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Opinion: the Best MINI / Mini Model Ever

MINI on the Dragon Group Shot

Editors note: As part of the MotoringTern program MotoringFile has added two new authors to our roster. This piece is from one of those authors – Kurt Heiden. And as part of our desire to remain faithful to all sides of the MINI we also want to broaden the voice of the site and tell more varied stories that offer differing opinions. Having two new writers on the site will give us those different viewpoints that we’ve always strived for but haven’t always had the time to fulfill. Join us in welcoming Kurt and feel free to respectfully give your take in the comments below. And remember, this opinion doesn’t necessary reflect what all of us at MF believe. Or does it?

Anytime one tries to pick the best from a group of phenomenal choices it’s bound to ruffle some feathers, so apologies up front to those who disagree. That said if you like opinions (and don’t mind respectfully disagreeing), read on…

ROOTS

minidudesLet’s start with historical milestone MINIs. It would be easy to choose a classic Mini such as the Monte Carlo rally-winning 1964 Mini Cooper S, or perhaps the Mark I Mini which redefined perceptions about how practical a small car could be while simultaneously becoming an iconic vehicle of the 1960s. These models and their unique variants like the Morris Mini Traveller and Wolseley Hornet oozed character and still turn heads whenever one is spotted. Regardless, they never enjoyed both commercial success and reliability of current day MINIs.

The best MINI model ever would have to be the MINI Cooper S (R53).

Once the R53 and its R50 counterparts showed up, it reinvigorated the MINI brand in a way that helped spawn two more generations of itself along with each of the other models available today.

RESURRECTION

MINIandClassicMiniThere is no mistaking the lines of the R53 for some other car; it is uniquely MINI and, in a world teaming with sedans and SUVs, was just as much of a head-turner as its ancestors. The R53 faithfully preserved the look and feel of the classic Mini, while offering modern amenities the original didn’t have such as safety belts, ABS, airbags, connectivity and so much more. The R53 was also an integral part of the film, The Italian Job (2003), which helped catapult the new MINI into the limelight for millions of moviegoers.

 RETRO

P90118031-zoom-origBeing built in Oxford gave the R53 links to its British heritage and the amount of customization one could make on the web site when ordering a MINI broke new ground and set an example that few car companies offer today.

Think about what might have been had the R53 failed. The brand might have disappeared into the annals of dead auto brands forever, or been relegated the being known more for fuel economy than sport. Events like MINI Takes the States, MINIs on the Dragon and MINIs on Top wouldn’t be bringing together thousands of motoring enthusiasts as they do today. Instead, the MINI brand continues to grow by model and in the number of owners. For example, the Countryman’s success has brought tens of thousands of people to the MINI brand who liked the MINI’s style but might not have come if the car’s size hadn’t grown.

ROAR

Supercharger

Lastly, the R53 supercharger whine and accompanying boost gave drivers something powerful that excited multiple senses. The pushed-out wheels and wide stance delivered what MINI called, “go-cart” handling; this gave sports car and compact car enthusiasts something new to talk (and brag) about. All of this while its sister R50 Cooper offered a cost-effective, fuel-efficient, easy-to-park car with style and a lineage.

Congratulations to the R53 as our choice for the best MINI model ever.

Mini-Cooper_S-2004-wallpaper_640

Written By: Kurt Heiden

  • Chris Bamford

    best alternative = R52

  • r.burns

    I own several Minis from several generations, currently a R53. The best is the R50, the less front-heavy, the less understeering of new Minis. The R53 is too front-heavy causing much understeer than R56/F56.

  • Mark H

    Agreed! For a while, I was thinking of trading my 2006 R53 in on a Coupe, but I kept walking away from test drives just “meh”. So the F56 came along, and I’m impressed with the interior(minus the window switches) but the drive is still “meh”. Too refined, BMWish, it’s lacking the rawness the R53 has. I liked it better than the R56, but it just can’t replace my 2006 R53. With having passed 120,000 miles, and the inevitable upcoming costs (e.g. still original clutch and S/C) I ended up buying a Fiesta ST which I could afford without trading in my R53. Keeping her as my fun car. :)

    • Head Honcho

      How do you like the ST? I was thinking to go that route also.

      • Mark H

        I like it so far, but I’ve only had it a week.

        (Disclaimer: my R53 has 15% pulley, Helix CAI, dyno tune, and larger rear sway bar)

        It’s like the R53 taken down a notch, not quite as raw. Power seems comparable, steering feel isn’t as good, handling seems not quite as good but close…?(Haven’t pushed it too hard yet, still in break-in and on OE tires) Sound is quiet during boring commute, but has a nice growl and slight turbo whoosh when you get on it. Get the Recaros if they fit your body…I’m slender and they hug well. Interior plastics are typical Ford, but at least I don’t have any rattles yet! :)

        • Head Honcho

          My 2002 MINI was a rattle trap and my 2011 Suzuki Swift rattles even more. The suspension doesn’t hold up for racing for sure. I am just hoping the suspension in the Fiesta ST will hold up over here. The roads are pretty bad in China.

  • DaCrema

    I can understand why you would pick the R53. The first MINIs were just so different than anything on the market. Rip up a winding back road on the way to work, then to to COSTCO with the wife on weekends. Need to pick up something from Home Depot for a home improvement project. Ok you can do that just after winning an autocross.

    For me the best MINI was the R50 with the optional suspension. Adding weight I opted for the sun roof on both the cars I’ve owned have. The first was an 03 August build Silk Green/Black roof MINI that just surprised the heck out of me (and others). The second was a 06 BRG/Silver R50 that I still drive daily. I have checked out the other MINIs as they come down the pike and a few have perked my interest but none have done to replace the driver I have now. I am not as comfortable in the newer cars – mostly the head rest (and that is the case for other brands as well). The extra weight, both in pounds and visual bulk, of the newer MINIs leave me cold. Sadly if something happened to my MINI (GOD FORBID) I think I would look for something very different than a MINI or any of the new cars out there now. Maybe an old Jeep.

  • Andrew Vella

    The best MINI to date…..

    Jason AKA Xiex, I see your MINI :)

  • Geepers

    My first S was a 1966 Austin Cooper S 1275cc. I was 21 at the time. This car was a giant killer especially when fitted with a 45DCOE Weber carburettor and 3-branch exhaust manifold. Who needed a radio when you could hear the induction and exhaust noise which I still reckon is the best car sound ever. I now own a 2002 MINI Cooper S, with 17% Supercharger pulley and JCW exhaust. This is pretty damn near the sound at full throttle acceleration. Oh, I am now 62 and feel like 21 again. Have to agree about the R53 as that is why I own it. But the ’66 Cooper S is still my favorite.

  • http://nerditis.com Captain Z

    So which is the least expensive to maintain? My 08 R56 has in the last 6 months cost over $3000 in repairs, and I’m looking to get rid of it.

  • Jason

    Completely disagree about the r53 maintaining the look and feel of the classic, they look virtually nothing alike. Still both attractive cars, but not in the same vein. For me the best is the classic, I don’t think anything will ever match it for style and fun.

    • VanMINI

      and thats why the title is “Opinion: the Best MINI / Mini Model Ever”.. everyone is entitled to one. Top Gear has made millions each week, extolling the “best” of virtually every catagory.. @ZADL:disqus sad to hear your R56 is illin’…

  • SPICYJCWCOUPE

    Here in the U.S. The classic Mini only had a 10 year run (about 1959-69) before it ceased to be I exported to the U.S. due to increased emission standards. . Yet it continued in many other parts of their distribution network. During that time I bought a new 1965 Sprite. After10 months of ownership & on/off frustrating transmission problems I sold it for $200 & take over the $59/mo payments. I then bought an 8 yr old 1958 Porsche 356A coupe for $800 to replace the Sprite. It had about 120,000 miles on it & needed work. I put $600 into engine & clutch overhauls, then proceeded to drive it for 100,000 miles over 8 years of trouble free, loads of fun driving! It wasn’t a classic Mini but it was a classic Porsche that will always be at the top of my ‘best car ever’ list. But after owning 2 MINIS…08 MCS & 12 JCWCoupe , both nearly trouble free, I feel I would have really enjoyed the classic Mini….as long as it didn’t give me the problems I had with my 65 Austin Healey Sprite.

  • Iain Brown

    R58 MCS – Handles like a dream. Is as anti-social as me (only two seats) and has looks you either love (moi) or hate (ex-girlfriend). I still get people today coming up to me to ask about her (the car, not the ex-girlfriend).

    • SPICYJCWCOUPE

      I also have a love/hate relationship with my JCWCoupe, but not in the same way that you presented. I just turned 74 & my special lady friend really likes it as I do for its eye catching looks, great handling, performance, & can even accept having only 2 seats & limited storage space. We’ve taken several very enjoyable driving trips as far as 1K miles each way as well as the MOTD events.

      But the hate comes in when I have to deal with the very minimal rear visibility. After 2 yrs 9 months of ownership since new, I can’t get over that issue. Some may not find it a problem but I do. My previous ’08 MCS was just fine in that area.

      For this reason, along with wanting more storage space, occasional extra passenger or two, as well as the increased available technology over the R series, I’m looking to the more practical 4 door F55 S hatch late this year as my R58 replacement. Won’t have the bling or performance of the R58 JCW Coupe, but it’ll still have what I’m looking for…. small, handling, performance, MPG, as well as more storage space & accessible/roomier rear seats than the F56. AND rear visibility will be much better than the Coupe. And most of all it’ll still be a MINI!

      • http://blogs.tech-recipes.com/jimmyselix jimmyselix

        JCW Fixed Spoiler. That is all. I have one on my Coupe and it is awesome! Totally completes the look and gives you real rearward visibility.

  • Gene Leeds

    To me the best Mini model ever is a first gen GP car. This will be my next, and likely last, Mini.

  • TheBigNewt

    Had an R56 for 7 years, just got a new R58 JCW Coupe. What a pleasant difference to drive, and I loved the R56. Faster, steers even better, Recaro seats are superb. I rear visibility is less, but I can use the sides to make up. But the writer is correct: it all started with the R53 which resurrected the brand and the look, the whole customization concept. A leaner, meaner, lighter BMW 3 series for less money. Works for me.

  • Berthil

    Not so difficult, I have three of them, EB Ringmini, GP1 and R52. The right Mini for every occasion.

  • r56!!

    r56!!

  • Audrey

    I agree — R53 FTW! :D

  • James D

    R53 Hands Down

  • http://blogs.tech-recipes.com/jimmyselix jimmyselix

    R58 (Coupe)!!! There is nothing really like it design wise minus the TT but the front is pure MINI. :)


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MINI Model Cheat Sheet

1st Gen MINI
R50: One & MC Hatch
R52: All 1st Gen MINI Convt.
R53: MCS Hatch
2nd Gen MINI
R55: Clubman
R56: Hatch
R57: Convertible
R58: Coupe
R59: Roadster
R60: MINI Crossover
R61: MINI Crossover Coupe
3rd Gen MINI
F54: Clubman
F55: Five Door Hatch
F56: Hatch
F57: Convertible
F60: MINI Crossover
F58: Traveller

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