Revealed: MINI to Introduce 9 Speed Automatic in 2015

MINI’s decision to keep the six speed Aisin automatic for the next generation F56 was seen as a surprise when announced last week. While MINI promises some mechanical improvements along with completely revamped software, it’s still seen as rather long in the tooth as compared to some of the more advanced offerings in the marketplace. What’s MINI thinking with this?

BMW has a long history with ZF Friedrichshafen also known simply as ZF. They’ve been producing transmissions for BMW for years and are particularly well known for their recent automatics. The current de rigueur transmission of the rear wheel drive automotive world is the ZF 8HP found in all non M brand BWWs. So good is this transmission in terms of performance and efficiency that it’s made its way into everything from Ram trucks to Bentleys.

Image converted using ifftoany

Enter the 9HP

To follow-up the 8HP, ZF has released the new 9HP meant for transversely mounted front wheel and all wheel drive cars. Sounds perfect for the MINI doesn’t it? ZF thought so too and even promoted the transmission by installed it in a prototype Clubman (see above). Not only did they test it for a MINI but they designed it small enough to easily fit inside the R56 and F56. Like the 8HP, industry observers had assumed that BMW & MINI would pay for the privilege to be the exclusive launch brand for the new transmission. However timing and Land Rover and Fiat got in the way of those plans. Both of the manufacturers have reportedly tied up production of the new 9HP (which will introduced in the Evoque and Cherokee late this year) with an exclusive agreement.

Where does this leave MINI? With the venerable six speed Aisin transmission for at least the next 18 months to two years. Once ZF opens the production flood gates (they’re currently limited to 400,000 units a year) MINI and BMW will have a crack.


The 9HP Is Worth Waiting For

When MINI does get the new 9HP it will be a revelation compared to the Aisin. From all reports ZF took what they had learned from the 8HP and created a product that is both smaller, lighter. Like the 8HP, ZF designed the 9HP to be quicker shifting than a DCT (like the 8HP it can quickly skip ratios allowing the driver to go from 5th to 3rd in a blink of an eye) while retaining the refinement of a true auto for those who never take it out of “D”. The full transmission weighs less than 190 lb (including fluid) and is ultra compact due to a new compact hydraulic vane-type pump, two patented dog clutches replacing bulkier conventional clutch packs, and a nested gear set. The results are almost 17 lbs lighter than the Aisin. Despite this it’s not a fragile piece of engineering – it’s designed to accommodate up to 354 lb ft.

It’s also highly efficient with ZF projected a 16% improvement in MPG. To put that into perspective simple look at the current R56 Cooper automatic. It’s 36 MPG on the highway would be transformed to 41.76 with the new 9HP. Just imagine what MINI’s new 3 Cylinder will be capable of.

We expect the 9HP to be introduced to the MINI line-up next fall in the refreshed 2015 Countryman and Paceman (if it’s still in production – another story for another time). If product capacity is increased quickly enough MINI could also switch F56 production over at the same time. That would make sense as next fall is also going to be the start of the five door MINI – the F55. However MINI’s plans are still unclear in this area.

What we do know is that the 9HP will transform automatic equipped MINIs. Not only will they be faster (by .2 seconds) than the six speed Aisin equipped models, but they will be much more engaging to drive with even greater efficiency.

  • planeguy96

    I remember when 8 speeds was part of the joke……..If only it had 2 reverse gears 😉

  • coel

    I guess that’s a good news for AT lovers, and an indication that even the MINI is going AT centric moving forward (sadly no surprises there). I still like the fact that today, for the US market, MINI remains as one of the very few that offer manual transmission across the entire lineup. I can’t think of anyone other than MINI and Porsche doing this.

    • I wouldn’t say they’re more auto centric.  I think the market is. The folks at MINI (especially in the US) love that they offer and sell more manuals than any other manufacturer in the US market. And they’ve told me many times they’d love to sell more as a percentage than they do now. Currently it’s 30/70 manual/auto.

      • coel

        Yeah I hear you, it’s not the MINI, but the market that is auto centric. And I’m glad that they want to push manual. Considering MINI could be a cute little town car for non-enthusiast drivers, 30/70 M/A ratio isn’t bad at all, and I’d love to see the MT percentage going up. Seriously, who else sales MT across the lineup in the US other than MINI and Porsche today? 😉

        • RacerX

          Fiat offers a manual transmission across the board. And VW offers a manual in everything but the Touareg and Eos, which is quite impressive for a brand with 12 models in their lineup. I fondly remember the glory days of 2003/4 working for MINI (I still do) and having one option for the ‘S’ – a sweet 6-speed manual … as it should be. But there is no denying that traffic jams and congested commutes, along with lazy americans and a huge improvement in automatic refinement has led to this shift of automatic favoring ratios. The ZF transmissions ARE amazing, though, and the news that the 9HP would not be available initially is disappointing. I have an 8HP in my BMW and it impresses me every time I drive it.

  • Sal

    When or if is the Clubman going to be refreshed?

    • The R54 Clubman will come 6-12 months after the R55 five door based on out sources. And yes those codes seem reversed but are not.

      • b-

        Don’t you mean the F54 and F55?

        • David

          F55 5-door hatchback Fall 2014, F54 Clubman Spring 2015. There is a old MF post stating when all new models will come out.

  • lawrothegreat

    Thanks for this great article. It has sealed my decision to get a manual F56 instead of the 6-speed auto. I want a launch F56, and I was really keen to have an 8HP/9HP for the performance and efficiency, but I’m not waiting!

  • rlb

    I’m going to have to stop reading MotoringFile if I ever want to get a new MINI. Seems there is always something on the horizon worth waiting for. (Mid-cycle nose-refresh keeps nagging in the back of my mind too.) Sighhh… What to do. What to do…

    • My advice as someone who has bought a handful of MINIs is be informed, buy what you want and don’t regret a thing. You simply have to pick a moment in time and go for it.

      If it were my money I’d buy a March production (or later) manual F56 if I wanted the latest tech that would be relevant for as long as possible.

      If I wanted a pure driving experience I’d go buy a manual Roadster right now.

      If I wanted an auto I’d wait or buy now and be prepared to sell in a couple of years.

      • rlb

        Thanks Gabe! Probably will go AT F56 sometime next year (tech & mpg) and be prepared to sell in a few years. I tend to keep cars til the wheels fall off, but perhaps I’ll make an exception. I’ve never had a MINI and I haven’t driven MT since a Celica in the late 80’s. As good as the 9 is expected to be, I assume (hope) the Aisin is perfectly acceptable for the non-performance driver, especially with the 2014 tweaks?

        • Given what I’ve heard I’m sure it will be!

        • G

          The Aisin 6-speed automatic is conducive to enthusiastic driving even on the pre-2014 models, however make sure you order one with the Sport button. The Sport button on the automatic really transforms the car as not only does it alter the throttle response and steering assist, it also alters the shift points. With Sport mode enabled on my Countryman Cooper ALL4, the transmission is eager to hold gears and will let the car coast for a while at 5000 RPM, even if I completely let off the throttle! I’ve never had an automatic do this before!

          Also, some reviews have noted that the automatic is a better match for the Countryman with turbo engine as with the manual it has a tendency to bog down at launch.

      • theMotoringAdvisor

        In today’s world of ever-changing options and technology in the automotive world you’re a fool not to lease if your plan is to only own it for 3 or less years.

        • Mike

          Or just sell private party. Ive sold cars after owning for 2-3 years a few times (including 2 MINIs) for usually $1500-2k less than I bought them for… If I’m patient for the right offer (3-4 months).

          I believe you’re correct if you mean “trading in”. That’s always a foolish idea.

        • Agreed. Buying and selling private party is what I’ve done with all my cars.

      • jbkone

        I love this comment, but for pure driving experience, why not buy a manual Coupe right now?

  • London Cynic

    I always chose a stick until I got married and railroaded into an auto. But since driving modern BMW autos I stopped missing changing gear most of the time because the ZFs do the job so well. And when you want to choose the gear yourself the habit of flicking the paddle is easily acquired and the shifts are like lightning. Hopefully the new ZF will arrive at the same time the convertible arrives so I can swap my old Cooper S convertible for the 9 speed – or maybe Fiat will get there first with a 9 speed Abath 500 convertible that will cost £5k less than the mini?


    This may shock some of the manual transmission purist out there for the smallest R56-59 current series. Having been an owner of an ’08 S hatch & my current 2012 JCW Coupe (both manuals…both great wheels), I would seriously consider an S Paceman with that new 9HP transmission if it becomes available next fall at the beginning of the 2015 model year.

       Many of my cars over the years going back to the early 1960's have been MT...from a pair of 1952 XK120 Jags (coupe & roadster), '65 Austin Healy Sprite, a '58 Porsche 1600 Coupe, a '72 Honda Z600 Sport Coupe, & '79 Honda CVCC Civic. (also had many AT cars for the family usage). So I feel that a move to this upcoming 9 speed auto in an S Paceman with 16% improved efficiency & added performance is something that would fit my lifestyle after I turn 74 next July!!

    An added touch to that new 9 speed auto is if the intro of the new 2.0L engine to the Paceman & Countryman happens at the SAME time!!!! But will it happen that way???

  • Nick Dawson

    The point that many people have missed is that post 2020 there will be no more manual gearboxes made. Why? Ever stringent exhaust emission regulations in the EU will effectively outlaw them. There is already zero demand for manual gearboxes throughout the emerging global markets, and without Europe, it will no longer be cost effective to produce them. So what will those poor souls, who are wedded to their manual gearboxes, do post 2020? Well, I suppose they could form a club and have monthly meetings where they could cry in their beer whilst reminiscing about the good old days, and how wonderful it would be if they could still buy a new R53 with one of those great six-speed manual gearboxes. It’s so sad you, almost, have to feel sorry for them.

    • scamper

      Now you can just begin to understand how I feel, with people still seemingly getting excited over gas-burning engines. In 2013? This is innovation? Gears and paddles? My dream car is still a 2-seater electric MINI. Seems like an obvious car to produce, but I’m clearly ahead of my time… at least in this forum.

    • jbkone

      I don’t care about fuel mileage. I drive a MINI because I love it, and my love has NOTHING to do with fuel mileage. Hell, in my ’02 Cooper, I only get 22mpg around town if I’m not driving real aggressively. Sometimes I only get 18. I’ve gotten up to 37 in town when I baby it and hold up traffic. SO, I don’t drive a manual for the mileage, I drive it because it’s more fun. And it’s more fun to row gears and push a clutch than push buttons. I’ve driven the auto with the paddle shifters and the stick-bump shifting. I’ll lament for the death of the manual because it’ll erase a bit of the fun factor of driving through town, not because i’m stuck in the past. I’ll never win a race or autocross rowing my own gears, but I’ll be having more fun than the next guy! 🙂

    • Toothy

      Nick, I’m not sure what your opinions are based on. India is still predominantly manual. Globally the market is still about 50% manual. Manuals will not die out as you have suggested, even by 2020!

      • They’ll die out if they’re the only option available, which sadly, is the way things keep trending.

  • glangford

    That’s good news for Mini. I’ve been test driving the BMW X1 and 328d, both with the 8 speed automatic. For an automatic its a sweet transmission. In all likelihood I’ll be moving on from my MIni with one of the above cars.