I believe everything has its moment, like when you look back at things like the PlayStation 1 era. You thought the graphics were amazing, and the controls were the pinnacle, but when you go back to play it 10 years later, the feeling isn’t the same, and it’s just all nostalgia. However, there timeless things like music that you can go back to at any point, and it gets you all happy again, like rapping the words to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song lyrics.
I remember being at the GP2 launch with MINI UK and having hot laps in one and thinking MINI can do no wrong. Oh God! how wrong was I when the official pictures came out for the 3rd BMW MINI. How could they get it so wrong?? It looked like they tried too hard as it was an amalgamation of some 1st Gen MINI styling features, BUT it had a Face only a mother could love. So I thought, fine, it is what is. I buy my cars in this order – Handling, Power & Looks, so all this fits in my confines. Like anything, the proof is in the pudding…
Roll on the launch of the 3rd Gen MINI F56 series, and I got to dealer launch with Stratstone, who I did the marketing at the time. I was impressed by the interior, but the looks didn’t look any better in the metal, with the Cooper being the looker for the range. Fast forward again, and I drive the Cooper S manual courtesy of MINI Shrewsbury, and it is a disappointment as it drove like an F20 1 Series BMW.
Then a few months later, I headed out to the US for MINI TAKES THE STATES and drove the F56 MINI Cooper S auto with the JCW Pro kit with the suspension and exhaust with the carbon fibre tips. Again I was left muted as there was no connection again as it all felt forced, like it was computerised to give some involvement. To get some of the R56/R50/R53 magic, you had to buy the exhaust and suspension, which pushes the car in the other territories of price options of the Civic Type R, BMW 135i, Golf R & Focus RS. At this point, the S or JCW is outgunned, and you can’t even say it’s a more involving drive which was the justification for R series MINIs.
Click the link to my UK & USA review of the F56 MINI Cooper S
This brings me on to why I’m not fond of an F series MINI at all, and I will break it down into categories so you can see why there is some love lost with the MINI…
All cars are made on a platform to which they share inherently the same DNA with such the Volkswagen Golf platform is a share within the V Dub group, which allows VW to make 200 cars on one platform. Therefore the underlining traits will be the same; therefore, they handle the same and use the same parts, which is why VW can create so many cars and make higher profits. On the negative side is they are dialled in the same to have understeer so everyone can drive it and all and any problems affect all the models.
The heads of BMW/MINI made a big mistake to share the same platform for the 3rd Gen MINI with a BMW given it ruined the looks, and if anything, the go karting feeling went as it drove like a BMW. The main charm of the MINI that it was fun to drive and the feedback you got from the road. A lot of that was dialled away in the F series as it lacks the confident initial turn feel. The F-series feels like a BMW 1-series you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference if someone blindfolded you and put you identical spec engine variates. If I wanted a BMW, then I would have brought one…
The rawness from the R-Series MINI has been lost in this scramble towards refinement as the sense of speed and cabin is now whisper quiet. This is all cool for lower spec like the Cooper or Cooper D/SD, but the Cooper S & JCW franticness is gone, which made you think about your driving and enjoy the aural satisfaction from supercharged whine and turbo noises.
Steering, Pedals & Gearbox
Like the chassis points above, the dartiness has been removed, and BMW 1 series DNA has been added. There is some sort of feedback, but not like I know where the wheels are after 2 seconds after the initial input but where the time is of the turn or tyre feedback just simply not there.
i.e. MINI’s unique selling point of driving pleasure has been removed to be a crowd pleasure of the masses.
For anyone who has driven the F56 manual version is the pedals genuinely feel like an afterthought as they positioned in such a way it’s not comfortable and the gear change is something wishy-washy. By the looks of things, it was designed to be an automatic in the first instance than a manual again which is a dying breed. Manual should have been done right as Porsche GT3 still shows it’s still alive and kicking along with Toyota GR Yaris & Ford Fiesta ST across the automotive landscape it is still an item of desire. MINI has often prided itself on selling Manual especially in the USA and for a few model years, they completely took away the option to have a manual.
With all the refinements that came, the noise with the cabin was muted. Still, sadly the same happened the exhaust with it not producing a natural sound but instead an artificial one either cabin side or the ECU programmed to create some overrun. The worst part is the stock JCW wasn’t much better; another muted affair is made worst because you had to pay to get noise at the tune of £1200 plus with the JCW pro exhaust. JCW pro exhaust is an amazing piece of kit. However, the JCW should have sounded amazing from the beginning.
Personally, I like a bit of lag from a turbo as it hards some charm because you have to work for it. There a lot of great older generational cars with turbo lag like the Ferrari F40, BMW Turbo 2002, Ford Escort RS Turbo, Toyota Supra, MR2 & 911 Turbo to name a few. Yes, it annoying when you’re trying to pull away from a junction and nothing happens, but that is always far and in between. F56 virtually gets rid of it completely in all models, but the Cooper & Cooper S power levels are hard to distinguish between, just down to the fact the Cooper is best of the bunch now with that peppy 3 cylinders at around-town speeds it’s on par with the S.
Yeah, everyone knows this, but they flopped hard, and there is no way around it or any bodykit that would save it…
The 3rd MINI just reminds me of the other automotive misfit, the Mark 3/4 VW Golf, which just a fatter with every generation after the Mark 1 and got worse in all-around fun and desirability.
This is one major key where MINI dropped all the balls, and it rebounded and smacked them in the face.
At launch and through the F56 life cycle, there was always a lack of customisation from spec, paint and accessory parts.
It was either too much money or downright cheapening the look of the classic less MINI.
All they had to is get a photocopier and redo the R-series accessory book from the carbon trim, JCW performance part and marketing push.
By not making the parts, they killed their dealer network as they had nothing to sell or anything some wanted to buy or know about, which ultimately killed the desire of the F-series MINI. For other owners and me, I know the fact going into a dealership and looking at the accessories on the walls and demo cars made you want to save up more or think about buying parts later down the line.
The dealers I know said there was no uptake minus the exhaust and no marketing push from MINI themselves. In the days of the 1st & 2nd Gen MINIs, they would be sending out body kits, carbon parts and interior trim on the regular in the UK and around the world but no more. Instead, MINI Headoffice aftersales teams are trying to sell little door lock caps…..
No happy dealers equal poor sales, interest and enquiries, i.e. dealer network needs to be busy and excited about the product in the 6-year life cycle of a car.
Doors & Quirkiness
Just why MINI why why why??? Why did you make a 5-door MINI & drop the suicide door on the Clubman?
The Countryman exists and lets it be that car or the loveable Clubman.
I don’t know what’s more depressing the fact the 5-door outsells the 3-door or the fact MINI sells 5-d00r hatchback exists.
The worst thing was sitting at the launch of the MINI Clubman was them banging about it’s the same size as a VW Golf. If I wanted a Golf I would buy one…
I brought my MINI because it was a small, fun car, and if I wanted a more practical version, I would get a Countryman or Clubman, but sadly they killed the Paceman : /
Sadly the accountants win the battle, and some cars are dropped at the end of the day; it’s a business and money talks.
The buttons and layout were changed, which annoyed me as it had me switching on the fogs lights instead of dropping windows, and the dumb switch for the lights on the dash trim instead of the stalks annoyed me as well. Yes, I am aware I am sounding like an old fart, but the toggle switches and layout was different, which was part of the experience in a MINI. R56 FOR LIFE!
TOO BIG! Please be small
With the SUV craze and cars are getting bigger, but that’s actually laziness of the manufacturers for safety etc.
It’s cheaper to make a car bigger than make it stronger, so they comply with new laws and regulations.
What they should have done with the MINI is to do a Porsche design language of it looks the same as the original and increased the size by 10 to 15%.
I am not a fan of car finance as it is the idea of renting something and not owning something.
However, personal contract purchase (PCP) is the method the masses use now, and that’s where MINI falls flat as they priced themselves out of the market.
An equivalent A-Class Mercedes, VW Golf or even Parent brand BMW 1-series worked out cheaper, so why would want to have something less ‘premium’ and less car???
There was a time where the BMW 135i was cheaper to fiance than the F56 JCW!?! You get two more cylinders, a bigger boot, more car, rear-wheel drive and the badge to match.
Madness in the grand scale of schemes and BMW sold the 135i by the boatload.
Someone that’s worked in marketing for the last 10 years and worked for the worldwide marketing team for Jaguar & Land Rover. MINI push the brand beyond their actual target audience as they move more premium. The majority of people who buy MINI’s are the creative type and don’t like to fit the norm. F-series MINI advertising campaigns are full of LA Hipsters and giving that high-end premium looking which anything remotely the people who buy them who is students, marketing professionals and medical professional in the ages bracket of 22 to 60 years olds. MINI should be stuck to what they did best with the ads as MINI is emotional purchasing decisions, and it’s all about being a fun brand, not a wannabe hipster brand that’s trying to be cool. Everyone loves and remembers the MINI Adventure TV adverts, Funny billboards and print adverts.
MINI Community & Events
This is a weird one as MINI before was all about the MINI scene with it being integrated and doing stuff with them. MINI UNITED was the peak and they took that away and from there hasn’t been much with association only when it is needed for marketing needs. In contrast, if we go towards the dark side of Fiat with the Abarth they have fully embraced ‘the scene’ with the Scorpionship club for Abarth owners so they offer discount, parts, news and events. They literally have Abarth Day which is essentially a copy of MINI UNITED and they went for the 70th Anniversary where on the other hand MINI UK didn’t do anything. MINI USA on the other hand fully lean into the community with the marketing campaigns and doing MINI TAKES THE STATES which happens every two years which is 1 week of road tripping and fun. What better to keep owners staying, upgrading to newer models or performance variates and buying parts than having 300 to 500 MINIs in convoy travelling across the USA it’s essentially a driving billboard to gets press and word of mouth coverage. MINI is the only brand that positions itself as the car brand that comes with friends and they have gone against the grain with that. Get back to being with the MINI community and understand your target market MINI Head Office.
I truly believe the 3rd Gen F-Series MINI was built for people who didn’t own a MINI before instead to attract more of the masses. I remember a friend of mine being asked to join the focus group for MINI and him recollecting what happened when he was sitting with other people. He was left shocked that they were clearly not MINI owners and instead were moaning about the things that make a MINI a MINI. The ride is too hard, lacks boot space and interior space, and ergonomics is not like other cars. Clearly, you’re in the wrong car if you want all that? It’s like being in an electric car and expecting it to make some noise or a supercar is too loud/raw…
The F-series MINI’s are a better car, but what they did with making it more ‘normal’ but BMW/MINI took away the essence of what a Modern MINI is from BMW’s vision from the 2001 rebirth. The sales figure speak volume as they down to the levels of 2006 with the F-series which is ridiculous when they only sold two models and US dealers there biggest market has been closing doors.
Deep down, I truly hope the 4th Gen MINI brings backs the mojo, rawness and quirkiness as we move to an electric future with MINI becoming an Electric only brand.
Here are my recommendations for MINI UK & Overseas specialist to visit:
Lohen – lohen.co.uk
1320 Mini – 1320.co.uk
Sussex Road & Race – sussexroadandrace.co.uk
Millys Auto – millsysautos.co.uk
TWG Automotive – twgautomotive.co.uk
MiniWorks – mini-works.co.uk
RSI C6 – rsic6.com
Outmotoring – outmotoring.com
ESC Tuning – ecstuning.com
Detroit Tuned – detroittuned.com
My list is made by my own opinions and me speaking to respective companies & other owners worldwide, and this is not sponsored post for full transparency.
If you got the modding bug, don’t forget to check out JCW Adventures Store or Official eBay Store for some stickers for all generations of MINIs or R56 JCW carbon fibre exhaust tips seen on my MINI R56 JCW to support the blog & YouTube channel.
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As Always, it’s a MINI Adventure. Try to keep up & Stay Safe!
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