Last week MINI USA invited MotoringFile to its New Jersey headquarters to discuss the highly-anticipated 2014 F56 MINI, and specifically, the new family of engines powering the car. MINI has grand plans for the F56 and the entire family of MINIs it will spawn. At the heart of all of it is this new range of petrol and diesel power plants. For the US that range will comprise of two engines at launch: a 1.5L three cylinder and a 2.0L four cylinder. The new range represents significant departures for MINI in both cylinder count and size. But before we dive into the details, lets talk about why these engines are so important for MINI and parent company BMW.
Lets go back to 2001 and the introduction of the R50 and R53. With no other front wheel drive models in the BMW family, MINI was forced to find a production and development partner to help defray the costs of a drivetrain for the MINI’s rebirth. They turned to an unlikely partner in Daimler-Chrysler. The engine, dubbed the “Tritec”, was manufactured in Brazil and engineering by a team in Detroit who had never even driven a classic Mini. So what did BMW do? They shipped them one. Whether that proved to be inspiration or not, the results are well known on these pages. The Tritec, while thirsty and relatively crude, proved to be a full of character, durability and tune-ability.
In 2007, the MINI was still the only FWD car in the BMW Group, and while sales were good, the volume wasn’t high enough to justify the expense of an all-BMW power plant. Still in need of an investment partner, BMW turned to PSA (Peugeot and Citroen) to co-produce a new family of 1.6L four cylinders. This time BMW designed the engine, but had to comply with a sizable amount of engineering requests from PSA. For example, the engine’s “backwards” orientation. While the “Prince” was a BMW-designed engine, it could be argued that it was not a true BMW engine because of all the design concessions made for the French. Why does that matter? The middle word in the BMW name stands for “motor”. BMW is a small, independent automaker founded on creating award-winning power plants. Yet for all that engine expertise, MINI has never been able to fully leverage that parent company prowess.
Enter the F56. The B37 and B38 3 and 4 cylinders were developed by BMW with the MINI in mind from the beginning. How did MINI make it financially viable? BMW believes in the MINI brand so much that they’ve decided to change course and develop a front wheel drive architecture that will not only underpin all MINIs, but also small BMW models moving forward. This will allow MINI to remain profitable while taking advantage of more BMW technology. When I asked MINI representatives if they were concerned about MINIs being too much like small BMWs, they turned the tables. Since the chassis and drivetrain is intended first and foremost for MINI, they consider the small BMW models to be along for the ride. Therefore the question should really be, how will those small BMWs drive and perform like BMWs? This could also be taken as a shot across the bow for all those naysayers who think that MINI has gotten too BMW-like over the years.
The B37/B38 are built on a modular platform that increases .5L for every cylinder. That means that these engines essentially 1/2 or 2/3 of the revered 3.0L BMW inline six. Crucially, both engines are now turbocharged. What that has done is re-align the models, with the Cooper joining the Cooper S in forced induction. In our minds, this makes the Cooper much more performance-oriented than before, but lets look at the numbers.
– Cooper: 134 bhp (up from 121)
– Cooper S: 189 bhp (up from 184)
– Cooper: 162 lb-ft (up from 114; a 30% increase)
– Cooper S: 207 lb-ft (up from 191)
Score one for MotoringFile as these were the numbers we first reported last spring. So nothing surprising here in the power department. What is rather impressive is the torque figure for the Cooper. At 162 lb-ft, the F56 Cooper will make the same torque output as the venerated R53. Look for 0-60 times to decrease significantly since torque is now so high and available at only 1,250 rpm.
MINI fans might be disappointed by the small increase for the Cooper S. We assume two things. First, efficiency will be up since this is a relatively unstressed 2.0L turbo four cylinder. Second, this engine has some serious headroom. When I mentioned this to MINI executives and mentioned the letters “J-C-W”, there were a lot of smiles in the room.
One other rather surprising area is the unchanged engine redline for these new engines. Unless the press release is wrong, the redline is 6,500 on both engines, as it is today on the R56. If correct, that tells us the power focus for both engines is going to be on torque, not peak horsepower. Think grunt — solid, elemental power to pull the car off the line and across the apex of corners.
Lastly, two key pieces of engine-related technology are also coming into the MINI lineup with these new engines. First, automatic Start/Stop is finally coming to MINIs in the US (As well as all BMWs sold in the US). Second, and more interesting, for cars equipped with a navigation system and the automatic transmission, gear selection is literally influenced by the road ahead. This way, the suitable gear is selected before reaching junctions or before cornering. The nav system is your new co-driver.
How about efficiency? Sadly, we don’t have those figures yet. Look for preliminary MPG numbers closer to the 11/18/2013 launch.
This is only the third time in the history of the brand that MINI has introduced an entirely new MINI chassis. It’s allowed MINI to address some that had been of concern since the R50. Yet it’s also remaining true to those factors that make the MINI such an engaging car to drive. First off, the new structure is even more rigid than the car already is today. Additionally, MINI has carried over its overall suspension design, but revised it to be both stronger and lighter. The latter point is crucial as it reduces unsprung weight – the enemy of good handling dynamics. Additionally the dampers on the front and rear axles have been de-coupled from the body by means of more complex struts. Also reducing unsprung mass are new wheels designed and manufactured with a new forging process that requires less material than before.
Upfront the single-link spring strut axle has increased rigidity which, combined with a new, modified axial kinematic movement, creates further rigidity. This allows the steering to be largely free from the influence of the drivetrain. In layman’s terms, that means a significant reduction in torque-steer or even steering wheel tug.
The F56 all uses aluminum in the pivot bearings, then high tensile steel in the front axle bearings and in the transverse rocker arms to reduce the unsprung inertial masses.
The new suspension also employs an innovative torque roll axial bearing that isolates engine movement under load. This component consists of an engine and a transmission bearing/bushing that together absorb the weight of the engine and also support the torque in conjunction with the engine swivel support. The engine block is hydraulically attenuated which further prevents the engine from surging under the influence of uneven road surfaces.
In the back, MINI has continued the use of high-strength steel to add greater rigidity in the suspension through similar technologies employed up front.
Finally, the F56 has a wider track both front and rear which further helps the geometry of it all. Very promising but what about how it feels? We won’t know for sure until we drive the car this January, but this next bit sounds promising.
MINI, unfortunately, isn’t ditching electric power steering. There’s too much efficiency to be gained in the system. However, they have a completely new system with new hardware and software that promises improved feel. The new system (which will be standard on all new MINIs starting with he F56) offers speed-dependent support for the steering force. Thanks to the improved suspension design, MINI is promising much more direct steering feel with this system. Logically it makes sense. The optimization of the front axle has a direct impact on the steering. Combined with less, if not eliminated, torque steer the new car should have a bit more purity in its steering response — giving it feel more similar to the R50/R53. Will it rival that system? It’s hard to imagine it will given that its electrically assisted. I fear we’re still about 5-10 years away from EPS matching the golden age of steering feel that we had with the first generation new MINI. Here’s to hoping, though. We’ll know more from behind the wheel.
Overall, we’re optimistic. The F56’s focus on decreasing unsprung weight will pay significant dividends in feel, performance and also in braking. The new brakes, for instance, are also lighter, helping with performance. They’re also utilizing optimized rotor coatings help to reduce residual braking momentum, thereby optimizing the vehicle’s rolling friction. Brake cooling ducts remain exclusive to the Cooper S but refined brake protection plates are standard on both models.
In an effort to allow for comfort while retaining that famous “go-kart” feel, MINI is introducing optional adjustable dampers for the first time as an option on both cars. The electric control of the damper valves allows the driver the choice between three settings, comfort, normal and sport all via a switch in the center console. This presumably going a long way in addressing issues of suspension compliance and general comfort over broken pavement. At the same time it allows drivers to dial up the suspension to more aggressive levels than the stock suspension (likely mirroring the sport suspension option). In other words its the best of all worlds. Comfort when you want it, aggression when you need it.
Weight, Rigidity, and Safety
While we’re not allowed to talk yet about the overall weight of the F56, we can give you a detailed use of lightweight materials and manufacturing techniques that are going into making the F56. Despite the focus on lightweight components, the F56 will be more rigid than its predecessors. The use of second generation, high-strength, multi-phase steel plays a key role in this rigidity. While its still steel (as opposed to aluminum or something more exotic), these new ferrous materials are lighter and allow for much more complex structures than would be possible with traditional steel. All while being just as strong as good, old-fashioned, carbonized iron. In addition to lighter-yet-strong structural steel, further rigidity is added via micro-alloyed steel and hot-formed steel used in the safety-focused zones of the chassis.
The F56 MINI’s weight optimization continues with the use of manufacturing techniques such as tailored, welded blanks and tailored, rolled blanks for key components. Additionally, welded and rolled sheet metal joints are widely used for the first time on a car this small.
The B pillars on the new F56 are coated in galvanized, hot-formed steel acting as a cathodic anti-corrosion finish. This also means additional structural measures that increased weight on the R56 could be avoided.
Despite all of this rigidity and weight savings, safety has also improved. A, B and C pillars, as well as side-impact bars are all better reinforced than before and should provide even more structural rigidity in the event of a roll-over — something the MINI already handles very well.
The front of the new MINI includes extra crumple zones to protect both pedestrians and vehicle occupants. For pedestrians, there’s more room between the hood and engine and a shock absorber between the metal bumper and the body cladding. All great for safety, but what does this mean for the front overhang you ask? Unfortunately, that discussion will have to wait until November 18th when the car is officially unveiled.
If we just look at the figures here, the first thing that jumps out at us is how much faster and efficient the Cooper should be. The Cooper S is certainly improved but to us the big news there is what may be to come for both efficiency on one hand, and performance on the other. A 2.0L four cylinder gives MINI tons of headroom for future, high-performance JCW models.
Then there are the transmissions. A manual that matches revs is a key addition to the MINI driving experience. The lack of significant change in the automatic transmission choice, on the other hand, may disappoint more than a few of you. We had heard for the past couple of years that MINI was testing various transmission choices. Our assumption here is that we’ll see MINI move to a automatic with more gears in the next 2-3 years. Until then the decision to stick with the six speed Aisin unit may not be a bad one if the updated software and internal improvements are as good as MINI has lead us to believe. Software is a huge component of an auto’s performance and on paper, the new version looks promising.
The suspension design is generally carried over and that is a very good thing too. However there’s less unsprung mass and theoretically more precision due to higher structural rigidity throughout the design. Add to this steering that is powered by a more precise EPS system and we have what could be a vastly improved driving experience. More specifically, we could have some of that steering feel back we lost in the transition from the R53 to the R56.
The F56 represents both change and consistency for MINI in both design and concept. This first release of data is quite promising, but the full story will be even more exciting. Take my word for it. November will be an exciting time for MINI fans.