Rumor: Next Generation MINIs to Offer 8 or 9 Speed Auto

Ever since the six speed Aisin automatic was introduced in the Cooper for the 2005 model year, MINI fans have been waiting for something better. We can now confirm that something better is coming.

With BMW co-developing the next generation MINI alongside a new family of small, front wheel drive BMWs, MINI’s component offerings are about to get substantially better and more technically impressive. One of the more important things on that list will be a new automatic optional across the range. Through sources close to the development of the new MINI, we’ve heard rumors of two different transmissions under consideration. The first rumor points to an Getrag sourced 8-speed dual clutch transmission. The second points towards ZF sourced 9 speed conventional automatic. Either option would be a huge improvement. But there’s on that stands above the other in our opinion. Read on to find out.

First lets take a look at the rumored 8 speed DCT. For those who know the technology behind the DCT, this is a huge improvement. While the transmission will default to a fully automatic mode optimized for fuel efficiency and drivability, it’s better to think of a DCT unit more like a manual minus the clutch pedal. Gone is the torque converter — the “slush box” that can so readily suck the fun out of a car like the MINI while adding weight, dulling performance and penalizing gas mileage. Instead, a good DCT transmission can give you back some of the control and direct engagement of a manual, but with the convenience of flappy paddles behind the steering wheel.

Then there’s the rumored 9 speed auto. While this is a traditional auto in the sense that it has a torque converter, it’s much closer to a DCT in the way it changes gears and matches revs. If rumors are correct, this 9 speed will be used for all front wheel and all wheel drive BMW and MINI products in the years ahead. It will likely feature (just like BMW’s similar 8 speed) a full lock-up and will shift as fast as a DCT while offering greater refinement and fuel economy. Can you guess which one we’d prefer? If this rumored 9 speed has the performance of BMW’s similarly designed 8 speed, it’s hard to bet against it.

Either option give MINI dramatically more gearing and a greater opportunity for efficiency. Depending on the final ratio, that many gears ought to both hold the power band in the lower gears and stretch the fuel economy in 7th and 8th (as is the case with BMW’s current 8 speed ZF automatic). In any case, the final experience will come down to the software than runs the unit. Will it be crisp, instantly responsive and predictable? We’re hoping and expecting so. The cryptic, inconsistent gear change responsiveness of the current unit is our biggest complaint by far.

Manual fans need not fret just yet, either. The F5X/F6X MINIs will still have manual transmissions as standard. Our information is that the changes will be incremental.

That said, we can’t avoid the inevitable question. Is the proverbial handwriting on the wall for the manual? Across the automotive world manuals are being wiped clean from the options list of many cars — and not just the appliance-like cars that dominate sales charts. What we do know is that the manual transmission has a place in the MINI world for at least the next ten years. But we can imagine a time, perhaps a generation or two from now, when it may hard to find on all but the most special MINIs.

What do you think? If this automatic (either 8 or 9 speed) turns out to be as brilliant as we expect, would you still get the manual?