Okay, first off I have to admit to being fairly sceptical about the New Original New Mini F56. I am currently driving a 2013 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop which is the seventh Mini I have owned in 24 years of driving and I love it. However I’ve been here before, having owned 4 classic Minis, when BMW relaunched the Mini Brand in 2000. In 2004, I bought a 2 year old Mini Cooper R50 and I was sold. I had moved on, and the modern practicalities of the new Mini were not that difficult to resist.
So here I am again, proud owner of a Racing Green R56, less than a year old, looking at the new incarnation of the Mini. The F56. Mini Middle East were kind enough to invite myself and a few members of Mini Club Dubai to see the new Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S close up and test drive before the public release on Sunday in Dubai. Photos have been circulating for some time, with varied opinions being aired on various points such as the increase in size, the front overhang, the interior changes etc.
So first impressions, it is far better in real life than in the pictures you can see.Regarding the overhang, yes it’s longer (by 6 cm) however this is in order to comply with new pedestrian safety legislation and engine still sits over the axle to retain it’s go-kart qualities. Let’s be honest we will all have an attachment to a particular Mini model, however I got over the 2000 relaunch and I can do it again. I do admit though, I actually prefer the clean lines and splitter on the Cooper rather than the cluttered front of the Cooper S. The John Cooper Works Concept F56 is looking great so far.
The engines, a 1.5L 3 cylinder 136bhp in the Cooper and a 2.0L 4 cylinder 192bhp in the Cooper S. The Cooper S is over a second faster 0-100kph than the R56 Cooper S. They are entirely new engines and has a new chassis (being shared with the front wheel drive BMW 2 series Active Tourer). Now to the new technology being introduced. Front facing camera and sensors to adjust cruise control automatically and also reduce risk of hitting cars or people below 30kph, auto start stop (which can be deactivated each journey) but to be honest as the man said by the time you lift of the brake, the car is ready to move. The Head Up Display, shown in the Cooper S model here (albeit blurry as the camera couldn’t focus on it but eyes could more importantly) is brilliant.
Speed limits shown (which adjust as the front facing camera recognises roadsigns at roadworks, damned clever) current speed, music, directions etc all adjustable). My only minor concern was that at 5ft 8in I had to squat down slightly to see the HUD, but I didn’t have time to adjust the seats so maybe not a problem. Other tech, Mini Connected has had a major refresh, the controls, much much easier than the R56 joystick (and will support Android phones now) The GPS map zooms in when you turn it clockwise unlike the R56.
The illuminated central display ring lights up when you change various modes. The Driving Modes are Green, Mid and Sport. The display also lights up with Air Con adjustments (now dual zone) and when you increase revs.
Sport button all day everyday for me! Tightens up suspension and dampers, increasing throttle response.
The steering is electro servo assisted, so in English, means it only uses power when you need it. The boot is larger ( from 160L to 211L) and can be adjusted very cleverly to maximise space downwards and with large square objects too. The fuel tank is 4 litres bigger, with the fuel cap moved the right hand side (which is great for drivers in Dubai as you’ll no longer queue!) Oh and no spare tyres in any model, it’s runflats all round, like them or loathe them.
Gearbox comes in Manual, Automatic (no paddles) and Sports Automatic which has paddle shifts (but single use only i.e one paddle to shift up, one to shift down). This model above had a John Cooper Works Steering wheel as an option. The JCW is not arriving until next year. Leg room is increased significantly in the back and the seats in both the standard Cooper and Cooper S were much more supportive, with adjustable under leg support.
Right, enough of the inside and looks, what’s it like to drive? Mini Middle East took us on a brief city tour, swapping cars and drivers to ensure we had experience in both the Cooper and Cooper S. Surprisingly the Cooper was quite brisk and eager off the throttle in Mid or Sport Mode. Clearly it was more sluggish in Green mode. It certainly shows that it has more horsepower and torque than the R56 Cooper. The Cooper S, well it shifts! Feels and sounds similar in some ways to my JCW, complete with some pops and bangs.
The convoy led us to the Nad Al Sheba cycle track adjacent to the Meydan Racecourse where they had set up driving experience/autocross lap, to show off the handling characteristics of the new F56.
We each had 4 laps in the Cooper and Cooper S, then a final lap in the fully kitted and spec’d Cooper S which had the Sport Suspension and Dynamic Damper/Brake Control.
Needless to say the cars handled amazingly, flying through the slaloms at speed. Trust me, these cars were pushed to the limit by Mini Club Dubai. (There may have been the odd warning about screeching tyres and drifting, from the Mini Middle East guys, as they needed to keep the cars intact!)
Fastest lap was set the previous day at around 32 seconds. I managed a creditable 36.6 seconds which was the fastest of the day and won me a Bulldog! The Cooper S with Dynamic Damper control was had a quicker turn in and was alot tighter and responsive around those cones.
In summary, has it won me over? Absolutely, in terms of the step up in technology, improved safety, it’s bigger and roomier but retains the driving responsiveness, the go-kart handling and ultimately it’s still feels like a Mini, with the finish and quality you would expect from a BMW. Would I buy one? If didn’t already have the JCW, then yes. But I can wait……JCW next year mmmmm
Photos taken on Sony NEX7, Sigma Lens by myself.