ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #4

So after weighing up the benefits and pitfalls of PCP car financing, I managed to come to the conclusion that if it enables me to get a better, newer car (tailored to my specification), then it is probably a necessary evil.

Having been tempted by the seemingly generous offers available from MINI, it seemed sensible to begin my foray into new car purchasing there. Naturally, by ‘there’ I mean an online configurator for the MINI Cooper Hatchback, which has prices starting at a reasonable £14,900.00. However, the MINI selling model has been built on the old BMW “making the buyer tick a load of option boxes, to get stuff most cars come with as standard” system. This keeps the base price competitively low, and allows MINI to make a sizeable mark-up on options which the vast majority of competitors would throw in for free.

For instance, white indicator lenses are a £60.00 option on the Cooper. I personally struggle to think of any modern supermini which still comes with retro orange side repeaters. In addition, I very much doubt they really cost £60 to swap on the production line, but that’s how MINI makes its money. To try to “simplify” things, there is also a range of option packs available which combine the more popular (read that as necessary) choices into one bundle. This does save money, but does result in huge jumps in the asking price. Take the hatchback pictured below for instance:

Just a regular Cooper hatchback, nothing to see here folks.

Starting at £14,900, by picking the Chilli Pack and a smattering of other relatively sane items, I ended up with an on-the-road price of £17,845.00, adding around a 1/5th of the original amount. Cheap, this is not.

But it is another MINI variant that has really caught me eye; the Coupe. Having spent time looking a John Cooper Works version in my local MINI dealership, the idea of a two-seater, three-box coupe became quite appealing. The pop-up rear spoiler and standard fit sport button may have helped also… As a result, I found myself in a situation of getting a Sales Executive and Stratstone Tyneside to spec up a Cooper Coupe, which looked something like this:

Undecided on those sport stripes? Yeah, me too.

Obviously, it does look a bit like someone has sat on the back-end of the hatchback model, but I’m genuinely taken with the styling. Perhaps the most important factor is that it isn’t a regular MINI hatch like everyone else seems to have.

There are a couple of issues with trying to buy a Cooper Coupe though. Firstly, nobody appears to have one to test-drive. Clearly I’m not going to buy a car without driving it; especially not for the sums of money involved here. According to Lee, my friendly Sales Executive, he had no idea when they would have a Cooper Coupe available to test. The closest thing possible would be to drive the hatchback, which does share a lot of the mechanicals with the two-seater, to try to gauge whether or not I liked it.

This was how I came to find myself sitting in traffic around the Silverlink in North Tyneside, yesterday afternoon, behind the wheel of a white Cooper hatchback. Nose-to-tail congestion isn’t the best way to get a feel for how a car handles, nor is it fair to the powertrain to subject it to the demands of three people on board; the additional weight naturally blunting the performance. By the same breath, there was nothing inherently wrong with the hatch, and I would imagine the Coupe to feel a little more light-footed and sprightly. So we turned to talking finances; and failed.

For the specification of 1.6 Cooper Coupe shown above, MINI were asking £18,670.00. A chunky price jump over the similarly equipped hatchback, but such is the price of having a button to make the rear spoiler pop-up on demand! I’d set the budget for what I wanted to pay each month, what deposit I would make and what I wanted for the Polo in part-exchange. The end result was a monthly payment £20 above my target.

Due to the relative new-ness of the Coupe, discounts are apparently not really meant to exist. In addition, the generous dealer-deposit contribution that the MINI finance calculator had shown online, seemingly disappeared within the confines of the dealership. Add to this the pressure of, needing to order within the next 48 hours to “secure a delivery date before the end of the year to use this finance offer” meant that I walked. Yes, the current offer will expire on the 31st of December, just like the SCS sofa sale is always due to end; just before the next one starts.

So this weekend has solved some elements of my predicament, in that I’m seemingly happy to commit to buying a new car through PCP. But added more problems in trying to pick between the relative mundanity of a Cooper hatchback, or the potentially unaffordable (but pop-up spoilered cool-ness) of the Coupe. There also emerged a third option, this:

Audi A1 1.4 TFSi Sport

But that is for another chapter in this saga, and once I’ve had the chance to speak with the “Head of Business” at Silverlink Audi…

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