Next Generation MINI Revealed

How do you create the second generation of a car that has defied all expectations and gone on to become one of the biggest surprise hits of the past 20 years? That’s the question that BMW has been asking itself for the past 4-5 years as it gets closer and closer to finishing the next MINI.

While we’re still at least a year and a half away from the launch of the R56, quite a few details have recently become more clear. With recent spy-pics from northern Europe and other information we’ve recently received, we’re finally able to get a fairly accurate idea of the final design and specifications of the R56. So grab a comfortable chair, sit back read on…


Engine and Drivetrain

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One of things we know for certain is that the next MINI will feature a new BMW designed 4-cylinder engine range. BMW have joined forces with French automaker PSA (Citroen/Peugeot) to create a truly state of the art four cylinder engine range. BMW did the majority of the work in designing and engineering the engines while PSA used their expertise to help with the logistics of manufacturing.

Topping the range will be two new engines pumping out around 115 and 170 bhp (the latter belonging to the new turbocharged Cooper S). All versions of the new engine include variable valve timing, composite camshafts, and an `on-demand’ water and oil pumps. The engine will be lower and wider but will weigh in at a respectable 120kg (in Turbo form). The other notable feature of the new turbo charged engine is the twin-scroll exhaust turbocharger that will virtually eliminate turbo lag.

Interestingly it would seem MINI has decided to use the naturally aspirated 115bhp version of the engine (equipped with BMW’s Valvetronic) for the Cooper despite the fact that there is a 140bhp turbo version that will be available and put in use by PSA. Perhaps MINI has plans for this engine down the road later in the R56 life-cycle.

On the JCW front power is the big story. If the rumors are correct, (we don’t have much info on this yet) the JCW MCS should see an increase to around 220bhp and loads more torque than the current car. This is still strictly a rumor however.

With these engines comes even less required maintenance. Depending on running conditions and the driver’s style of motoring, oil service intervals will be approximately 20,000 miles. The spark plugs and air filter, in turn, only have to be exchanged approximately every 40,000 miles. The timing chain driving the camshafts is not only very precise and reliable, but also remains maintenance-free throughout the full running life of the engine. And automatic hydraulic valve play compensation serves last but not least to rule out any service or maintenance on the valve drive.

Expect the MINI to use a 6 speed manual on both the MCS and the MC. While the 6 speed automatic should be optional on the MCS it’s unclear if MINI will keep a CVT for the MC or move to a more standard automatic.

An SMG type of transmission could be a possibility as a later update but packaging the SMG module within the tight confines of the MINI would probably be a hurdle to overcome first.

The long rumored all-wheel drive could very well see the light of day within the product life-cycle of the next MINI. We’ve heard from sources that MINI could have brought the option to the market with the current generation (using the design and components created by Getrag) but chose to wait for a few reasons. For one the next chassis will be created from the start to better accommodate such a configuration.

In general these new engines will offer exceptional power and a muscular torque curve throughout a very wide useful speed range, at the same time reducing both fuel consumption and keeping weight to a minimum.

You can read more on the technical aspects of the new powerplants here.


Exterior Design

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Mostly due to new pedestrian crash regulations (and to some degree the new engine) BMW/MINI designers will be forced to change the now famous face of the modern MINI designed by Frank Stephenson almost ten years ago. As seen in the photos above, the shape will become more upright with the lights being moved slightly outward to the corners. Further, the crease to the inside of the headlights (where the fenders meet the hood) will become much more subtle as the hood is raised to adhere to the engineering demands of the new engine and 2005 EU pedestrian crash standards. Also new (and surely due to those same crash standards) will be a larger front bumper with a bit more of a rounded look. Also changed in the name of pedestrian safety is the cowl area in front of the windshield. MINI has moved the current exposed wipers down just a bit and changed the black air vents so that there is just a single vent that runs the width of the car.

(Note – the exterior spy photos above are of cold weather testing mules. These cars have all their trim blacked out to hide the design details and the front clip is not final. These images are not indicative of the final car.)

As mentioned previously on MotoringFile, MINI is looking for some cost cutting with the new model and one area they’ll be focusing on is the complex front end. First off the running lights and the turn signals (currently placed between the headlights and foglights) will move within the headlight cluster and the foglights will become a bit more pronounced (think slightly larger than the bottom of a soda can). The headlight design (both xenon and halogen) will remain similar to the current car.

In other news that’s sure to surprise, the hood will still be a clamshell design (despite what we had heard) however the headlights will not be integrated like the current car. Instead they will be mounted from underneath. Keeping the clamshell is a bit surprising as many of the UK mags had speculated this would be one of the first places looked at for cost cutting.

The Cooper S will again feature its much loved hood scoop but it will be slightly smaller than the current car. MINI will also give its sportiest model a more aggressive look in other ways. Another change they will make to the front of the MCS will be a black grille in the place of the chrome grille on the Cooper. The MCS will also have a much larger bottom air intake that is designed to mimmic the shape of the top grille. While the two grilles aren’t connected, they will look somewhat integrated due to the similar designs. Below this will be a more aggressive front air-dam.

On both cars the vents and side marker lights remain but will grow in size substantially. The new vent specifically will extend all the way to where the hood/bonnet begins on the side of the car.

The side rearview mirrors will also change shape slightly and become a bit more aggressive. The mirrors will lose some of their oval shape and come to more of a subtle point at the top.

Moving to the rear, the next MINI will feature a different shaped light cluster. The lights will be wider and shorter than the current car. They will consist of a large circular starburst red light with a yellow turn indicator inside it. The reverse lights will be a thin rectangle at the bottom of the cluster.

The third brake light will move from the roof to just inside the top of the rear window. This will give MINI a bit more freedom in the design and manufacturing process of the roof and spoiler.

Speaking of the spoiler – look for the MCS to get a longer and taller rear spoiler. I’m told it’s similar in size to the new JCW spoiler but less of a rear wing in its form.

In general the rear of the car should remain similar to the current car’s rather iconic design. The rear foglight will substantially grow in width (think 6-8 inches total) but should remain in the same place as the current car. The chrome or body colored strip on the handle of the boot will remain but will increase in height by an inch or so.

On the MCS the rear will follow the front and get more aggressive. The faux grille area will get larger and the center tailpipes should remain but may look a bit more aggressive as well.

Moving to the side of the car the changes become much more subtle. The Cooper will get a BMW-like refueling door that you push to pop-open rather than pull. The MCS fuel cap design will probably remain similar to the current car. The wheel arches will grow in height but won’t actually flare out much more than is currently seen on the 2005 MINI. Due to a reengineered wheel well area, 18″ wheels will be more prevalent in the options list than with the current MINI.

Elsewhere the sunroof remains mostly unchanged and the roof looks to be the same (no word on those clip-on roofs yet!).

Overall, the shape of the next MINI will very much be an evolution of the current car. In fact I’ve been told by a few people who have seen mock-ups that the average person on the street would have a hard time telling them apart. Based on everything I’ve heard, I’d imagine the exterior changes will be much less controversial than the new interior design. It’s probably also worth mentioning that I’ve been told by several people (who have first hand experience) that the new car looks fantastic and that these changes, as a whole, are exceedingly well done.


Interior Design

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(updated from Thursday’s initial posting)

Welcome inside the next MINI. The photo above (courtesy of AutoExpress) gives us a very rough look at what MINI is planning for the R56. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves yet. AutoExpress doesn’t have the market cornered on MINI scoops. We’ve been working on one of our own for the past week that procides much more detail.

If there was one area that MINI definitely needed improvement (except maybe that iron block and single cam under the hood), it’s the interior. Specifically, I’m referring to the quality of materials and the general use of space within the cabin. Our sources indicate that MINI designers have responded with a thoroughly rethought interior. What they’ve done is keep the overall layout the same, but alter (at times radically) some proportions of various pieces. That means the general design language will stay vaguely the same. However, designers have had free reign to solve a few of the current interior’s shortcomings.

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First off, the speedometer will grow in size to house a few other gauges and a larger digital display. On cars without the Navigation option (not shown in the above photo), that display will be a larger, two line version of what you see on your radio head-unit today. The speedometer in the non-navigation equipped MINI will continue to have a silver backer, the same as in the current car. In contrast, MINIs equipped with the navigation option (As shown above) will sport a large LCD screen located within the center speedometer. Speaking of that navigation system, don’t be surprised to see the new and improved version of iDrive bundled with the nav option on the next MINI (again similar to the 1 and 3 series BMWs).

The center stack will be slightly narrower and tapered (from back to front) for added knee and legroom. Below that larger speedometer will be the standard array of components, including a CD drive and controls (with no display as it will be within the speedo), heating and cooling controls with a high quality finish and a simplified toggle switch area. Where the current car is black, look for the new MINI to feature a silver finish. We can expect the climate control and stereo components to function a bit more like they do in the new 1 series and 3 series. As seen in the photo above, the auto climate controls will retain some of the current, old-school Mini logo inspired design.

Toggle switches will remain in the new car, but will change somewhat in functionality. They will also slightly grow in size. Directly under these toggle switches are the familiar cup holders. Only this time we are told they have been designed to fit more than a can of soda. And speaking of toggle switches, several of them (finished in black) will also move up near the rearview mirror for controlling things like the sunroof.

For all those concerned about the placement of the tachometer, don’t worry. It will stay in its current location just behind the steering wheel on all versions of the car. The tach will also add a larger digital display that shows a illustration of a MINI. It’s assumed this would be an indicator of doors open, lights out etc..

In another sign of BMW influence, the next MINI will feature an ignition system similar to the new 1 and 3 series BMWs. These are essentially push-button systems that rely on a “key-fob” as opposed to a typical metal key.

On the wireless technology front, the Next MINI will also feature much better bluetooth integration that will come installed from the factory. The display will most likely be integrated into the multi-purpose display within the speedometer.

The steering wheel (not shown in the photo) is a two-spoke design that is actually more similar in shape to the version on the 2002-03 MINI than the current 3-spoke wheel. It does, however, share a similar center horn area to what is in the current 2005 MINI.

The side mirror controls will move from their current location to something a bit more typical on the driver side door. And speaking of those doors, the overall design will become a bit more stylized and, from the looks of the photos we’ve seen, less useful in terms of storage.

Look for more BMW-like seat controls, including a more intuitive mechanism to move the seat forward for rear access (similar to the 3 series coupe). Speaking of the seats I’m told the standard version has been redesigned to be more comfortable and offer better support.

While the rear seat space will grow only marginally, the overall design will change to use higher grade materials. We’re told the result is a big improvement over the current car rear seating environment.

The boot will be very similar in size to the current car’s, but will add a few small but useful features. Since the battery will be moving near the engine (where it is currently on the Cooper), there will be a shallow storage area under the floor (potentially similar to what is found in the current 3 series wagon). Further, the boot lid itself may feature a small amount of storage for umbrellas and the like. Finally the two panels on both side of the boot that currently house the CD Changer connector and some optional H/K components will be open and actually part of the boot itself.

In the end, I think many people will be a bit shocked at the amount of change MINI was willing to make to the interior of the car. While they kept much of the general shape the same, many elements have changed drastically. Personally, my initial thoughts were of surprise. Although I have to say that I’m quickly warming up to many of the changes (and hoping others still have time to be massaged a bit).

It’s my guess, however, that many people will initially respond negatively to some of these changes. To that I say it’s important to keep in mind that there may still be a few alterations here and there before production. Also, keep in mind that there was initially quite a bit of negative reaction to the current MINI when it was first shown in the late 90’s. We all know how that turned out!

Photos!

Since this story was posted a handful of interior shots of the new MINI have surfaced on the web. You can check them out below:

[ MINI Cooper Interior (2007) ] Wheels24.co.za

Update: A few months back Autobilde published what look to be the first accurate renderings of the next MINI. Check them out below: