with the S).

    Chris: Minimalism sums it up nicely. Glad you’re enjoying your new MINI. It’s hard not to really. 🙂

    You can also see more of my photos by clicking here.

  • mataku


    i don’t think it’s a matter of need. Really, there are very few things you need in your life, but it’s more a matter of using it and enjoying it. Sure you could use a Kia or Geo, but you’d enjoy a MINI to its fullest extent. You’d enjoy the better sound of the HK or the open air of the sunroof.

    lastly, I do agree that the MC looks better than an MCS. That hood scoop disturbs the pure look.

  • Mini2Go

    You don’t need a MINI, either….

    I’m not sure what spurred that comment (or the rest of it)? It doesn’t fit the context very well. Of course, for those of us who have spent time in the forums with Dave, there is a LOT of context for all of Dave’s comments. I suppose for someone less familiar with Dave, a majority of the text in his retrospective details the negative, while only a few lines note the overall satisfaction that he has had with his MINI.

    Rest assured, Steve, Dave is among the finest of MINI ambassadors that you will find. Very few are as worthy of driving a MINI as he.

  • Mini2Go

    Oh, oops. I left the screen un-refreshed for (way) too long to see Steve’s last reply.

    Nontheless, my last statements still apply. 😉

  • Rest assured, Steve, Dave is among the finest of MINI ambassadors that you will find. Very few are as worthy of driving a MINI as he.

    Yeah – for someone to say something about Dave like that is really laughable. That’s why I wasn’t sure how to take it at first. It obviously comes from someone who doesn’t know him or the situation.

  • BTW – I’m curious if anyone else here owned (or ownes) one of those first pre-spec MINIs that Dave has. My first Cooper was a pre-spec (with the ultra rare xenon lights no less) that just happened to be exactly what I would have ordered.

  • Thanks guys.

    Mini2Go, you’re point is well taken regarding context.

    Just to clarify the point I was trying to make by including all of the negative from the first year (besides the point that it did happen).

    The ’02’s have a reputation (IMO deservedly) for having had more initial build issues. I wouldn’t claim that my experience was representative of all 2002’s, just that my MINI had a lot of issues (probably more than most) in a group of cars that were known for having teething problems. That shouldn’t be a surprise considering they were early production.

    In my reading of the various enthusiast sites, I sense that there continues to be a stigma around the the ’02’s even now. Based on my experience, I believe that to be overblown, especially when considering that for the number of problems that surfaced with my MINI in the first year, there haven’t been any problems since then.

  • GregF

    I have a 2002 Cooper and don’t plan to get rid of it. It’s definitely not a lemon. I’ve been to the dealer with several issues, but the car has gotten me to work and back everyday. The window motors/regulators are the biggest disappointment. The power in the Cooper is decent(below 60 mph)if you keep the revs up.

  • I agree with Greg. I think the ’02 Cooper is certainly the better of the two cars when it comes to reliability. While my ’02 had a few minor issues in it’s 45,000 miles with me, nothing was serious enough for me to question my ownership. And most important, all issues were resolved easily at the dealership.

  • Mark @ MINI of the Main Line

    Nice write-up! I had a similar experience to yourself. I actually ended up working for a MINI dealer because of my enthusiasm, had to wait to get my hands on my own MINI (finally got a July 2002 build MCS DS/B 1,2,&3 with lapis) I sold that car about 3 months ago and got a 2005 MCS roughly 6 weeks ago, and you would not believe the difference in the new models. I actually called a co-worker on my first drive home because I couldn’t believe how outstanding the car was. I would HIGHLY recommend test driving a 2005 model. I too shared the heartaches of the 2002, and the 05 is a whole different animal.

  • Bruce

    Gabe said: “BTW – I’m curious if anyone else here owned (or ownes) one of those first pre-spec MINIs that Dave has. My first Cooper was a pre-spec (with the ultra rare xenon lights no less) that just happened to be exactly what I would have ordered”.

    I happen to own THE twin of Dave’s car, built the same day and just one serial number away. I can’t remember if my MINI is actually one car older or younger — (Dave, my serial number ends in “42”, is yours “41” or “43”?). Like Dave, I purchased my car three years ago this week halfway across the country and I drove it home to a major city. In this care it was a major city that was still 10 months away from getting a MINI dealer! I also experienced all the little quality glitches the very early Cooper S MINIs had, but it never let me down even with the nearest dealer some 5 hours away most that first year. It was fun having a very rare car on local roads until the MINI dealership opened mid-2003.

    My car is not equipped exactly as I would have ordered. I’m a lifelong owner of classic Minis and I wanted my new MINI to be red with a white top to match my 1965 Mini, but I basically settled for the chance to own one of the very first Cooper S models anywhere in the world (and without having to pay any $ premium to own a MINI – a very rare thing in 2002 I can assure you!). To be honest, I never regretted it (but I have been fantasizing about doing what Gabe recently did and getting a new MINI).

    About the only thing I wish my 2002 MINI had that the 2005’s have is the LSD and shorter gearing. I could do without the ugly all-red taillight design of the new MINIs.

    Back in 2002, spotting another MINI driving by was an occasion to wave or even for both of us to pull to the side of the road to meet and discuss MINIs. These days, I’m saddened by most of the new MINI owners who are totally oblivious to recognizing, let alone acknowledging, another MINI on the same roads. (Can’t the dealers apply some sort of test to keep the clueless from buying one? 🙂 )

    If I don’t follow in Gabe’s footsteps and opt to get a new MINI, I plan to hold onto my car for a long time. One thing for certain, whatever I replace it with will definitely be another MINI.

  • Ian

    [OT] the “ugly all red taillight” looks very good on a red MINI – now I see the pre’05 design as wrong! 😉

  • Bruce

    I should also add that if I were to get a car to replace my pre-spec’d 2002 S, I would go the MINImalist route: A red/white Cooper S with only a few options: LSD, DSC, red painted dash (like my old Mini), front and rear fog lights and the Multifunction steering wheel (even though the new wheel’s designed audio controls are not as easy to use).

    After three years of living WITH these options, I would NOT get them again:

    • xexon lights (not impressed with them, quality aftermarket bulbs can do as well for a lot less $)

    • panoramic sunroof (too much weight and $ for the limited enjoyment I get get from it)

    • auto a/c (I end up fiddling with it anyway to maintain comfort, so manual a/c would be just as good for me)

    • 17 inch S lites (a very good looking, but very heavy wheel – I would go aftermarket for a light weight and reasonable priced wheel. No way would I consider paying stupid $ for the high end MINI wheels. They look good, but I’m just too cheap!)

    • on-board computer (I play with the computer a lot, but it doesn’t tell me anything I really need to know, Avg speed? woo-hoo! avg mpg? I’ve died and gone to heaven…)

    • leather seats (I love the look and touch of it, but they are too hot for summer use. Cloth makes more sense — I just wish Space Cloth did not look so Star Trek)

  • [OT] the “ugly all red taillight” looks very good on a red MINI – now I see the pre’05 design as wrong! 😉

    [OT#2] – I agree Ian. I’ve gone back and forth on this for a year now. Currently I’m in firmly in the pro-’05 rear lights camp.

  • Bruce: It’s good to hear from you and on today of all days. 🙂

    I remember three years ago the angst we both went through as we tracked each others cars for progress, PM’ing back and forth on MINI2 with status changes. As I recall our MINIs got separated somewhere late in the build process, wound up on different ships, and have been separated ever since.

    Mine was actually two away from yours (44).

    Also, there is one other person I would like to mention from three years ago today and that is Lori Abrams (aka MINIQUEEN). She was by far the best (and most internet savvy) Motoring Manager in the country at the time. I heard a while back that she had moved on to another dealership, but she was the embodiment of the motoring spirit.

  • Bruce: your opinion on the options we have lived with matches mine almost exactly.

  • Bruce

    Ian said: “The “ugly all red taillight” looks very good on a red MINI – now I see the pre’05 design as wrong! ;)”

    I’m a firm believer in function over design when safety in involved. Flashing Amber color communicates “turn-signal” much better than using the same red color that is already being used for taillights and brake lights. If the car behind a 2005 MINI can only see the red flash of one partially obscured taillight in heavy traffic, does the driver know if the car in front is pumping the brakes — or is it signaling for a turn or lane change? The use of amber turn-signals is always better. The US must be the last place on earth that still allows red colored rear turn-signals on new cars.

  • Bruce

    Dave, good to hear from you. How did I mess up the “twins” birth numbers? 🙂

    BTW, my car has led a sheltered life compared to yours: only 38K miles on mine.

    Yes, Lori was very helpful. And it didn’t hurt that Westchester MINI (and MINI of Manhattan) were were actually owned by the BMW corporate organization and ended up being the only two MINI dealers in the entire country actually selling cars for MSRP! (despite lots of promises from 3 other MINI dealers who took my deposit and assured me they would not charge premiums or additional mark-ups, only to succumb to greed)

  • LorenH


    Thanks for a great trip down memory lane. My story is almost identical to yours…the wait list….the pre-spec DS/W. (I picked mine up from MINIQUEEN at Westchester MINI in NY on 05/24/02). I remember you posting all these pics too. Wow, where does the time go? I am at 70K+ miles now and love my MINI more now than the first day! Ian said it best, we really do love our cars in our own unique ways.

    Thanks again and I love your photography, -Loren

  • I’m a firm believer in function over design when safety in involved. Flashing Amber color communicates “turn-signal” much better than using the same red color that is already being used for taillights and brake lights.

    [OT#3] I agree Bruce… if we had those Euro spec 2005 lights we’d actually get an amber turn-signal.

    And it didn’t hurt that Westchester MINI (and MINI of Manhattan) were were actually owned by the BMW corporate organization and ended up being the only two MINI dealers in the entire country actually selling cars for MSRP!

    [OT#4] I know of at least two other deakerships that didn’t have any mark-ups – Knauz MINI and Patrick MINI in Chicago.

  • Bruce

    Gabe said: “[OT#4] I know of at least two other dealerships that didn’t have any mark-ups – Knauz MINI and Patrick MINI in Chicago.”

    I stand corrected. 🙂 It did seem at the time that even the best intentioned dealers realized there was a killing to be made and prior promises of MSRP quickly went away. Or.. they “kept” the MSRP promise, but suddenly required you to make a mandatory purchase of certain dealer-installed options in order to get your MINI.

  • Yeah – it was like a disease at the time. Normally honest dealers were suddenly requiring special “packages” that consisted of rust protection and floor mats for $1499 🙂

  • Loren: Very cool. Good to see some others around from the pre-spec days.

    Bruce and Gabe: Another tact I witnessed at the time was at my local dealership. They had MSRP pricing for custom spec’d orders, but then had mark-ups on cars available on the showroom floor. Mind you this same dealer had a waitlist 18 months deep and yet somehow had “extra stock”.

  • Vanwall

    I’m one of the pre-spec buyers – this June 11th will be three years I’ve driven and enjoyed immensely one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. I had actually had driven to every single MINI dealer in the LA area, (San Diego having no dealers yet), had tried a couple of deals that didn’t pan out due to dealer BS, and had been to Long Beach a few times to keep my name and face in the mix for anything un-spoken for that might look good. As with some of the dealers, they were marking them up by adding on stuff, rather than adding on stuff AND marking up like some of the worst offenders.

    After I hung around enough, LB mentioned that they had a list of pre-spec cars that were scheduled for delivery in three weeks, and were willing to sell one at list if I found one I liked, something no other dealer had offered, BTW. I was actually looking for a slightly different comination than what I found, but this one actually came with slightly more than I wanted, so I compromised a little and said “Sure”. I didn’t have to put any money down or sign any paperwork – my word was good enough. Soon enough I was driving off the lot in a BRG/W Cooper with cordova leather, sunroof, auto-air, and multi-funtion wheel.

    Normally I don’t fly the ‘A’ model of anything, but I was taking a chance that BMW would get it right first time, and to my satisfaction, it pretty much has. I had the windshield replaced once, something I attribute to the lack of SS+, which I think puts added strain on the monocoque as a whole, and I’ve avoided most of the reliability problems of the early Cooper manuals by getting a CVT, which I’ve also managed to keep pain-free. As with any car, three years will give it its own share of rattles, which have been mercifully few, and a few battle scars, which I wear with pride – cars are made to be driven, and none more so than the MINI!

    She’s survived a hard hit on the shotgun side, and worn out a few sets of tires, but given me 65,000 miles of wonderful motoring, starting every time rain or shine, never letting me down on a long road trip, and looking like many more years of fun to come.

    I did have a yen for an ‘S’, so I bought one of ’em too, altho it is a spec car. Since I have given it to my son who started this whole thing, it’s really his story on that one, so all I’ll say was altho the spec experience was frustrating having to wait, in the end it payed off nicely.

             Rob in Dago

  • Allan

    Ahh, there is only love between fellow motor-ers..

  • Greg W

    Can someone please tell me what the smallest new car is available for sale in the USA? Also, what is happening to all the old MINIs that have travelled high mileages? What happens to your trade-ins? Is the used car market attracting a new found social-class of owner? Cheers GW.

  • Ian

    Greg, There are many different versions of “small” … the MINI is the SHORTEST car available for sale today in USA, but it is wider than some cars (like the Scion xA), taller than some (like the Lotus Elise!), etc.

  • O(=^=)O Capn

    What great pictures! It would be great if they were Desktop Wallpaper! hint hint.

  • Hint noted.

  • Note noted.

  • Everytime I do those I get the urge to buy a huge flatpanel.

  • Herby

    I ordered my ds/w MCS in March, 2002 and began motoring in September. I went through some of the early glitches……stumble, cold start, hatch lock, coolent tank, frozen door locks, little interior noises. Apparently, the ’05 models were built sturdier as Mini learned from some of it’s mistakes. But, I would never choose to part with the fun associated with owning an early model.

    While there are aspects of the ’05 that have been improved, I don’t think the car is drastically different than my ’02. Plus, I took advantage of a burgeoning aftermarket and added …….CAI, 15% pulley, GIAC, rear sway bar, non-runflats, short shifter, Whalen shift knob, silver M7 lower grill and a few other minor features. IMO these upgrades have made my ’02 more fun and have provided better performance than any ’05 could right out of the box.

    My ’02 is a fantastic machine and I won’t even consider getting a newer one until at least ’08…….and only if it proves to be a signifcantly better performer.

    So, I will continue to motor happily and contentedly, wanting or needing nothing more than what I already have.

  • my 02 Cooper has been really reliable.

    • i have had a fuse replaced for the aux fan (the factory put the wrong one in),

    • headlamps re-aimed as they were pointed 2 inches in front of my nose (from the factory)

    • i had a software update performed to fix an a/c stumble,

    • steering column something or other replaced under warranty to fix some clacking noises

    other than that, ignoring the 2002 MINI build creaks in extreme temperatures, it has been very, very reliable. I haven’t even replaced the brakes yet, and I’m at 45K miles!

  • steve p

    hi everybody. i don’t own a Mini (own a 99 MX5) but it is great reading about the enjoyment of driving your cars. i’m trying to help out my wife’s boss who owns an 03. she has replaced 3 steering pumps to date! has anyone had this problem or heard anything remotely similar? failure has happened under a variaty of cicumstances, (full lock right and left, non lock right turn) any feedback would be appriciated. looking forward to a little dogfight with a mini but haven’t come across anyone who can drive one as it should be driven. see ya on the road. thanks, steve

  • Lynn aka SUPRCUPR

    I have a 2002 Mini Cooper S, Black/Red Rock’n Eye Catching go-kart on steriods. I LOVE IT.

    I have now encountered a few major issues. Here we go………..

    Issue #1 – My steering really becomes stiff and tightens. I must say a driving hazard, the steerig will then “break free”,which; causes over steering, scares me to death, and a most uncertain feeling.

    Anyone know of a recall regarding this problem. Any advice or recommendations?

    Issue #2 -The other night my alarm went off, my fan was running, my car was VERY HOT – result Dead Battery – causing all windows, locks, keyless entry, etc., useless. HELP!!

    Is this a blown fuse, a temper tantrum with the 2002 models, fried electrical system? (Causing the battery to drain) HELP!

    Issue #3 – Finally, anyone know where the (rear) manual lock release is located for the hatch? I need to get to my drained/dead battery out. but, CAN’T.

    Some models have a pull pin – mine does not. I learned this after two hours of searching the entire back seat, removing the back seat, etc., as MY Mini Manual indicated on page 24. (Note: I learned my Mini does not have this pull pin), Nor, does it have a manual key entry/lock on the outside. Hummmmm..

    So how does one open the back hatch if all the electronic components are rendered powerless, no super pull pin, an inaccurate owner’s manual – geeeezzzzzzzz what’s a girl to do?

    My Mini is well maintained, oil changed as required, clean, tires are the best, and I have a fancy air freshner (not a taxi cab air freshner), and we do not pick up hitch hikers. (She’s Spoiled)I hope I can get her the help she needs to get back to normal. Anyone want to help me with a treatment plan?

    My Closest Mini dealership is Nashville, TN. (about 3 hours North of me)

    Thanks! LynnZ251@hotmail.com – Alabama (SUPRCUPER)

  • Greg McGean

    I now understand why i go to work every day i have had my M.C.S. for a month and a half im 6ft 5in. 265lbs and it fits like an Simpson glove before its shrinks i love this thing my only beef is where is the power between 1000 and 2000 rpm so my first mod is…… a 15% pulley reduction and i will keep going till i hit 250hp then i will love it more until then smiles all the way to work i go.

  • Axel

    I have an 02 MCS Pure Silver and the last time I dynoed it was 2 yrs ago with 194 WHP!! and I have made some slight mods by adding M7 crank pulley and removed the Mini-Madness cone filter with AMSOIL filter(which is better and no oil residue) so actually I dont know what I have now. I am getting anywhere from 20-24 mpg(city) to 25-30mpg(highway) depending on NEED for SPEED for that day. I also too had to wait the lauch date.

    As of today I have 105k and have replaced the following: 1. P/S pump $650(for part only!!) ouch! that hurt 2. Crank Pulley Balancer $350 and belt tensioner twice(my bad I had forgotten the first time to change the Supercharger belt) and then the above item #1 broke at the same time aint that some crap. This happened at 55k 3. Changed WHOLE shocks to KONI FSD (highly reccommend them to any S and MC owner)you wont regret them 4. Clutch @ 102k (believe it or not) 5. Added M7 crank pulley(wow is it alive now)

    Anyway, I have had no other problems I guess I have been fortunate. I am waiting for the CLUBMAN Diesel and I will put to rest my BABY for special Ocassions.