Opinion: We Want Another R53 Cooper S

163 hp, 2600 lbs and $22,000. Those approximate numbers were some of the key ingredients to one of the most successful cult cars of all time. The R53 Cooper S (2002 – 2006) was a car that re-defined a brand and woke up many of us to what a small or even sport car could be. And we want it back.

No we’re not calling for the design of the R53 back (although many of you would love that for sure). We’re calling for something easier for MINI to accomplish. We want that formula back. We want a car that can be had for under $25,000 (with a few key options) that puts a smile on our face every time we get behind the wheel. A car that we can’t wait to drive to the corner store.

What about the current Cooper? In many ways its the unsung hero of the MINI range. But it’s not quite fast enough to be a true successor. And the modern day Cooper S is a little too heavy and costs just a little too much. We want to find the sweet spot between them both.

What if we had a Cooper with performance equivalent to the R53 Cooper S? Given what the 3 cylinder can do in the BMW i8 (228 hp), it’s more than possible. With its weight well under 2,700 lbs and with some suspension modifications (all off the shelf parts), it could quickly be turned into something R53 like in terms of feel. It doesn’t even need to hit 163 hp as long as the torque was increased to compensate. Think of it as a MINI Cooper Sport.

What say you? Would you be interested in a modern day R53 Cooper S? Something cheaper, more fun and plenty lust-worthy? Let us know below.

  • So is this another plea for a commercial version of the Rocketman concept?

  • WANDERLUST srt

    Its too bad about that never making it to production (Rocketman). They would do fine though if they just sharpened the handling and cranked up the HP a little on the current mini when the new engine comes out. By modern standards it is still light (although miata light would be nice).

  • Ross Millaney

    Or do an electric I3 job on it and get Frank Stephenson to design it. That would be a 7s well-balanced good-looking car that mass markets EVs this time around.

    I wouldn’t be surpised if electric was the design challenge that enticed Frank Stephenson back. Do that or just go back to supercharger for funs.

  • CA-MINI

    I love the sentiment and agree wholeheartedly. Escalating weight, escalating cost have dulled the pure MINI driving character, as well as customer access. I think a “Cooper Sport” is a great idea because it’s actually viable. As much as I’d like to see a Rocketman model, I don’t see how the economics can be justified as it would require a new, unique platform. Juice up the 3 cylinder to around 190 hp. Leave a lot of the high end electronic features/options out and I think a 24k price point is very achievable. That would be a very enticing package!!!! and I think a very marketable one too. Just one thing–also clean up some of the F56 goofy styling—Then you have a win-win-win—Hope they’re listening!!!!!!

    • oldsbear

      Yes! A sporty, little runabout, with stiff suspension, quick turning, tire-chirping power, free non-metallic colors. Remove the “luxury small car” trappings. Give us back the go-kart! (However, I do need an automatic transmission. Lots of us baby-boomers will need that.)

  • ulrichd

    Even if the current Cooper could match the R53’s performance and price I am simply too put off by the styling to even consider it. I like the idea of a Frank Stephenson designed i3 based MINI.

    • That won’t happen. The cost of the i3 chassis is prohibitive.

      • ulrichd

        Really? Even with the tooling and engineering already paid for and maybe cheaper next gen batteries. I admit I am just guessing here.

        • darex

          The i3 and F56 are the exact same length, FWIW

        • ulrichd

          IMO F56 has become too big. I understand the savings due to using the 1-series chassis, but I’d like my MINI a size smaller.

        • Not from what I’ve been told. Also to modify the structure (the carbon chassis) would be hundreds of millions).

    • Ross Millaney

      Why else would FStephenson come back to the brand. What a design challenge – and in the ethos of the original city car. The i3 is a great car to drive…and it derived from the MINI E test cars, BMWs first go at EVs. Carbon fibre shell isnt a necessity anyway.

  • Jan Wojcik

    A common wish (that will never happen) … I wish for an incarnation of my first GTI, but, I know that current safety requirements and profit margins will never let it happen even if VW did just showcase an Up! GTI that nearly matches the original. I would buy a Rocketman type of vehicle for around town use though in a flash.

    • ulrichd

      I had an 84 GTI and an 87 GTI 16V. What a blast those were. I do remember shelling out quite a bit in repairs.

      • Jan Wojcik

        Yup, I had a 82 Cabrio that I made into a GTI convertible and then when it was wrecked a 87 GTI with lots of Oettinger parts that cost me a mint

        • ulrichd

          My 87 was lowered on Tokico adjustable shocks and had 15″ wheels. Back then that was the hot setup.

        • Jan Wojcik

          My 82 had Weds wheels (195/50-15), new springs, roll bars and shocks and eventually a redone motor and only to be destroyed by some girl driving a Accord into me while I was sitting at a stop light

  • Gary

    It would be very nice if MINI could see a way to return to its small, sporty, quirky, rally-heritage roots and throw a bone to those connected to the MINI who generally see nothing of appeal in the current, quasi-BMW F-series. It’s unlikely; however, that they can recapture the confluence of events that created the original MINI magic. It was a different world in 2002. The uniqueness of the car (first among the small car competitors); MINI’s marketing to a target audience of perceived rebels who would dare to be different; the intoxicating possibility, for the first time ever in the U.S., of owning a tangible connection to the giant-killer rally and racing heritage; the short supply and waiting times leading to high value retention and a sense of camaraderie among the owners, cultivating a vibrant, enthusiastic, focused, close-knit community; the continual discovery of new things about the car and the mods and third-party vendors that rose to the challenge and responded to those discoveries.

    Many of those one-time events are unlikely to happen again. That said, one can envision how a return to “that formula” in concert with a recapture of that early marketing strategy of standing out from the crowd could actually supplement the present, mass-appeal, hipster, just-another-BMW approach that does not appear to be working very well. Such an approach could ultimately supplement the bottom line (after the initial design and engineering investments) and would certainly slow the obvious, ongoing decay of the MINI brand’s uniqueness and appeal. MINI would once again offer a product more closely tied to its heritage (i.e., small) that instantly marks its owner as different and a bit of a rebel…something to identify with and rally around with your fellow rebels.

    • oldsbear

      Well-said.

    • Nick Dawson

      This a discussion we have had on MF for a number of years, but we always come back to the bottom line that MINI is unable to make a business case for City car. VW has never marketed the globally successful Polo in the US for the same reason.

      It goes without saying that the same applies to the VW Up, one of the best City cars currently on sale. If VW, with its huge economy of scale, can’t make money in the US with a City car, what hope is there for a minnow like MINI.

      BTW, the VW Polo Hatchback was the 15th best selling car in the world in 2016 at 601,096 units sold. The total MINI Brand sold 360,233 in the same period. You see the problem.

  • fishbert

    I’m quite happy with my F56 Cooper S, actually. 71k miles and still loving it.

    We want to find the sweet spot between them both [F56 Cooper & Cooper S].

    155 lbs, 56 hp, $4500 … that’s a pretty narrow difference to find a sweet spot in, eh?

  • Steve Wellen

    The F56 Cooper is already a sweet spot we don’t need another F56/55 variant. Let’s make it small and simple then call it the Mini Rocketman as already said.

    • oldsbear

      Just be sure that its Rocketman performance matches its Rocketman name, at a low price. Kill the frills on this one, and make some money on the gamble. Excitement.

      • darex

        They do sell MINI One in other markets. No thanks, personally.

  • darex

    You essentially only just described the F56 3-cylinder, so just buy that. It fits into the price limit, too.

    • Yes with more power, a more aggressive suspension set up and a more sport oriented interior. Exactly what I said.

    • Gary

      I’m guessing you will find very few among the MINI faithful who think the F56 aesthetic is “vastly better…in every single way.” I can’t even fathom owning one for that reason alone.

      • darex

        You think the interior is not? That is where one spends time, after all.

        • Corbin Dallas

          Yeah, but that doesn’t change how it looks 😉

          I agree with the others, the new Coopers lose all appeal on appearances alone. Heck, even the R56 looks off in my opinion… whenever I park my R53 next to one I immediately think I’ve made the right choice.

  • WANDERLUST srt

    another thought: The cooper S R53 weighed 2668lbs and had 163hp or so…. a Ford fiesta ST weighs 2720lbs and has 197hp….msrp $21140, I dont like it but ford in some specs out mini’s mini

    • darex

      The interior is a hideous hard-plasticky mess though. Ford doesn’t do dashes very well, it seems. I know in which car I’d rather spend time.

      • WANDERLUST srt

        Maybe a Mini Scotsman model. Anyway I suppose there is no true Scotsman.

    • Corbin Dallas

      This is true, but my biggest issue with the Fiesta is the driving position. The cockpit is not a pleasant place to be like it is in a Mini. I love the fishbowl interiors of Mini, zero blind spots and you sit hunkered down low instead of up high like in a Fiesta (even with Recaro seats).

  • CA-MINI

    Well it’s clear by the heavy volume of comments that you hit on something Gabe. This is the enthusiasm that the original core MINI buyers have, and we want a product that we can channel that enthusiasm into. Let Frank S. sharpen the design up and give us the Cooper Sport–I am convinced it will re-energize the brand and bring the MINI mojo back. Look how good that R53 looks on the banner–it’s awesome, and it was just as awesome to fling around

  • EvanHVYWGHT

    This is exactly how I feel. I still have my 2004 R50 and it still makes me smile, every time I drive it. My dad has an F55 and it’s a nice car, just not as readily engaging and fun as the R50/53. I’ve driven the F54, the F55, the F56 in standard and S and even JCW and always walked away with “not as fun as my R50”. They’re definitely more tech heavy and modern, however you can barely see out of them and the nose is gargantuan. I really wanted to love one of them.

    Then I drove a GTI and for the top level Autobahn trim I’m thousands less than an equivalent MINI- all with 220hp, all of the tech, solid chassis, 6 speed manual, good views out. Most importantly it makes me smile no matter what I’m doing- putzing down the road for my commute or blasting the twisties and on ramps. I can’t believe that BMW/MINI have left me with nothing fun and engaging and I’ve ended up in a VW.

    I will always have my R50, I am just so sad MINI doesn’t sell an R53 equivalent these days.

    Instant smiles. That’s what MINI was all about. And “was” is worst part here.

  • r_k_w

    As much as I would like to see another MINI in the spirit of an R53, I am not optimistic. As usual, it all comes down to money. BMW would only consider it, if it is profitable.

    There has been speculation that the 1st generation MINI was unprofitable for BMW. BMW has been pushing a premium MINI image to raise the price (profit) per car. A sub $25K car would run against this and I can’t imagine it happening.

    BMW is also on a path that every car must be built on a shared platform (again, because of money). Even Frank Stephenson wouldn’t be able to get around this. The only hope I see is a city car like Rocketman in collaboration with Toyota or Honda, but so far this has seemed unlikely.

  • Kevin Bartlett

    This discussion struck a nerve with all of us who loved the R53. Honestly the one thing nobody has mentioned is the supercharged motor. I think that was one of the most defining things about the R53. The turbo motors are supposed to be so much more economical, but I get pretty similar mileage…..granted the F54 I have now if much heavier. If I find a low mileage R53 I’ll consider picking it up, but I don’t think you can recapture it with the modern cars. I feel old saying that the safety regulations have killed them but that’s how it feels. The beltline of nearly every car is so much higher.

    Moral of the story for me is to enjoy what you have when you have it, because the next thing might not be better.

    • Corbin Dallas

      This is exactly why I have no plan on ever selling my R53.

  • Jim

    YES! I commented to his effect in another post. I really like my current 2014 F56 Cooper but would upgrade immediately to a DCT-equipped, 150hp, lightweight equivalent. 17″ wheels, no sunroof, sport suspension, breathable cloth seats (Porsche-style houndstooth fabric?)

  • mike

    Each iteration has gotten more bloated and numb to drive. Used R53 FTW!

  • Patrick W

    Apart from the price/performance issues mentioned here, I find the current Cooper visually bland and kind of suburban-looking. The individual changes from generation to generation might be minute, but the combined effect is to mute the aesthetic appeal of the vehicle considerably. When I look at one of the new cars I think of a de-clawed cat — something made unnecessarily harmless.

  • Nick Dawson

    2018 VW Up GTI

    Engine size 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol Price from £15,000 (est) Power 113bhp @ 5000rpm Torque 147lb ft @ 2000rpm Kerb weight 997kg Power to weight 113.3bhp/tonne 0-62mph 8.8sec Top speed 119mph Length 3600mm Width 1641mm Height 1489mm

    1977 VW Golf GTI

    Engine size 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol injection Price from £31,000 (adjusted for inflation) Power 108bhp at 6100rpm Torque 104lb ft at 5000rpm Kerb weight 810kg Power to weight 133.3bhp/tonne 0-62mph 9.0sec Top speed 113mph Length 3705mm Width 1628mm Height 1390mm

  • Nick Dawson

    2002 R53 MINI Cooper S

    Engine size 1.6-litre four cylinder supercharged petrol Price from £22,000 (adjusted for inflation) Power 161hp @ 6,000rpm Torque 155ft-lbs @ 4,000rpm Kerb weight 1210kg/2668lbs Power to weight 144bhp/tonne 0-60mph 7.2secs Top speed 135mph Length 3655mm/143.9ins Width 1688mm/66.5ins Height 1408mm/55.4ins

    2017 MINI Cooper Hardtop

    Engine size 1.5-litre three cylinder turbo petrol Price from £16,200 Power 136hp @ 4500rpm Torque 162ft lbs @ 1,250rpm Kerb weight 1182kg/2605lbs Power to weight 117bhp/tonne 0-62mph 7.8secs Top speed 130mph Length 3821mm/150.5ins Width 1727mm/68ins Height 1414mm/55.7ins

  • Leo

    Just do the most simple thing i did. I had my Cooper tuned to 170bhp and replaced the standard exhaust by the standard JCW exhaust and added the JCW pro diffuser instead of the S JCW diffuser (had this done at the dealer prior to the engine tuning). Driving fun is much better now and you have the JCW burble at the back. No need for an S at the moment

  • Bernard Bolson

    I drive an old R53. When it dies I’ll probably look for another aged R53. When that dies it’s likely on to the next R53. This cycle is projected to continue until an equivalent Mini (ie: actually mini and built of pure fun) exists, until they become some insanely expensive vintage collectable, or, you know, until I’m dead.

  • Michael Cohen

    People are acting like the article’s spec is difficult. The USDM Fiesta ST (a 4 door 5 seater!) is 2700 lbs, 1.6L Turbo with 197 hp, 202 lbs ft and is a blast to drive. Retail starts at $21k. yes, the FiST sitting position is too high, the interior is junk but throw in a few thousand more for a better interior and there’s your updated Cooper S.

  • Dietmer V. Ladiges

    Just take the old design and its tools, print a 3D carbon cell 100 kgs instead of 360, put in the I8 B38 …… …………. call it “Innocenti” and say thank you to me !