The 2014 F56: All You Need to Know About the Next Generation MINI

The 2014 F56 hatch is the first of the next generation MINIs and a precursor to replacements for all future MINIs. While it signals a shift away from unique MINI underpinnings and technology (most of the F56’s underlining structure, engines and electronics will be shared with a new line of front wheel drive BMWs) it also could usher new technology, performance and efficiency never dreamt of in a small car. In some respects one could even look at these changes and be forgiven in thinking the next generation MINI is about to get a little more “Mini” like.

Because BMW is co-developing the cars (some of which is being done by the same teams of people) BMW wants to focus on one launch per year to make sure enough attention is paid to final design, engineering and production. Therefore we’ll see the new front wheel drive BMW debut in Paris in September of this year, then the MINI about a year later.

So is MINI and the F56 getting the shaft? We’ve talked to the engineers, the designers and the strategists behind the next generation MINI and we get the feeling that that’s not the case at all. In fact, the platform sharing with BMW only means good things for MINI. Better technology, more group support and a healthier financial future for MINI going forward.

But perhaps more important to MINI fans is how the new car will drive and feel on the road. The steering will be an improved version of the electric system currently on the R56, and will be mated to a similar suspension set-up. However, the power plant is where the most exciting new tech is found. The 1.5l three cylinder will likely be a sequential turbo set-up with 120+ and 180+ hp for both the Cooper and the Cooper S. The Cooper should see above 45 mpg on the highway and the Cooper S around 40 – and that’s US gallons. What’s really interesting about the 1.5L is that it too is built on a modular platform designed to scale. The basic formula is a .5l per cylinder engine with three and four cylinder and six cylinders sharing the basic components. That means that MINI could have an even more power for JCW or Countryman duty in the form of a 2.0L four cylinder powerplant.

Engines

The secret has been out for years now that MINI and BMW will be introducing a new family if 1.5L three cylinder engines destined for small front wheel drive cars. But would MINI be replacing all four cylinders with equivalent 3 bangers? Our sources are now telling us that looks unlikely for at least the first iteration of the next generation MINI family. Instead we now believe that MINI will likely continue to use an updated version of the four cylinder “Prince” engine for Cooper S and JCW models through at least 2015.

So one new car and two radically different engines. In fact one source has told us that spotting the differences is quite easy – even under the yellow and black swirled camouflage. If you see a MINI prototype with one exhaust pipe it has a three cylinder engine. If it has two in the center, it’s a MCS or JCW with a four.

MINI intends on spreading the three cylinders across the MINI One and Cooper models initially. Sources are telling us that power ratings should be slightly higher than the current range on both the three and four cylinder models. But it’s the efficiency gains and the weight losses that are the big story. We’ve been told to not be surprised to see US Spec Cooper achieve upper 40 mpg figures on the highway. Additionally the engines should be measurably lighter and allow for better weight distribution front to rear.

Ultimately we believe that the three cylinder engines will not only make their way to the hatch based models but also other MINIs as well. For instance don’t be surprised to see the base Cooper Countryman eventually get the ultra efficient power plant in a late cycle update.

Another update will be the packaging. In most markets MINI will be adding a hard plastic engine cover under the hood (or bonnet) designed to insulate the engine and make it cooler and more economically. How it works we don’t know but our sources were adamant that It could be a way for MINI to dress up the engine compartment while reducing noise and adding some level of efficiency.

Look for the engine to debut in the front wheel drive BMW shown at Paris this September. While it’ll be officially labeled as a concept, it should be very close to production in technology and drivetrain – the very two things the new MINI hatch will be sharing with it when it hits the market in late 2013.

Transmissions

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.

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.

According to sources inside MINI familiar with future product features, the US market will finally see an auto start/stop system for both manual and automatic transmissions with the F56. The first version of auto start/stop made a European debut in 2007 and since then MINI USA has been interested in adding the feature to US bound cars.

The reason for the delay is two fold; there’s been little incentive since the EPA doesn’t recognize such systems in an overall efficiency index and the bigger concern is that the system isn’t free. Again, according to those same sources it adds over $200 per car, thanks to the beefier starter motor, the added electronics and programming. MINI USA couldn’t absorb that cost and didn’t want to pass it on to the consumer. But as BMW has moved to add the technology to almost it’s entire fleet, that price is rapidly decreasing as volume of the system is increasing. Likewise things are changing in the US that make the technology more relevant to the way the EPA measures efficiency- there is an added benefit to automatic transmissions with the current EPA test procedure. This makes a much stronger argument for bringing the system stateside.

We expect the system to debut with the next generation MINIs – the first (the F56 hatch) set to debut in the fall of 2013 as a 2014 model. After that MINI will roll-out other derivatives (the five door hatch, the convertible, Clubman etc) that will all share the technology. Other MINI models such as the Countryman should see the system added over the lifecycle as well.

The system will work identically to the current set-up, which is the second generation of the system. On the manual the Auto Start/Stop function switches the engine off automatically when the car comes to a stop, such as at intersections and in traffic when the car is placed in neutral. When the clutch is depressed to shift into a gear the engine reignites. The manual setup will also feature a shift point display in the cluster that advises the driver of the most efficiency-enhancing moment to change gear and the proper gear to be selected.

On the automatic, the system engages (ie the engine turns off) when the driver comes to a complete stop while in “D” and pressure is applied to and remains on the brake. To start the car again the driver simply lifts their foot off the brake (as they would normally) and the engine seamlessly engages.

The system protects the engine by not allowing the start/stop function until the car is up to proper operating temperature. Likewise it won’t engage if the ambient temperature is too hot or cold or if the demands of the climate control are not being met. The system is able to be turned off manually, detects stop and go traffic (disengages) and can be overridden by turning the steering wheel or relaxing pressure on the brake pedal.

It seems all a bit backward to US that the EPA hasn’t had the forsight to change it’s system of measuring to include such systems. It’s pretty clear that auto start/stop saves fuel (and potentially a lot of it) in commuting situations. It’s nice to know that MINI will finally be taking the initiative (as BMW has). We have long term experience with the European version of the system and have seen the fuel economy gains.

Exterior

With the F56 being developed alongside the new front wheel drive BMW, one of the more pressing question in the minds of most MINI fans is probably this: is there enough difference between the new BMW 1 Series and the F56? Do the cars share so much that the soul of MINI is lost in the cost savings of sharing platforms with the Bimmer? Is the new MINI just a badge change? Based on sources we’ve spoken with inside MINI and BMW who’ve seen both new designs (people have been in the room with both of the prototypes), the answer is a resounding no. The takeaway we’ve heard? You’d never guess the same chassis platform was underpinning both cars.

Despite concerns on the interwebs the next generation MINI isn’t getting larger outside of perhaps an inch or so to deal with crash standards. And it’s also not getting heavier. In fact our sources are telling us to expect the opposite.

The MINI is still a MINI — definitely a descendant of the cars that came before it, but make no mistake, it’s a significant evolution. In fact, our sources are telling us that the F56 will be the most aggressively different new MINI yet. The F56 is one of the last MINIs overseen by former MINI design head Gert Hildebrand, and is set to move the MINI design language dramatically forward both inside and out. “Modern” is what it’s being called by those who’ve seen it, with a more aggressive look and feel promised.

While all the F56 test mules we’ve seen thus far have been heavily camouflaged using tack-on panels and MINI’s normal psychedelic yellow pattern, our sources have helped us peel back the tape a bit.

Let’s start with the one thing that caught the most attention – the elongated nose sprouting out far over the front axel. The MINI has always been known for it’s wheels on the corner stance and this test mule seemed to be completely at odds with it. Luckily we believe this is not a hint of it’s final production form.

In fact if you look closely, you’ll see that MINI has simply grafted an R56 nose onto the F56. How can we be sure? Sources have been telling us in the past few months that the front of the F56 will be very reminiscent of the Rocketman concept in the way the hood is less sloped and more flat. According to these same insiders the F56 will also feature the Rocketman’s large upright grille but with a chrome surround instead of black.

Elsewhere looks for a few more creases – notably just above the plastic wheel arches which are also confirmed for the next generation MINIs.

Around back the F56’s rear logo is no longer set in the body, but in the plastic trim/grab handle. Otherwise the rear should be a natural evolution of the current MINI form language.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not in for a number of small surprises. One that we can share has to do with the fuel filler cap. On the Cooper S, the S logo is pressed into the chrome fuel filler cap itself.

Also worth noting, the F56 will be offered with an optional slim-line roof rail whih fit very close to the body. This is very similar to BMW’s offerings on the new X1, X3 and wagon models. This option will allow for a much easier and non-evasive way to attached bike racks etc.

Interior

Sources familiar with the new interior have called the final form a huge step forward for MINI and likely one of the selling points of the new car. While these photos don’t fully show that new form, they do show a radically altered design brimming with new technology.

First let’s focus on the image itself and break-down the details of what many of you have been pouring over. What we see here is the cheapest spec interior (there will be four total) with the top finished in rough prototype plastic. The higher spec interiors will actually feature different and improved soft dash materials similar to the new 1 Series BMW.

Then there’s the odd looking bezel around the central stack. The actual finished chrome bezel happens to be in the passenger’s hand. The white strip around the circular portion of the centre stack is actually mood lighting, which lights up and swirls around when you engage the keyless ignition (now standard).

Additionally, there are those seats we see in the MotoringAuthority photos. Seats that offer one thing that we’ve been clamoring for since 2001 – thigh bolstering. Long a hallmark of BMW’s optional sport seats, it would appear that MINI will finally be getting the option thanks to parts sharing. And that’s not all. The seats shown also have more aggressive side bolstering and look to feature alcantara as well. What is still not final is if the MINI will receive the adjustable bolsters BMW’s do or just fixed position bolstering for those sport seats.

MINI fans are already asking, what about the speedometer? The center speedo on the MINI is no more starting with the F56. This is for two reasons. First, MINI has taken hit after hit in consumer surveys with the primary speedometer being located in the center of the car. They’re finally listening to that feedback. Secondly, the electronics of this car will be almost identical to the upcoming front wheel drive BMW, and while that doesn’t mean they couldn’t do a center speedo, it meant that there was additional cost this time in making it happen.

Instead of the center speedo, the F56 will feature a traditional dial speedometer behind the steering wheel where the current rev counter is. The new tack will be a smaller, semi-circular gauge attached to the left hand side of the speedometer. It’s a more contemporary design, and frankly, a little funky. Changed though it is, one could never accuse any MINI interior of being boring.

The air vents lose their circle shapes with the center two vents being a more traditional square shape. But don’t fret, the circular theme will be continued with round vents near each door.

In the photo, just behind the passenger’s left knee, is the large triangular chrome-and-red start/stop switch which is designed at this time to pulse like a heart beat when the ignition is turned on. However, this isn’t final and may get removed for production. The far left chrome toggle switch is the Sport/Eco button that will operate in an identical fashion to BMW’s current system. Sport will work similar to the current sport button in that it gives the steering more weight (but not less feel as with the current system) along with more aggressive throttle response. On cars with the optional 8 or 9 speed auto the button will also change shift programs so that gears are held longer and the shift points are more aggressive for better acceleration.

As mentioned previously, what we are seeing here is the lowest specification entertainment interface, but as some of you have pointed out, it’s coupled with a prototype H/K system as evidenced by the tweeters in the A-pilar.

Technology

The preceding was discussed almost in its entirety a month ago when we walked you through what we knew (and what we could tell you) about the next generation MINI’s interior. Beyond the basic details, the interior will boast a more straight-forward approach to interfacing with the car and its entertainment options. Speaking of those options, the window into that world is about to get much larger. As we’ve reported, the next MINI will adopt a BMW-sized widescreen for displaying content, seen for the first time today via MotoringAuthority.com. However, it’s what that screen will display, and what MINI positions around it, that’s interesting to us.

As you can see in the photo above, even though the center speedometer is gone in the F56, MINI clearly had plans for that central, circular area. The infotainment system will likely be available in two sizes depending on markets and options. The full navigation equipped MINIs will have a 8.8″ monitor which will likely display 1280×480 pixels. If MINI follows BMW’s trend, it’ll also offer a 800×400 6.5″ display as a lower cost option that comes only with MINI Connected functionality or other features. MINI may ultimately make the latter standard in some markets or offer it at a lower cost than the current MINI Connection only option. BMW is including a basic iDrive system with a smaller screen and no nav as standard in the US on recently introduced models (similar to MINI connected), it’s a possibility MINI USA will do the same.

Enter the Real iDrive
The test mule in these photos has the final spec screen but still has several components that are works-in-progress. Notably, the iDrive is a direct carry over from BMW prototypes we’ve seen around Munich. Will MINI adopt the BMW input system (known as iDrive) seen here or continue with the joystick we know today? We believe that MINI will adopt a BMW-like system, which will actually be a dramatic improvement over the current system. The new interface will likely offer physical short-cut keys and a next generation input device with touch control and even gesture recognition on the top of the knob. Sources familiar with the technology tell us that it dramatically improves interaction with system lists and the navigation map. You can see a prototype of this in action over at BimmerFile where our colleagues detailed the technology earlier this Spring.

The system will also likely include BMW’s revised system graphics with 3D elements in the individual menus. Expect at least a 1.3 GHz processor and dedicated 3D graphics card to create smoother and quicker transitions.

Along with the menu presentation, the navigation system and graphics will also be heavily revised and enhanced. The map and guidance information will be depicted with greater brilliance and sharpness than seen in current MINIs. Like BMW’s revised system, look for more functionality without having to leave the map view, allowing for real-time traffic and weather.

Information on the Highway
How is MINI getting at this data? Unlike the R56 generation, the F56 will have an onboard cell connection. But unlike current BMWs, that make due with an archaic EDGE connection, sources tell us that BMW will debut its new LTE onboard connection — allowing for a bandwidth of data to and from the car almost unthinkable ten years ago. This wireless technology is also 3G backwards compatibility. This new LTE speed could eventually allow “cloud” processing to help calculate larger amounts of map and system data without relying on the processing power of the in-car systems.

Because the screen will be so wide, the F56 will also likely divide up that screen space into a two separate active visual areas. This split-screen approach could allow, for example, a user to enter a destination while seeing the corresponding map at the same time. The zoom function can then verify whether the destination found by the system is actually where you mean to go. Anyone familiar with the current system can appreciate what a big improvement that could be.

There will also be enhanced high-level guidance features that are automatically activated when the driver reaches a certain distance before the next navigation instruction. At this pre-instruction point, the arrow display turns into a schematic, perspective view of the surroundings. This gives the driver even better orientation to where they are and how it relates to their next turn, thanks to an enhanced depiction of the location and even precise lane guidance. For an optimal picture, the perspective view changes in stages to a top view of the junction or intersection as the vehicle approaches it, while a dynamic vehicle indicator pinpoints the car’s current position.

Then things get really cool. If MINI follows BMW’s lead (and we believe they will), the F56 will be equipped with a new 3D city model view, offering a highly-realistic depiction of the surrounding streets and buildings.

Additional new technology and options
The F56 MINI will usher in a new era of technology to the MINI family thanks to being more closely aligned with BMW. The next generation MINIs will offer (some options, some standard) the following features:

  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Traffic Sign Recognition (Not all markets)
  • Adaptive Headlights (offering a wider angle of adjustment then the current system)
  • Advanced Emergency Call (Known as BMW Assist in the US market)
  • Connected Nav with Google Services
  • Rear view camera
  • Park Assist
  • ECO Pro mode (this will be marketed under a new name for MINI)
  • Auto Start/Stop (yes this is coming to the US as it is in all new BMW models)
  • 8 or 9 speed automatic transmission

What Else is New?
We love pictures like the one above because it allows us to reveal a few things we’ve known about, but been asked not to mention. Once it’s out in the open, though, it’s public knowledge right? One of the biggest misconceptions about the upcoming car is quickly disproved by these photos. No, MINI is not losing the toggle switches. In fact, turning the engine on and off will actually be controlled via a centrally located, large red toggle. However, what is changing is the location of the window switches. Yes, they are indeed moving to the doors where almost all consumers expect them to be. It’s a logical move for MINI, especially given ten years of negative feedback. Even though we like the central window controls, it’s a logical move. People expect a window to be controlled by a switch in the same general proximity to the window.

Very little of this technology would have been available without BMW deciding create a MINI-derived front wheel drive BMW (which actually won’t be available in the US). This allowed MINI to finally and fully take advantage of their parent company. A company known as the most design and engineering focused car manufacturer in the world. A company that pushes boundaries with technology, performance and efficiency while remaining independent. All of that has allowed BMW to take a huge gamble with MINI. The 3rd generation MINI is perhaps the biggest gamble yet. BMW is completely changing the way they design, engineer and manufacture cars, in order to properly support the MINI brand. They knew that MINI alone would not get the scale of production needed to afford the performance and technology we’re describing above. So BMW has risked a great deal by bringing a car (the front wheel drive BMW) to market that is at odds with the brand’s history and core beliefs. All to make sure MINI has a future.

Thanks to that decision, that future looks bright to us.

The Five door F55

The MINI has faced one consistent criticism here in its largest market for ten years. Despite it being a core brand attribute, many people in North America can’t get past the size of the standard MINI hatch. It’s seen as unsafe, uncomfortable and most of all, simply not practical. The first two can quickly be disproven by simply experiencing the car in person and reading about its impressive safety certifications. However, getting someone who is used to four door sedans to believe that a MINI hatch can be practical for them is harder to do. So MINI is developing a secret weapon for the next generation hardtop aimed squarely at markets like the US. The internal code-name is F55 and, if it is received as hoped, it could make a MINI seem practical for an entirely new group of potential owners.

The concept is simple. According to sources familiar with the program, MINI will create a 5-door version version of the next generation hatch. Using the F56 hardtop 2-door as its basis, MINI will shorten the front doors by 23 cm (9 in) and add two small, conventionally opening doors behind them. Think of it like the Countryman, but in a smaller package. Those rear doors will be on the small side, only about 35 in, but still more usable then you might expect. Sources are telling us that the rear doors will extend from the trailing edge of the front doors all the way into the rear wheel arches. The F55 will also have four standard door handles, one for opening each side door.

Speaking of those door handles, we can expect a redesign of the pull handles that have been around since 2001. Stylistically they will be similar, but instead of an internally pivoting latch, the entire handle will pivot outward from the front end, much like the mechanism found on newer BMWs. This means no more door handles freezing solid and useless in the dead of winter.

Inside the F55, we’ve been told to expect rear legroom to increase about 5 cm as compared to the next generation hardtop (which will be roughly the same as the current generation). F55 will offer a three person bench seat (like the Countryman and Clubman in some markets), likely as standard.

Stylistically the front of the car will be identical to the new F56. However, the rear will be slightly raked, as the extra 5 cm of legroom will push the boot out slightly. Think of the shape as almost a fast-back — something reminiscent of the upcoming MINI Paceman. In total, the F55 will likely be at least 5 cm longer overall than the F56 hatch, but its a size difference that will be almost imperceptible between the two cars. On the roof, the R55 will feature a more subtle version of the current Clubman’s “dune-line” roof profile to further distinguish the three and five door hatches.

So how should we picture this car? Think of the F55 as a four-door MINI hardtop similar to how VW offers both a two and four-door Golf. MINI will likely market the R55 simply as “the four-door MINI.” It won’t be taking the place of the iconic two door hardtop, but it will be offered for those who want a small MINI with just a bit more practicality. A little practicality wouldn’t hurt the hardtop for many. Have you ever tried to get a child seat in the back of the hatch, or perhaps a dog in and out? Then you’ll know why the four-door F55 may go along way in helping Americans overcome their fears of impracticality. For the rest, the original hatchback form factor of the two door MINI will remain.

Thought of another way, the R55 brings some of the Countryman’s gains in practicality, but with fewer of its SUV-bred performance compromises. Imagine being able to more easily haul passengers, kids or pets, but retain all of the smaller MINI’s handling and lightweight efficiency. That’s a package we can get excited about.

What about the Clubman? Don’t worry MINI still has plans for the “other” MINI. But expect some tweaks to the formula in an effort to make the next generation Clubman (dubbed internally as the F54) a bit more dynamic.

The Timelines

We expect the F56 to debut digitally in late in the summer of 2013, with a public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Production should start at Oxford shortly afterwards with European deliveries happening as early as November. We expect to see the car make it’s way to the US in late 2013 or early 2014.

After 2013 and the launch of the F56 and new platform, things will move rapidly. First up is the F55 five door hatch mentioned above. Then MINI will be quickly introducing the next generation Clubman, Convertible and Countryman with new engines, in that order. By 2017 we expect MINI’s entire line-up to be switched over to new platforms.