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World Debut: 2014 MINI F56 Engines & Transmissions – We Go In-Depth & Hands-on

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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.

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The Engines

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.

Horsepower:
- Cooper: 134 bhp (up from 121)
- Cooper S: 189 bhp (up from 184)

Torque:
- 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.

The Chassis

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.

Steering

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.

Adjustable Dampers

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.

The Sum

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.

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Written By: Gabe

  • Norge08

    I remain very optimistic for the F56, and more so after reading this. I still won’t give up my R53. But I’m still annoyed with the automatic trans MINI are subjected to under BMW. I wish there would be a 8 speed auto with it. I know software goes along ways but seeing the problems over the years does not give me much confidence. Please BMW give us something more desirable.

  • AMS

    Deja Vu…

  • Chris B.

    Got dipstick?

    • John McLauchlan

      I spy one in the full engine photo shown above. Look for the bright red handle.

  • Kufat

    Good stuff. Wonder how long it’ll be ’til they replace the slushbox with some sort of torque converter-less transmission…i.e. DCT or similar.

    I think you mean “ferrous” rather than “ferris”, though. (Bueller?)

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Good catch!

  • MarkC

    Extremely disappointed to see that there will not be a dual clutch auto coming. Was hoping they would steal from M3/5 tech for this. Guess not. Guess I’ll wait till the next run in 7 yrs…

    • TheWuWu

      IMO M3/5 tech = $$$

      • MarkC

        I would gladly pay the $$$. Spent $75K on my 280BHP JCW. Would easily spend this if it meant that I was getting the MINI version of a 1M/M3/M5 equivalent from the factory at 300BHP.

        • TheWuWu

          Been in the MINI community since 2007. Spent significant $$ on my first R53. Can’t say I’ve seen many people that are willing to spend $75K on a JCW.

        • MINI Joe

          People cry about an automatic….hahahahahaha. What is an automatic? MINI should have never made one in the first place. I was able to get 300 whp on the dyno on my R53 and only had to put about $15k into it. I am tired of people complaining about something a car does not offer when they would never buy one if it was offered anyways…

  • asdf

    Given the reliability of recent bmw’s, this should go just dandy

  • asdf

    good time to go DSG fellas

  • ulrichd

    The new 3-cyl Cooper engine should be the new darling for the chip tuners.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      I agree they’ll love it. But not as much as the 2.0L four cylinder. The upside on that engine is huge comparatively.

      Gabriel Bridger | MotoringFile.com | BimmerFile.com | BimmerCast.com | Whiteroofradio.com

      • Chris

        Probably not unfortunately. Tuners have never much been interested in the Mini platform. The R56 had Cobb accessport but they dropped support last year. It’s sad that we don’t have the tuning support like competitors cars such as the GTI etc.

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          When you consider this engine will be in dramatically more cars (ie BMWs) I would suspect things will be different.

        • cct1

          Chris, tuners HAVE been interested in tuning the MINI–the issue isn’t interest, it’s accessibility. The R53 is relatively easy to modify, and a fairly robust aftermarket sprung up because of it, especially considering how relatively few MINIs are out there compared to other car brands.

          The N14 has a paltry aftermarket in comparison, and the N18 a less than paltry aftermarket, not because of lack of interest, but because BMW made it so HARD to do anything meaningful from a tuning standpoint/add on standpoint (especially the N18), unlike what Subaru and Toyota did with the FRS/BRZ, where the platform was intentionally left open for the aftermarket tuners to have at it–kind of like the way it was with the R53.

          BMW screwed up on the R56 in this regard big time. I’m hoping they’ll ease off and let tuners get at the ECU this go-round. I could care less about a unichip, but the ability to modify the engine, put the car on a dyno and tune it, now you’ve got something.

          There is a school of thought that the R56 engine came out so close to being maxed out that there was very little margin to boost it further (this has been supported somewhat by what’s happened to many cars who have done it), but maybe with the 2.0 l there will be room under the ceiling that the tuners can safely play with. One can only hope.

  • Benzz

    Do the torque figures reflect overboost, or do the B37/B48 engines no longer have that?

    • Markus

      There will still be an overboost function related to the Press release of BMW: “Thus, for example, the 1.5 litre three-cylinder engine reaches its maximum torque of 220 newton metres at an engine speed of 1 250 rpm; this can be increased briefly to 230 newton metres by means of the overboost function. The 141 kW/192 bhp four-cylinder model actually achieves a torque of 280 newton metres with the same engine speed (300 Nm with overboost). The maximum speed of all new petrol engines is 6 500 rpm”

  • Brendan OConnor

    Why are so many of you concerned about the auto option? I understand if you have an injury preventing your left leg from doing much work but shame on the rest of you. This is an enthusiast site right?

    • fdasf

      yes enthusiasts for mini not for a drivetrain. options are good, whether you want it or not. don’t be an idiot

  • glangfor

    No normally aspirated cooper? How much of a cost bump for the base coooper is that going to be? It seems they should have kept a NA engine in the base cooper, with a turbo option, similar to the 130 hp fiat 500.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Pricing won’t be announced for awhile. But based on what we’re hearing MINI USA will be holding prices right around their current levels.

  • Stew

    Could be a better drive if not looking MINI from the problematic raw early R50-53. I think the Cooper will be a better drive and matching if not surpassing the old R53 for driving fun. The S if they get it right could blow anything they have done previous out the water.

    • Jules

      English, motherfucker, do you speak it?

    • Jules

      English, motherfucker. Do you speak it?

  • Reply please

    So the Transmission remains the 6speed aisin single clutch out-dated transmission? If not the new 8-9gearboxes, why not just only offer only manual then?

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Because 70% make the mistake of ordering an auto.

      • Head Honcho

        The manual isn’t even available in China.

      • asdf

        what a ridiculous thing to say, especially from an editor

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          It’s about 72%. I’m giving the 2% the benefit of the doubt.

          Gabriel Bridger | MotoringFile.com | BimmerFile.com | BimmerCast.com | Whiteroofradio.com

  • Ryephile

    The press release mentions Valvetronic “in the more powerful versions”. Does that exclude the Cooper?

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      That’s referring to engines we won’t be getting here in the US and one of the many reasons we didn’t just regurgitate the press release.

  • ulrichd

    Unfortunately it’s all wrapped in this (latest uncovered spy shots).

    http://www.autoblog.com/2013/09/30/2015-mini-cooper-spy-shots/

  • Tan

    the Torque numbers are charming!!!

  • Tim

    So it sounds like you’re eluding to a JCW vast improvement. a Cooper vast improvement and well…the S…not much worth going at it. S used to be a great unit tog et performance and into teh brand. now it’s just the crappy “wish i coulda gotten a JCW” 1st loser prize.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      I think that the S, as before, will be a car that sells itself on how it drives, not in what the numbers say on paper. Back when the R53 came out, nobody would have said 163 hp was a powerful car. Yet because it’s light and such a dynamic package, it’s fast despite its “low” numbers. That, and I think that the S will see a significant boost in fuel economy from an engine that isn’t having to work so hard.

    • AMS

      Wait…huh? The current/past S Models were great, but the new one is crap because it’s only a little better than the older ones…that were great.

      • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

        Obviously!

      • Tim

        i’m saying that they have taken leaps and strides in the cooper and what i expect from JCW (though obviously i have no idea). but the S is just about the same in relation to it’s current line. doesn’t that kind of boggle your mind. the current S models are/were quite a bit different and (IMO) better than the cooper counterparts. also IMO owning an S i never felt so underwhelemed with not being able to afford A JCW.

        • Tim

          in case of any confusion..my grammar sucked there. what i meant was i’ve never felt i bought the 1st loser against the JCW becuase i have an “S”. I do expect that that might be the case going “S” against the new line.

        • AMS

          I would say that, in the past, MINI hasn’t done enough to differentiate the JCW — or at least not enough to justify its price difference over the S. If the 2.0T in the new JCW ends up as tuned as we expect, then that will help rectify that.

          So yes, in the past, the S was the obvious best-buy on a performance-per-$ perspective. The Cooper was underpowered. THe JCW wasn’t worth it. I don’t have a problem with MINI taking steps to make the other two, non-S, models more compelling offerings. Making them better doesn’t make the S worse.

  • Piotr

    Is this a joke?

    AMG A45 = 360HP from 2l turbo engine VW Golf R = 300HP from 2l trubo engine

    These are ‘extremes’ ok, but a regular Golf GTI has 230HP and Peugeot 208 GTI has 200HP from 1,6l…

    BMW/MINI – is this a joke???

    and please, motoringfile.com admins, with all do respect, but do not bull**** us with ‘the car steers great bla bla bla…” of course it should stear great – this is what is expected from a MINI, so it has to come as standard thing, not a unique selling point because everyone knows it! What is desired are upgrades, but real upgrades not like this !!!

    My expectation: Cooper – 135HP Cooper S – 200HP JCW – 250HP

    Adding this power to MINI style of driving and ‘feel’ this would allow the car to be competitve on hot-hatch market.

    With these engines as presented today, the only thing that might be the car’s advantage would be how it looks… but wait… I forgot – the car IS UGLY AS HELL!!!

    Well BMW/MINI – I guess this is going to be an epic failure for you guys.

    I owned R53 Cooper S and today I have R55 Clubman S and R56 2011 JCW and I am telling you that I will never buy F56 with this technology and this looks… goodbye MINI….

    • lawrothegreat

      You may find that the average Cooper S may actually dyno at around 200 hp given experiences of MINI so far.

    • Ryephile

      I agree in where you’re coming from. If you’re expecting 200 HP out of a boosted 2.0L turbo/DI/dual VANOS/Valvetronic, then your expectations should be 150 HP out of the equally tech-laden 1.5L. That said, I expect phenomenal real world MPG out of these engines with such comparatively low HP. <100HP/L in a brand new turbo gasoline engine is a whiff embarrassing.

      Don’t forget there are cheaper cars that have great HP/L ratios:

      *Fiat 500 Abarth = 160 HP/1.4L is 114HP/L *Ford Fiesta = 123 HP/1.0L EcoBoost and ST = 197 HP/1.6L both 123HP/L

      *Hyundai Veloster Turbo = 201 HP/1.6L is 126HP/L

      MINI coming out with new engines at 89 and 95 HP/L isn’t even reaching the bar. It’s tough to defend a premium car and its premium price with sub-premium specs. Add a divisive derivative aesthetic and it’s becoming a tough sell.

      • cct1

        Amen.

        it’s reminds me of Porsche detuning the Cayman’s a few years back so they wouldn’t be faster than the Carrera’s. I wonder if they’re keeping the MCS’s lower than need be to make the JCW look like that much more of a beast. If so, it’s a shame; here is the perfect opportunity to give the MCS a much desired performance boost, and instead they’ve opted to improve gas mileage. Yawn.

    • I like Math

      Actually the 13’ Golf R in the US is 256hp and 243tq and weighs 3,325lbs (vw.com). Let’s talk about even the 13’ JCW as is. That’s 208hp 192tq and weighs 2679lbs (miniusa.com). So with math being power, that works out to a power to weight ratio of 12.99 for the Golf R and 12.88 for the JCW. So it’s safe to assume that the F56 JCW will have higher numbers and a lower weight so it will be even better. Numbers don’t mean everything when you’re talking about “fast”.

      • Joe

        I agree 100%. If there is one thing BMW knows how to do, it’s make more with less. Example (albeit and extreme example): M3: 420hp @3700lbs C63: 460hp @4000lbs

        Both work out to be basically the same power to weight ratio. And if I hadn’t pick one set up for a fwd layout, it’ll be the one with the smaller weigh and less power to add to the torque steer (regardless of how well the new eps copes with it).

  • dpcompt

    I have a hard time with the complaints regarding these new engines. The torque values will make the 2 liter perform like a V-8. And the 1.5 will be a great engine for the “justa”. Lots of low end torque for great acceleration and awesome gas mileage.

  • RKCA1

    It’s interesting to me that this engine in the new mini will have more HP than in the US 320i. Which I thought was based on the same architecture but I am not 100% sure. So I have nearly 0 complaints about the new engine and it’s specs.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      You bring up an interesting point. However the 320i has been purposely de-tuned to hit a price point.

      The engines are in fact quite different. the N20 in the 320i (and 328i) is designed to power RWD/AWD cars. The B48 is totally different and designed for FWD/AWD applications.

  • Yorkshire Bob

    “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.”

    Were you drinking when you wrote this?? BMW is and always has been one of the world biggest luxury car manufacturers! You need to research the brand more, including translations.

    This MINI is awesome, it drives better than any other of its competitors. MINI is a stand-alone brand and cannot be compared, there are lots of manufacturers who try to copy MINI but with no success. MINI is number one.


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