Ask MF: R53, R56, R60 – What Does it Mean?

We’re reposting this Ask MF originally from last year due to a number of similar questions we’ve gotten over the last few weeks.

This week’s “Ask MotoringFile” comes from Dave M and is quickly becoming a very common question:

I have a 2008 MCS on order and am relatively new to the MINI world. I couldn’t help but notice everyone using these code names for different models of MINIs. What does it all mean?

MINI models follow a similar system to the (seemingly ancient) BMW model internal naming convention. Since we often talk about different models (sometimes in the same story, paragraph or even sentence), using the internal model code-names is often the easiest way to quickly identify what model of MINI we’re referring to.

The first generation of BMW MINI’s started with the R50 which was meant to be the coupe version of the car. However once that model number was established BMW decided to produced a higher power version called the Cooper S. Because the development work was started later it was given a different code-name – the R53. The R52 was actually conceived before the Cooper S and thus has the code-name R52. And for those wondering, the R51 was a concept that never made it past the conception stages.

With the second generation MINI, BMW had things planned out a bit better. That meant the entire range of 2nd generation coupes would use the R56 code and the convertibles R57. The Clubman was designated R55 since initial work had started on the concept before the R56.

So why the big gap between the R57 and the new R60 SUV MINI? We’ve been told that is simply due to several concepts which have either been shelved or delayed.

If you ever need a quick reminder we have the cheat-sheet (seen below) on the lower left of every MotoringFile page. Each code-name links to the subsequent MotoringFile section for each car. A handy way to see all posts referring to individual models.

1st Gen MINI

  • R50: One & MC Coupe
  • R52: All 1st Gen MINI Convt.
  • R53: MCS Coupe

2nd Gen MINI

  • R55: Clubman
  • R56: One/MC/MCS Coupe
  • R57: One/MC/MCS Convt.
  • R60: MINI SUV
  • txdesign

    Gen 1: Well proportioned, elegant, beautiful car. Gen 2: Jacked up, bugeyed, bloated design mistsep.

  • txdesign

    Sorry, meant to write “misstep”.

  • I never tire of reading comments by R50/53 MINI owners complaining about the R56 the way that classic Mini owners complained about the R50/53 when it came out.

  • C4

    @Andrew Zimmerman:

    As a current owner of both generations I can tell you that they have their pluses and minuses. To me personally, the gen 1 car feels more connected and has a demeanor that closely resembles the old Issigonis Mini. Design wise, I still prefer the rather exquisite details of the older cars.

    The 2 gen cars are different beasts. Different philosophy altogether. The car is more refined, more palatable as a daily driver, with great torque and sensational fuel economy. But the car feels more like a BMW (Nothing wrong with that, but this is a MINI first and foremost). EU pedestrian safety regulations compromised the design somewhat as well as target goals to reduce manufacturing costs. Again, it is a great product, solid as it can be, still a blast to drive. But MINI in the process of making the vehicle more accessible to a non-enthusiast market base they did manage to watered it down a bit too much, IMHO.

    BMW understands that the MINI is a very unique product. It is an iconic car with cult like following. Very different from a bread and butter offering like a BMW 3 series or 5 series. The MINI, both, allows you great creativity for “Island solutions” but at the same time the core of the car limits you at the same time. In others words, you can’t make a MINI either too refined or too brutal, etc, etc.

    I love both cars. My wife much prefers her Clubman S. The more visceral nature of my ’05 R53 S suits me better. In the end everybody is happy.

    • David Swanepoel

      Very well said!

  • @C4: I too have owned both generations and agree with you. They are different cars, each with their own pluses and minuses. Had I not totaled my R53, I would probably have kept it forever, but I love my R56 too. I am just growing weary of the “hating” and think that it is funny that it’s what we as the first R53 owners all complained about getting from classic Mini owners in the old days.

  • txdesign

    I have driven the 2nd gen car and agree that is a superior car in many ways. I simply can’t get over the exterior design on the current car. It is simply an awkward looking car to me. I think the third gen. car will be a real design challenge.

  • nicole

    I have to agree, we currenty own one of each and both are wonderful in different ways. I am really sick of reading all the hate on the 2nd gen MINIs – they’re still leaps and bounds better than most of their contemporaries. Although, if I were in a situation where I had to choose one over the other I’d go with first gen every time. They are better looking and more fun to drive. I’d love to see 3rd gen MINIs recapture some of what they lost.

  • C4

    @Andrew Zimmerman:

    Andrew, I agree. Unfortunately in internet message boards and blogs criticism levied towards a car may be construed as “Hating” and praise as “Fanboism”. I think one can sort of weed out the extreme comments from the “fair and balanced” ones.

    Like I said, I think both generations have their merits and their downfalls. To me the current R56 and R55 S in stock form are a little too quiet and too sterile feeling in comparison to a bone stock R53. I am just too used to the Supercharger whine and the exhaust burble.

  • C4

    Nicole…Hear, hear!

  • Rocketboy_X

    The difference is that I won’t turn my back to a R56 owner, or pour oil under their car at car shows. The one sided hate between Mini and MINI was personal. The dislike of the R56 from R51&53ers is of disappointment.

  • C4


    Yes I totally agree with this post. Some in the classic Mini community took their dislike/hatred (And still do) for the original BMW MINI to a personal level. It was not just the car, but also the owner of said MINI. Hey just ask Randy Webb about a similar experience he had back in ’02.

    And with as much bickering going back and forth between R53 and R56 owners I have never seen acts of vandalism (or sheer violence) by anyone on both sides of the discussion.

    Before BMW brought back the MINI to the US in 2002, these cars were mostly unknown to a vast majority of the driving public. No Minis had been officially imported into US soil since 1968, so the car was mostly a “rare” hobby automobile for the few in the “Known”.

    The advent of the New BMW MINI sort of took away this veil of secrecy and exclusivity that classic US Mini owners had enjoyed up to that point. I am not going to enter into all the philosophical reasons why some of these folks felt BMW should have never put their hand on the Mini (Most of their reasoning is idiotic with very few talking points being the exception).

    But truth be told, the BMW MINI helped raised awareness of the Classic Mini (And therefore desirability and residual values for the old cars) as BMW MINI owners also became classic Mini owners (And viceversa). This is something some of the most recalcitrant critics of the BMW MINI can’t admit even if their lives depend on it.

    We may not agree with the general direction BMW is taking the MINI brand as of late, but one thing can not be ignored…. If it hadn’t been for BMW’s investments in the Rover Group, the MINI as we know it, would have never existed. Further more, Mini would have officially died when the last classic Rover Mini rolled off the Longbridge assembly plant in October 2000.

  • Dr Obnxs

    Well, instead of going on about R54, I’d only add that the chassis labelling started off somewhat confused. While they’ve cleaned it up, I actually prefered having one chassis designation per powerplant/chassis combo.


    How about this? A Self imposed gag rule that we all vow not to turn every thread into “My generation mini is better than your generation mini.” I know it’s a tall order, but a guy can hope, can’t he? 😉

  • C4

    Matt, I think the R53 vs R56 debate is here to stay until v3.0 comes out in 2012 or thereabouts. Then there it will grow to cover 3 or 4 generations of the car!

    I am eager to see what MINI has in store for the R56 facelift in the summer.

  • that.guy
    Had I not totaled my R53, I would probably have kept it forever…

    If I ever total my R53, I will buy another one.

  • I’ve had a 1963 Austin 1071 S, a 1969 Mini Countryman Traveler, a 1970 Austin America, a 2003 R53 and now a 2007 R56 and don’t you know I’ve loved them all. Granted some cars were better then others, (the Mini Traveler had a heater core the size of a small thermos bottle) but to compare one model to another is senseless. The R56 is a great car but to compare it to the ’63 1071 does neither car justice. If ya’ll want to whip up on somebody, I have no problem with picking on just about any car from Nippon; for that I would imagine you would get plenty of support. Besides, in giving an explanation of Model designation, I don;t think it was Gabes intent to stoke this R53/R56 divide…

  • bwana yak

    I haven’t seen any mention of the MINI e – does that have a model number?

  • …and oh, by the way, Nichol, you hit the nail on the head…

  • gokartride

    It still amuses me (unless I am mistaken) that the “R” designation goes back to Rover. Kinda funny considering how far the car has come since Rover was involved.

  • DVV

    Other than the cars used in the auto shows, has any 09 convertables rolled off the assembly line for public (US) consumption yet ?

    If so have they been paying above sticker ?

  • that.guy
    Although, if I were in a situation where I had to choose one over the other I’d go with first gen every time. They are better looking and more fun to drive.


  • SFRedMCc

    Does anyone know why Volkswagen has started using R52 and R56 designations? Or what they mean to them?

  • CraigE
    I haven’t seen any mention of the MINI e – does that have a model number?

    The MINI E is an R56 variant.

  • looking forward to the massive turbo power of the JCW i’ll be getting sometime in the near future. turbo at altitude > supercharger at altitude.

  • DEVO

    Well I said this multiple times. I wish I could order a 05/06 R53 body (shell) with an R56 MCS internals. I don’t care for the front of the R56/57.

  • C4


    That would be nice.

  • Hai

    @ DEVO, I would place an order RIGHT NOW if that’s possible! In the meantime, I’ll hang on to my R50.

  • Aussom

    Can anyone possibly explain why my April 2002 manufactured MCS Coupe has R50 on its compliance plate? I checked with BMW and interestingly they state that it is showing in their system as a 2002 MCS with automatic transmission (although it is a 6 speed manual). Is it possible that my car was initially placed into production as a MC coupe then converted to MCS during production? It has all of the hallmarks of a MCS from production, including battery in boot compartment. Any clarification will be greatly appreciated.

  • Further more, Mini would have officially died when the last classic Rover Mini rolled off the Longbridge assembly plant in October 2000.

    I think it would have died much sooner than that, actually. By the time Rover came up with the Multi Point injected classic Mini (1996), BMW already was in control and developing the new Mini. I am pretty much convinced they would not have bothered to keep the brand alive if they were not working on a successor, because the MPi classic Mini was really quite an evolution of the original Mini design (and the changes were required to get it to pass modern legislations). The project must have been quite an investment. Yes, still the same A-series engine, but quite a few structural changes (altered front subframe design, much improved radiotor design that moved from the side to the front of the car, improved side impact protection, etc.). Also, it seems they were readying the brand to move more up-market, with leather upholstery and improved materials (correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Mini’s ever left the factory with leather upholstery before the MPi).

    Over here, in Europe, there are classic Mini’s driving around with stickers reading “100% free of BMW parts”. Including MPi Mini’s. That always make me chuckle a bit, because I don’t think those cars would have existed if it weren’t for BMW.

    That’s not to say I agree with everything BMW has done. For a number of years, they have effectively ignored the classic Mini world, except for blowing their horn that “Mini” won rallies way back when (ignoring the fact those were actually Morris- and Austin-badged cars :)) and for suing companies for trademark infringement, that have used the name “Mini” in their company names for years (the latter is an important reason why BMW is less than popular with many classic Mini people over here). It seems that’s all slowly taking a turn for the better, lately.

  • I am new to MINI. I recently purchased an 09 JCW. Which I love!

    I think that the R53 is ugly inside and out. The one thing I like better on the R53 is the center console. The interior designers really screwed up on the center console of the R56. It is extremely cheap and odd looking.

  • JonPD

    Congrats Steve on your car, fun little toys. There are a lot of pluses and negatives with all the cars, as far as I am concerned perfection doesn’t exist and actually when dealing with perfection its a highly personalized thing. Each of us weighs the cars against our own choices of what is important. For me personally I still love the R53, superchargers are always more fun than turbos to the ear. The prince engines are nice but just lack a really nice sound from the front of the car. Design wise I do like the stouter front end of the R56, however I like the way standing next to the R53 that it feels like a much smaller car than the R56. Too each their own however, as long as you love your R53 or R56 that is all that matters at the end of the day.

  • C4

    Steve, different strokes for different folks.

  • Rocketboy_X

    Steve.. oddly enough, the current interior is based on rejected designs for the 1st gen interior. Go figure.

  • veggivet

    Anybody know what the R51 concept was?

  • Martin Bell

    The MINI actually started out as the E50 but became the R50 when Rover took over the MINI design from BMW. R standing for Rover Group………all BMW’s have E model numbers. More details on this can be found in the book “New MINI” by Graham Robson (Haynes).

    • Gherrin

      I have a 2008 MiniCooper S hardtop. Is it an R56? Sorry for obvious question