After years of labeling the MINI as unreliable, Consumer Reports has reversed it’s opinion and named the 2004-2006 MINI “recommended”. This news comes frrom long time reader and frequent contributor Timothy Sipples:

>Just finished reading the December, 2005, issue of Consumer Reports. Page 57 has some great news for MINI in a sidebar entitled “Closeup: Our Reliability Survey Reaches a Milestone.” The sidebar begins: “Earlier this year, we asked more than 6 million subscribers of Consumer Reports and to complete the Annual Questionnaire. When the questionnaires came back, we found that we gathered responses for more than 1 million vehicles, the most we’ve ever received.”

>The sidebar then explains that the annual April Auto Issue will include the full results, but they’ve got the net results now. The money quote: “Models that we now recommend because their reliability has improved to average or better are the BMW 5 Series (6-cyl.), BMW X5 (6-cyl.), Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, Mazda6 sedan (4-cyl.), Mazda6 (wagon), Mazda RX-8, Mini Cooper, and Volvo S80.” (CR did not capitalize MINI.)

>CR then lists vehicles which are now recommended due to newly sufficient data, no longer recommended due to declining reliability, and not recommended due to below-average reliability (and newly sufficient data). MINI was previously scored with below-average reliability. (The sidebar only reported the changes from last year.)

>If I remember the survey correctly, CR lumps the Cooper and Cooper S into the same model category. The survey asks readers to score each vehicle they’ve purchased in several different reliability areas: transmission, electrical, brakes, etc. (I gave my 2004 Cooper S an almost perfect score across the board.) There were obviously many MINI owners replying this year — more than enough for a statistically valid sample.

>MINI USA will not really be able to tout these new results directly. (“A leading consumer testing publication…” is a popular euphemism in advertising.) That’s because Consumer Reports vigorously protects its copyrighted information to maintain its independence, arguing also that only the original publication can convey the full testing results in proper context. Regardless, a good reliability score from Consumer Reports is bound to increase MINI demand even more since many North American auto buyers treat CR as gospel.

>When MINI changes over to the new model (for the 2007 model year), Consumer Reports will probably score MINI’s reliability as “new model, insufficient data.” However, the afterglow of a good reliability rating will likely carry over into its assessment of used MINIs (subject to any new survey information as the fleet ages), and it also will probably be noted in any write-ups on the new MINI. For example, Consumers Reports might say something like, “MINI has redesigned the 2007 model with a new engine, so predicted reliability is unknown. However, the 2004 through 2006 models have above average reliability scores.”

>Congratulations to MINI (and BMW for that matter — the BMW X3 flipped from “new model/insufficient data” to “above-average reliability/recommended”) in focusing on better quality. MINI/BMW and Mazda seem to be the two carmakers with the most unambiguous survey improvement this year.