Mini Cooper S (R56) | PH Fleet
Matt's quest to buy a new car wasn't a quick or easy one – best get comfy…
By Matt Bird / Sunday, 26 February 2023 / Loading comments
That I now own a Mini when I intended to buy a Mazda RX-8 hopefully proves this hasn’t been the simplest car hunt. Which is silly, really, and largely of a result my own indecisive, because the premise wasn’t complicated: use the money left over from selling the 335i and paying off the loan to buy something fun, fast and four- or five-door, with Isofix and a manual gearbox.
The Mazda ticked all the boxes. Still does, in fact, but my anxiety won out. The more I read the more scared I became, fretting about engine flooding, premixing, VED and rust. I loved the idea of one, and still think they look superb value when every other coupe from the 2000s has shot up, but knowing the little time and money I could dedicate to a car that will live outside (for now, at least), an RX-8 just didn’t make enough sense. Even with work paying some of the fuel. Cool cars, though, and kudos to those of you that have taken the plunge. Now’s your chance to tell me what I’m missing…
The search then moved to hot hatches, with little more joy. A five-door Megane 225 would have been great, but the good ones are going so quickly now; I missed out on one that was spoken for in two hours when I phoned after four. When cars are being brought over from Japan to sate the appetite of buyers, supply and demand is clearly skewed to the latter. A 2.5-litre Focus ST sold before I could get to it, but then not all of them have Isofix, despite what specs can say – which I found on a wasted trip to see one.
A BMW 130i was very tempting, too, but all of them are commanding strong money now, and even I didn’t need to replace a 3.0-litre BMW with another one (and have two outside the house). The Audi A3 3.2 was appealing (where any kind of Golf GTI wasn’t, really), though a five-door manual was harder to find than the equivalent Megane. I didn’t fancy a Suzuki Swift Sport, either. I briefly even considered spending a bit more for a Clio 200 EDC before coming to my senses; a car that wasn’t going to be used every day had to be manual. Not that £5k-ish was getting very far.
Sensing my frustration (and probably fed up with me spending weekends looking at unsuitable cars), the mrs agreed that three doors would be alright. Baby is so seldom going to be in there that the hassle will be manageable. (Let’s see how that pans out.) The decision, of course, opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and before long the perfect car was found: a full-fat Renaultsport Clio 200, with the Recaro seats, Isofix on the rear bench and 80,000 miles. It was 45 minutes from home, looked great, drove well enough and came with four matching Michelins. It was going to need a cambelt soon, and there wasn’t as much history as I’d have liked – plus it had had more owners than Snow White had dwarves (really) – but it would do. I paid a deposit, only for the dealer to call the day before collection and say that, when servicing it, the old oil had come out such an awful colour that he suspected severe engine trouble. The sale was off, the deposit returned, suspicions apparently confirmed and the search back on.
The most affordable Clio 200s were about as much as I wanted to spend, so that plan had to be abandoned. An Ecoboost Fiesta ST would have been cool, though the cheap ones always looked iffy and I never got on with the driving position. I can’t tell you when a Mini swept into pole position (it should have been sooner, given so many are around), but having tried a Cooper S nearby that had far less history than the ad suggested yet still drove smartly, the decision was made. It was never a car I’d ever thought about owning, truth be told, and now I really wanted one.
A facelifted R56 Cooper S with the N18 1.6-litre engine was the plan, however enticing a cheaper, older, N14 car was – there were simply too many stories out there. I wanted an interesting colour, and, ideally, the Challenge wheels. This one, at similar money to the Clio (i.e., a chunk more than £5k) was too good to miss: Spice Orange, 70k, the JCW pack with the wheels, the fuel pump replaced in 2021 and located half an hour away. It drove okay, there was lots of paperwork and another dealer with a cheaper car wouldn’t give me details for a deposit – I was having the orange one.
And you know what? I’m really pleased. I’ll get into the nitty gritty next time, but it looks brilliant, goes fast, and puts a smile on my face – job jobbed, frankly. Not perfect, mind. The springs are rusty (it was an MOT advisory last year) and they should be done soon, because I’m not sure the ride and handling are quite as they should be. Otherwise, it’s mainly cosmetic: replacing the woeful sidelights and the terrible gel numberplates, perhaps reinstating the rear wiper if RainX (and some glass cleaner in the boot) doesn’t do the job are the main things.
Finally (it’s been quite the car-buying journey!) there are the taillights. They must be a recent addition by a previous owner as the UK style only came to the current F56 Mini a few years ago, and I’m growing to like the look. But the dynamic indicators are really bad, and the stuck-on reflectors that are required for the MOT are truly terrible. Probably I’ll take them off and stick them back on when required, then get them back to standard at a later date. Let’s see. Still, when the main complaint about a 12-year-old hot hatch is lights fitted by someone else, it would be churlish to kick up too much of a fuss. All thoughts, advice and guidance welcome; hopefully there are many more happy miles ahead.
Car: 2011 Mini Cooper S
Run by: Matt Bird
On fleet since: February 2023
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