The Mini is a British icon, however its German designers have shown their ingenuity on the R56 series.
My own R56 is of the naturally aspirated variant, with a 6-speed manual (the only transmission that should be in these cars). In not being quick, the car can get out of its own way. On the freeway it sips along at about 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres on 215/45/R17 RE003s, getting about 600km to the tank if you are driving like a grandmother (however, who would drive such a nimble little car that can dart through peak hour traffic like that?). With the factory 175/60/R15 rims and tyres fitted, you can get a remarkable 4.5L to 5.5L/100km depending on conditions, and even up to 800km out of only 32L of fuel.
Onto handling, people don't joke when they reference go-kart like handling. The car can change direction very quickly, and keeps up with cars you wouldn't think it would on winding downhill roads. However, the trade-off is comfort, the harshness making you feel every little bump in the road.
Interior styling is very out-there for a car of its time. The giant speedo in the middle is a decorative piece, aiming back to the OG mini, where the speedo was smack in the middle. Thankfully, there is a digital one in the middle LCD screen so you don't have to glance over.
The stereo system is ample, while not too bass-ey, and can comfortably pump out tunes. It does have Bluetooth, but only for phone calls and not music, unfortunately. Cruise control, ABS, traction control and all the other essential goodies come standard.
As to reliability, it's a BMW - that's all I have to say.
In my year of adding 50,000km (I bought it at 60,000km, and it currently has 110,000km) it has had:
- New wheel speed sensor ($60 and a DIY-friendly install),
- Two new ignition coils (average wear and tear, but there is a service bulletin for badly designed coil packs on the N16 engines) at about $50 each,
- Timing chain. Now this one was the worst, as these engines are notorious for having their chains go bad due to the poor system that Peugeot has designed (yes it is technically a Peugeot engine) and it is a very involved process. $2800 including labour from a very reputable shop (and I also had accessory belt done),
- Control arm bushings. The front ones required the subframe to be dropped, which was about $200-300 depending on if you bought aftermarket ones or not,
- Sway bar bushings. This also required the front subframe to be lowered for the front ones. The rear ones were pretty easy, needing just a socket and ratchet through the wheel well, and costing about $300 all up for all four (including labour to drop the front).
Don't let this put you off, as when these cars work, they are beautiful little machines.