Used car buying guide: Mini Cooper S


The second-generation R56 Cooper S was launched in the shadow of its predecessor, the popular R53 of 2002-06. That earlier version was powered by a Chrysler/Rover-developed supercharged 1.6-litre engine made by Tritec. Its successor dispensed with that in favour of the new BMW/Peugeot-developed Prince engine, a turbocharged 1.6 making 173bhp, with 177lb ft from 1600-5000rpm or an overboosted 192lb ft.

Its codename is N14 and it has BMW’s infinitely variable single Vanos valve timing. This is important because, in early 2010, as a result of what at the time BMW doubtless referred to as ‘continuous product improvement’ but what you and I might call a barrage of complaints, it replaced it with a revised version called the N18.

Happily, the uprated engine produced 182bhp and, among other things, had a double Vanos system controlling both intake and exhaust valves to provide a more even spread of torque and lower emissions.

But it also gained mods that looked suspiciously like a ‘fix’ to an unacknowledged problem. Changes included redesigned pistons, an uprated boost line to the turbo, improved crankcase ventilation, a heat shield over the turbo oil pipe and a rigid instead of flexible turbo intake pipe. Experts reckon the N18 is the engine to have. You can identify it by its large plastic cover, while the N14 is ‘naked’. Meanwhile, onthe transmission front, the manual gearbox gained an improved clutch for better gear synchronisation.

Bizarrely, the changes were followed a few months later by a full facelift (new bumpers, revised interior, LED tail-lights with pulsating brake lights to indicate the force being applied and additional air intakes). As already noted, in 2011 a revised timing chain tensioner was fitted. Now, at last, the R56 couldn’t spring any more surprises except the one common to any well-bought R56 Cooper S, and that’s just how much fun it is to drive.

How to get one in your garage: 

An expert’s view, Alex Castle, MASTERDRIVER.CO.UK: “The R56 timing chain can let go at around 80,000 miles. The plastic tensioner guide is the culprit. If you hear a brushing sound, it’s on the way out and you should change it without delay. The later N18 engine is much improved but the tensioner wasn’t upgraded until 2011. Fortunately, owners are enthusiastic and look after their cars. There are plenty to choose from so you can afford to be fussy. New, options were pricey, but that cost evaporates as the cars get older so fully loaded Coopers aren’t much more expensive. My favourite extras are the panoramic roof and Harman Kardon sound system.”

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