The original Mini arrived in 1959 and became an instant Icon to the 60s generation. This love affair lasted until 2000 under MG Rover stopping production. The Mini was meant to an economy car but evolved into a classless motoring icon and a rally legend, showing that power isn’t everything. A quick hop and twist to 2001 the legend was reborn under BMW ownership with the design penned by an American. The second iteration of the new MINI under BMW’s ownership arrived in 2007. For this 3rd generation new MINI, BMW went back to the drawing board to create this new model from the ground up with an all new chassis, engines and components.
Will this new original live up to the hype and legacy of that famous badge?
The automotive industry is still in its infancy but has been rapidly evolving through the years with leaps and bounds with engines, safety, materials and technology. The original Mini was designed to be cheap affordable car to the mass population. The engineering team cleverly designed the front wheel drive layout to utilise the same oil sump for the gearbox and transmission giving a compact design. The new MINI is very far from this ingenuity as that famous badge as it has become a powerful marketing tool in positioning this small car as premium hatchback.
2014 saw the launch of the new original MINI with dealers across the UK officially inviting prospect customers and existing owners to see the new hatch in person. The dealer launches started at 19:59pm with a MINI show reel of MINI through the ages with the video ending at 20:14pm to welcome the new hatch in the UK (clever touch with the times).
Rybrook MINI Shrewsbury provided me with a F56 Cooper S in Thunder Grey, as you all know I only work in black or very very dark grey. This S rode on 18 inch Cone spoke wheels with black roof, mirror caps and bonnet stripes with JCW rear spoiler. The interior was lavished in satellite grey leather on sport seats with black, chrome and satellite grey setting the theme of the cabin. The cabin was tech laden with mini connected, nav and head ups display giving any techno geek a sensory overload with LED headlights illuminating the road ahead.
With the pics taken and a quick walk around and nosed about I climbed in shut the door with the familiar MINI clunk to find a quieter cabin already. I took a moment of silence as wiggled my bum in the Sport seats, which can say are on par with my JCW Recaro bucket seats on the side bolstering. I was in a trance as basked in the plushness of the cabin running my heads on the door panel, dashboard and passenger seat. The sheer quality and feel of the interior set me back to what I would expect in dare I say it a Bentley. Yes there is a BIG difference in a Bentley interior but coming from visiting the factory earlier in the year I was sent back to think. MINI has really stepped up their game! It’s not like the R56 was not a nice place to be but even more so it was somewhere you could call home yet again.
From there on it got a little confusing for a MINI owner, the light switches are not the stalk but on the right side of the dash of the steering wheel and window & door switches on the door. Madness I tell you!!! NO NO NO NO Why would you do that? It felt like MINI caved in and followed a bunch of surveys & focus group just to conform to the mass market. A MINI is meant to be quirky in it’s design and feel! My beloved scaredometer has gone to show my passengers how fast we are going but instead being replaced with a Tron identity disc which changes colour dependent on modes. It is nice touch which complements the mood lighting but the speedo has been moved and moulded in with the rev counter and fuel gauge. This tacho which gives you all the information you will ever need on the running of the car.
My next annoyance was where is the key slot??? Oh there isn’t one Hmmmmmm. Instead there is a pulsating red fighter jet toggle waiting you to awaken the beast. The speedo lights up like fighter jet cockpit with the heads up display raising from the dash to greet me with the road speed limits and navigation information at easy glance (cue the Top Gun music). The central screen brought up the MINI Logo, three lower heater controls lit up and the radio came to life as I buckled up for the test drive ahead.
I slotted her into first with new gear knob which is reminiscent of an 8 ball and dropped the hand brake to see what this new chick on the block was made of. I noticed straight away the clutch was alot lighter and easier to engage to find the biting point and gearbox was silky smooth. As I drove out of the dealership I could noticeable feel that the new generation of runflat tyres gave a better ride comfort as this F56 Cooper S over the R56. This F56 Cooper S was fitted with Dunlop Sport Maxx with a tyre profile of 205/40 R18 86W which seems to be standard fitment at the moment. I hit the dual carriage ways to see what this all new four-cylinder 2.0 litre engine is all about which is happens to be fitted to other BMW models which will give more leeway for tuning and scoop for mods.
I had been reading the specs on this 2.0 litre F56 Cooper S to find it only has 192Bhp & 280Nm which is minor increase from the last generation as the 1.6 litre which had 184Bhp and 240Nm of torque. The extra torque is welcomed but only 8 more bhp??? This is strange given the engine size as theoretically been increased by 25% which is total U-turn in the face of companies downsizing engines for emissions and efficiency. Even with this bigger engine the all new MINI meets all EU6 emission laws and this extra grunt of torque gives engine more of a punch.
As I headed to the test route I noticed the extra grunt from the engine when leaving from standing still and at speed as the new gear knob makes life alot easier than the stock R56 gearknob. But that heads up display is sooo cool!!! God I was like a kid watching it slide up from the dash and it telling me all information I needed for the road ahead. It would warn me if went into a different speed zone and indicate the limit in that area. We all get caught out sometimes wondering ermmm is this a 30 or 40 zone in an area we don’t know? If only you could play tetris on it when in traffic jams…
The lack of any pops and bangs was a big let down for me as a fruity exhaust note is deal breaker for me. I had it sports mode with the windows dropped to get her to play ball but she wasn’t having it. It didn’t even pop once during my hour of play as I tried various methods of letting her warm, changing modes, backing off at various rpms.
Whilst driving on the test route I noticed straight away how much more composed the steering and suspension was with the steering feedback being on par with the GP2 on feel. I got that exact same confidence I got from driving any MINI, how it encourages you to push that bit future is there. But I was left with a strange after taste which wasn’t MINI like at but more BMW as it was like I was driving an 1 series. It was like going to your favourite restaurant, sitting down and ordering the perfect meal and it not tasting the same as your remembered. God how I wanted to love it, as I read how it was an all new platform and built from the ground up but that cheeky grin I get every time I hop into my MINI wasn’t there. I guess they made it too good??
Its like the refinement has killed all the excitement? Is it too good for its own good? The MINI character as been lost! By taking away the rawness/edge of the noise and sense of speed the magic has definitely been engineered out thus making the MINI like any other car (I must sound like a 1st gen owners after they drove the R56). Not once did I smile on this test drive, the F56 S engine it felt like it was held back from its fully potential with no joy from winding her out to the redline.
I couldn’t seem to fault the F56 as a car but as a MINI it lacked the fun factor brought me into the brand with the R56 MINI One (my first car). Given I have driven a cumulative of over 90,000 miles in the R56 I felt disappointed in driving the F56 as I expected a more fun whilst being the better car. But it was the latter, the F56 clearly is better car but at the cost of fun as the feeling of driving the F56 is no way near as any of the 2nd generation MINIs. I have driven the whole 2nd Gen range from the One D to GP2 and even the MINI Clubvan felt better to drive than the F56 S which sounds odd but is true for me. The Clubvan had the Cooper D engine but it felt more involvement from the steering wheel. I giggled on the test route with its Harvey Dent aka Twoface colour scheme (another review for another time).
This is where I would be normally give my conclusion on the F56 but I am not going to but instead take a flight to the US for MINI TAKES THE STATES 2014 (MTTS 2014) and my exclusive drive of the F56 Cooper S with JCW tuning upgrades. I was the first person to spot this sneaky addition to the MINI USA fleet on the MTTS. I spotted the carbon exhaust tips on this F56 hmmmm. Upon closer inspection it was true but there was something different about this F56 as it sat low to the floor than anything other F56 MINI I had ever seen with no wheel gap (wheel gap police fall back).
The F56 Cooper S was fitted the JCW coilovers, JCW tuning kit and a JCW exhaust with carbon fibre exhaust tips. This JCW tuning kit raises power from the 189Bhp to 208Bhp and torque increases by 20Nm to 300Nm all done by MINI with that lovely warranty intact. The JCW exhaust brings a lot more noise but this exhaust isn’t merely a bolt exhaust but a bi-module which has an bluetooth enabled clicker. Once double pressed it bypasses the rear silencer to give a significantly louder exhaust with all the pops, bangs and crackles all at the command of your right foot.
Officially JCW exhaust can not be sold without the JCW tuning kit meaning this will be only a dealer fit option plus the carbon fibre tips are on option on top with pricing of the exhaust at an eye watering 1600 Euros. Carbon exhaust tips at 208 Euros.
Coilovers with red springs are another dealer fitted option which allow 10 to 20mm drop in height is 1300 Euros.
Another option I learned about later but wasn’t fitted were the JCW brake kit which are JCW branded 4 piston calipers with 350 x 30mm drilled and slotted discs for that extra rip your face off braking performance. This will be another expensive option at 1650 Euros.
All these additional modifications gives us a real insight into the forthcoming JCW. You can imagine I am dying to drive the F56 JCW as I feel I can’t back to anything under 200 Bhp which mixes driving fun, performance and out of this world cornering speeds all wrapped under that infamous JCW badge.
In this leg of MTTS I would be driving from Memphis to St. Louis which would be about 300 miles and take around 6 hours with stoppage at the half way point for lunch stop at birth place of pink lemonade. The night before I was told I would be handed the keys to this F56 in question to enjoy on the US roads. I presumed I would be accompanied with the head of After sales of MINI USA instead I was met with Andrew Zolper Head of Sales for MINI USA who was a more of local as he lived in Chicago (cool dude, really down to earth guy and strangely has similar taste in cars like me).
We headed out of Memphis from the partying the night before on the infamous Beale Street under police escort who were stopping all traffic en route to the highway. This left the population of Memphis looking at us in disbelief on the colours of the rainbow our MINIs were making. I laid back with my shades on taking pictures as we would be soon be stopping to fill up and to switch seats for me to drive.
Sitting in the passenger seat I could feel the difference in the ride quality as the ride was firmer but better damped as we drove through town and on to higher speeds on the on ramps and highway. There was one thing I forgot the mention this F56 S was fitted with the automatic gearbox NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. This autobox is actually a carry over from the R56 but with some tweaks and better software programming. Yes this is sacrilege to me but this would give me a better view on how the auto MINI felt and whether or not is actually worth premium given the autobox shifts faster, improves mpg and has a lower 0 to 60 dash time.
I did quick walk around video for you guys before once again for my drive in the US I sat on the wrong side but with no manual gearbox so no worries with wobbly shifting with my right hand. I double tapped the Bluetooth remote for the exhaust and slotted the box into D and floored to join the free way towards that lush pink lemonade.
Straight away there was more of rasp from the exhaust and the engine was reeving more freely to the redline. I am not gonna lie the autobox made the F56 very easy to drive, as I wasn’t full comfortable sitting on the other side and the fact you can drive through a red light if your turning right!
We were following the route to St.Louis which was more of the scenic as the route laid out by MINI USA was there for you to enjoy that go karting handling whilst see the sights. We hit some classic country western corn field back roads so we could open the taps on the tight switch backs. She didn’t disappoint as flicked the autobox into Sport for full control as I wanted to dedicate on the gear changes. Change ups were rapid with a tiny amount of power interruption but alot less than a manual with auto blipping on the down shifts as the JCW exhaust crackled, popped and bang (the F56 manual gets auto rev match down shifts too). I cant wait to see how the ZF gearbox will improve over the revised R56 transmission and try out the paddles as this car didn’t have the shift paddles behind the wheel. Rating the autobox as a whole and comparing it the R56 autobox it was vast improvement! It didn’t get confused which switching into manual or on quick down shifts or full throttle gear changes and not once did it pull me away from the fun I was having driving it on the highway, back roads or around town. BIG THUMBS UP!
Going back to the coilovers fitted on this F56 S, I definitely felt more of a road connection which was more of a welcomed addition as I said previously the F56 S felt like a BMW which I didn’t like. These coilovers address this issue of more steering and road feel whilst driving. The coilovers bring back that more MINI go-kart feel as the ride is firmer and balance yet which doesn’t distract from any form of driving around town, highway or back roads.
I was deliberately driving on crack highway roads and rough road to see how well the coilovers soaked up the bumps and uneven roads to fully test this dealer fitted option (don’t worry I did warn my passenger Andrew before doing so). I honestly couldn’t fault it as it felt like normal road compliant suspension going over the potholes which no harsh noise or crashing in the cabin. If you have the money definitely worth cost as it comes with a warranty from MINI if you do have any problems. On a major plus your MINI will have that STANCE straight from the start when you pull that cover off and handed the keys.
The next part of the drive to St.Louis couldn’t make up and should how easy the F56 S is able to change direction. I was cruising in the slow lane doing just under the limit and this Doge Caliber comes blowing past with a blown out tyre front passenger tyre with sparks flying from the rim. I look over to Andrew and say ‘What the hell? Are you seeing this!!???’ as he was down in his phone doing emails. About a few seconds later the tyre completely gives away and as I howl out the words ‘EVASIVE MANOEUVRES’ so immediately check my mirrors and drop the box down two gears and dodge incoming shrapnel of tyre left and right using both lanes. I gently slowed down the F56 S and said you all good? When’s the last time to read a car review like this? I felt like Will Smith dodging car on the highway in Bad Boys 2
Moving over to more aesthetics than go faster bits as the F56 S was fitted with John Cooper Works Pro design mirror caps, rear view mirror and side scuttles which are nice additions to add some extra flair. One thing I hate about the side scuttles if you don’t know are the fact they have to be bonded on by glue!!!!! No thank you as I would go to any vinyl design place and get a design done to get my own custom design to go over that area, that way I could change or remove it with ease. Another subtle detail was the JCW rear wing and John Cooper Works Pro LED door stills which touches off the design for the exterior and interior nicely which give you that smerk you get when you look back at your MINI after parking up.
We are all know if you don’t look back after parking your car, you brought the wrong car
Bringing the F56 around for a cool down lap I learned that the F56 is more capable car than R56 by significant difference in levels of chassis, refinement and usability but some of the magic has been lost in that transition. New comers to the MINI world will love it as little querkiness and loveable MINI looks are still there but die-hard fans will miss the 1st gen & 2nd over top cabin, noises and engines which made a big part of the MINI charm. A lot of people forget that having something that is imperfect is better than having something that is perfect.
Let me explain in car terms, do you remember you first car? It wasn’t the fastest, coolest or pulling magnet you hoped it be but you still think back and smile & laugh that’s what the 1st & 2nd Gens will always be. Yes you have upgraded to bigger and faster cars with nav, heated seats etc but that first car, love or whatever it might be will always have a place in your heart. The all new F56 MINI has addressed every conceivable issue with the R56 and improved on the formula but in order to bring the R56 charm it seems you have to spec wisely for the additional JCW goodies to bring back the old school fun.
Review Score: 4/5
The all new MINI Cooper S is better than it’s predecessor in both refinement usability, ride, interior and build quality. This new generation of MINIs addresses the mass market issues of the MINI such as interior space and is the best car MINI has ever made but at the cost of MINIs quirkiness as some of the ‘MINI Magic’ has been lost in transit.
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