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2002-2006 R50 Mini Cooper Buyer's Guide

2002-2006 R50 Mini Cooper Buyer's Guide

Posted by Matt M. on Mar 29th 2019

2002-2006 (R50 Generation) Mini Cooper Buyer's Guide

This guide will cover all the information you'll need if you're interested in purchasing a Mini Cooper from the first generation of the "modern era". 

The modern Mini Cooper is popular choice for those looking for a small, sporty, economical car with great styling and excellent driving dynamics. It was developed by BMW with styling reminiscent of the classic Minis that have become a true automotive icon. Continue reading below to learn more about the Mini’s features, options, and what to look for when purchasing a used Mini Cooper!

The Mini Cooper

The 1st generation Mini Cooper was sold in Hatchback form in the United States from 2002 through 2006. With a convertible variant being offered later on in the production cycle. 

The power plant in all first generation North American Mini Coopers is a 1.6l Tritec 4 cylinder produced in Brazil through a joint venture with BMW and Chrysler. The engine in naturally aspirated form in the base Cooper models puts out 116 horsepower and 110 pound feet of torque. If the base power level isn’t quite enough for you, Mini offered the Cooper S models that came equipped with a slightly modified 1.6l Tritec engine and an added supercharger for increased performance. These engines put out 163 horsepower and 155 pound feet of torque. The Cooper S also came with refined styling, additional cosmetic trim and a sportier suspension.

Mini also offered a wide range of cosmetic options both inside and out for the Coopers. From wheel design, seat style, and painted interior trim, Mini let the buyers truly customize the vehicle to their liking. The styling was always a key factor in the Mini’s success and the new generation continues that trend from the classic Minis.

Chassis Code Breakdown

One appealing aspect of the Mini Cooper is the various different versions available. Whether you're looking for a small economical hatchback, or sporty and quick convertible, the Mini Cooper is the choice for you. Mini signifies each specific model with a “Rxx” chassis code. Let's take a look at what these codes mean and how to identify certain models.

R50

  • The R50 is the chassis code for the 2002-2006 base hatchback models. These have two side doors and one rear hatchback door. All R50 models have the naturally aspirated 1.6l with either a CVT automatic transmission or 5 speed manual ( Midlands or the later Getrag unit ).

R52

  • The R52 chassis code denotes any 1st generation convertible model. These were offered from 2005 to 2008. This means 1st generation convertibles were sold alongside the 2nd generation hatchbacks. These models have two doors with a fully retractable convertible soft top, and a rear tailgate. The R52 code covers both Cooper and Cooper S Convertible models.

R53

  • The R53 chassis code is for any 2002-2006 first generation Cooper S hatchback. With the same body style as the R50 hatchback, these offered increased power with the supercharged 1.6l. The S model also includes minor styling differences for a more aggressive look. These models are distinguished the dual tip center exit exhaust.

Transmissions

The first generation of the Mini Cooper was offered with a wide range of transmission options depending on the year and model of the vehicle. The early manual transmission and CVT automatic transmission were plagued with failures and mechanical issues. This makes it important to know which specific transmission a vehicle is equipped with prior to purchase. The guide below will help you decipher which transmission came in what. A general rule of thumb is to stick with the later manual transmission models to avoid any major transmission issues.

  • R50 “base” Cooper
    • Automatic
      • 2002-2006 CVT
    • Manual
      • 2002-2004 Midlands 5 speed
      • 2005-2006 Getrag 5 speed
  • R53 Mini Cooper S
    • Automatic
      • 2002-2006 Aisin 6 speed automatic
    • Manual
      • 2002-2006 Getrag 6 speed manual
      • 2005-2006 Getrag 6 speed w/ LSD (optional)
  • R52 Mini Convertible Base
    • Automatic
      • 2005-2008 CVT automatic
    • Manual
      • 2005-2008 Getrag 5 speed manual
  • R52 Mini Cooper S Convertible
    • Automatic
      • 2005-2008 Aisin 6 speed auto
    • Manual
      • 2005-2008 Getrag 6 speed manual
      • 2005-2008 Getrag 6 speed manual w/ LSD (optional)

Mini Cooper S Facts and Figures

The Mini Cooper S is the sportier, more powerful version the Mini Cooper. Equipped with a supercharger 1.6 liter making 163hp, if you are an enthusiast driver you should definitely consider the Cooper S models. Accompanying the increased power is a 6 speed automatic or manual transmission with improved gear ratios. As well as stiffer suspension and improved handling. The package is complete with cosmetic improvements to the front and rear bumpers, grille, side skirts, and interior trim.

Vehicle Options

Mini prides itself on the extent of vehicle options and customization it allows their owners. With almost limitless cosmetic options and various luxuries that can be added, Mini owners can truly make the car their own. However when looking to purchase a used Mini Cooper, you may notice many of the vehicles on the market have many small differences. Luckily Mini utilizes an option code sheet to determine what specific options the vehicle is equipped with.

You can find this sheet by simply using the VIN for the car, and any BMW VIN decoder website. We like using mdecoder.com to find a complete list of options for any vehicle. Each option has a specific code associated with it to make vehicle equipment easy to identify. Here is a few of the more common and desirable options offered for the Mini.

  • Glass Roof Electrical ( S403A )
  • Sport Seats ( S481A )
  • Sports Suspension Settings Plus ( S228A )
    • factory stiffened suspension package
  • Automatic Stability Control ASCT ( S214A )
  • Heated Seats ( S494A )
  • Navigation System ( S609A )
  • Hifi System Harmon Kardon ( S674A )
  • Xenon HID headlights ( S522A )
  • Dynamic Stability Control ( S210A )
  • Interior Mirror with Automatic Dip ( S431A )
  • Automatic Air Conditioning ( S534A )
  • Sports Leather Steering Wheel ( S255A )
  • Limited slip differential ( S2TAA )
  • Mini Checkmate ( P7ANA )
    • Cosmetic package including checkerboard decals and accent trim

Let’s Talk about Wheels

Mini offered quite a variety of wheel choices throughout the years for the Mini Coopers. Ranging in sizes from 14” up to 18” with a few different widths, offsets, styles, and colors available. Similar to BMW, Mini uses an “Rxx” coding system for most of the wheel styles offered. However not all wheel choices were coded this way. It's a good idea to verify the wheel style using the part number inscribed on the backside of the wheel if ordering a replacement, since many wheels had very similar styling with small changes. Here's a few of the more common wheel designs offered on the 1st generation R50, R52, and R53 Mini Coopers.

  • R81 7-Hole Design Alloy - 15x5.5” - Silver or White Finish
    • 2002-2007
  • R82 8 Spoke Design Alloy - 15x5.5” - Silver or White Finish
    • 2002-2004
  • R83 5-star design light alloy - 16x6.5” - Silver Finish
    • 2002-2008
  • R84 V-Spoke Alloy ( X-Lite ) - 16x6.5” - Silver Finish
    • 2002-2008
  • R86 Star Spoke Design Alloy - 15x5.5” - Silver
    • 2002-2006
  • R88 Double Spoke Design Alloy - 16x6.5” - Silver
    • 2002-2006
  • R90 Cross Spoke Design - 16x6.5” - Silver
    • 2003-2011
  • R92 7 Fin Design Alloy - 16x6.5” - Silver
    • 2005-2007
  • R95 John Cooper Works Star Spoke Alloy - 18x7” - Silver
    • 2003-2012 John Cooper Works

John Cooper Works

  • Introduced in 2004, the John Cooper Works kit was a dealer installed option that included additional performance components boosting the horsepower to 197hp. At almost $5000 after installation, this option was intended for those wanting increased performance without voiding their factory warranty. However due to the high price tag, this kit was not very common. Available for the R52 and R53, this kit added a modified cylinder head, upgraded supercharger, intake, exhaust, and an ECU tune. As well as exterior badging.

Common Fail Points

The 1st generation Mini Coopers are a generally reliable vehicle. However they do have some components that should be thoroughly inspected prior to making a purchase. We always suggest having a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) performed by a certified mechanic to ensure your potential vehicle is trouble free.

CVT automatic transmissions

  • These came on any 2002-2006 R50 base Cooper with the automatic transmission. Produced by ZF, these are a known fail point and should be avoided at all costs. If a manual transmission is not an option, the later Cooper S models with the Aisin 6 speed auto should be considered.

Midlands 5 speed manual transmission

  • The early manual transmission Cooper models also had reliability issues. Vehicles from 2002-2004 are prone to the failures. It is possible to upgrade the 02-04 vehicles with the later Getrag transmission. Either narrow your search to the 2004+ models or plan on upgrading the transmission if purchasing an earlier model.

Engine components

  • The engines are relatively reliable with no major sudden failures. With proper maintenance the engines should have no major issues. There is commonly some oil leaking from the crank sensor mount due to an aging O-ring. The front main seal also commonly leaks. Replacement parts are inexpensive, however the labor to replace them can add up.

Coolant Tank

  • The Cooper S models had troubles with coolant expansion tanks cracking over time. Due to the plastic construction and heat cycles of the engine bay, cracks in the plastic can cause tank failure and cause overheating issues with the vehicle. Be sure to check for any coolant leaks or cracks in the tank. This tank was “revised” by Mini for later models, however vehicles of this age can still have problems.

Body Rust

  • Some models had problems will water pooling and causing rust to form near the rear hatch, doors and taillights. While northern vehicle should always be thoroughly inspected for rust, even in moderate climate regions be sure to check key problem areas for any signs of rusting.

Power Steering Pump

  • The Mini Cooper has a unique power steering system operated by an electric motor powered hydraulic pump. This pump is located near the lower rear of the engine and is cooled by a fan that is exposed to the underside of the vehicle. Early models had no fan shroud covering the fan blades, so road debris could damage the fan, causing the pump to overheat. Be sure the pump and fan are in good working order, as replacements for these can be expensive.

Which one do we recommend??

If you're searching for your next daily driver, we suggest searching for any 2004 or later Cooper or Cooper S. By this point in the vehicles production Mini had resolved many of the small annoyances and fail points. Vehicles produced in the later model years will also have had more options available that will enhance vehicle ownership.

If you consider yourself a driving enthusiast, we suggest looking for a 2005-2006 Mini Cooper S. The S trim is a must for any performance driving and will offer a sportier ride. Options were plentiful with these model years as well. The final years of the Cooper S had the most refined tuning package available yet and offered a nicely updated interior.

We hope this information helps you make the right purchasing decision when searching for a used Mini Cooper. If you found this information helpful, feel free to share, and check back with RedlineAutoParts.com if you need any quality used Mini Cooper Parts.


Interested in a 2002-2006 1st Generation (modern-era) Mini Cooper? We have a buyer's guide for those too!