MF Review: 800 Miles in Seven Days with the F56 MINI Cooper

We’ve reviewed the manual F56 Cooper previously but never have had a chance to live with it and experience it so thoroughly. Does it hold up?

Here are some of our notes over the course of the last seven days of driving the wheels off of it:

  • This is a great place to spend time. 500 miles in three days felt easy with great seats, excellent visibility and much of the harshness dialed out with more feedback dialed in.
  • The light clutch is something you quickly get used to. The feel is still there but just not as pronounced as before
  • This is not an MCS. For those who might have expected to move from the R53 MCS to this car, you will be disappointed with the stock suspension settings (although I quite like the ride/vs body roll) and the throttle mapping – even in sport. Furthermore this is an engine that doesn’t build to a frenetic crescendo but produces refined and throaty roar up to redline. Never have I driven a car that I wanted to throw a proper free-flow exhaust onto more.
  • While it does’t feel as quick as the original R53 Cooper S, it’s not far behind it. You can easily lose traction in both 1st and 2nd gear from a dead stop.
  • The sound is addicting. The F56 Cooper rooaaarrrs. That gives the car (finally) a very unique character over the MCS and one that will gain many fans in the years to come.
  • It’s worth saying it again, the sport seats are surpurb. I’ve put almost 600 miles on this car so far and have zero complaints. At 6′ 2″ that is something.
  • MPG was as impressive as expected. I routinely averaged 44 mpg cruising at 70 mph. Overall our Cooper averaged just under 38 mpg with plenty of mixed driving.


Our car was nicely equipped with about every option you would want if you were buying a MINI for an urban environment. Almost every key option except HUD, LED lights and sport/adaptive suspension. Truth be told I could do without them in an effort to keep the price below $30k and the car just a tad simpler. Speaking of options here are a few thoughts on what we did have:

  • The new XL Navigation is excellent. It’s finally got the latest iDrive software design which puts it on parity with all new BMW’s (finally).
  • The ability for music to seamlessly move from USB to Bluetooth (when you unplug your phone) is a great addition. Just make sure you tick the Enhanced Bluetooth box.
  • Using the iDrive with the armrest took some getting use to given the fact I’m rather tall. You either have to move it into the lower position or move it up and out of the way entirely. And even then I constantly bumped my elbow. Otherwise the design of the armrest is pretty interesting with it’s heat dissipating design intended to keep your charging smartphone from getting too hot in the confined compartment.
  • I have to admit something. I’ve never personally liked or considering Chili Red. However Blazing red I love. I regret not choosing it for our long term F56 MCS test car coming later this summer.
  • The Leatherette is good in the F56 but the Black Pearl (leatherette and recycled wool) is well worth the $750.
  • The 17″ wheel/tire combo is much less harsh than previous size run flats on the R56 or R53. Curious to know what 18s will be like in our long-termer.
  • The sunshades now block the sun. Arizona MINI fans – rejoice.

In short I came away more impressed with the Cooper after spending some quality time behind the wheel. The character that was evident in our first drive last winter came out in spades as the miles clicked by. And ownership value prop has gone up dramatically. Not only is the new Cooper more engaging than the R56 Cooper but it’s offers more technology, comfort and performance by a wide margin.

We’ll have much more on the F56 MINI as we take delivery of another version late this week. And finally in about a month we should be welcoming into the MF family our very own Cooper S long-termer.

  • Marcus.Houston

    “Isn’t there a new Mini, too? Yep, and the GTI is better. The VW is quicker, stops shorter, pulls higher average g on the skid pad, and laps the figure eight faster at a higher average g. Heck, the new GTI is even a match for the $40,000 Mini Hardtop John Cooper Works GP that finished out the last-generation model. That track special is slower than the new GTI to 60 mph and only slightly quicker in the quarter-mile, doesn’t stop as quickly, is nearly identical on the Figure Eight, and posts only slightly better numbers on the skid pad.”

    I’m kinda disappointed. Just read my first review of the new Volkswagen GTI, and they pretty much said that the new MINI is pointless. I haven’t been able to track the new MINI, but I have been able to drive it on city streets and freeways, and everything I thought about the car, apparently is even that much more clear on a track. I guess I’ll be buying something different. I’ll miss my MINI’s, but I can’t force myself to buy a much more inferior product that costs more, and doesn’t even handle or accelerate as well as any of it’s rivals.

    • Mark

      Well, if the review said the MINI is pointless, I guess I’ll cancel my order…. Oh wait, I like to avoid the ugly wedge shaped cars… Strange the number of pro VW posts that are happening lately with only slight overlap with the topic at hand.

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        You know I was thinking the same thing when I read that comment…. there are a lot of PRO-VW posts here these days. Quite interesting as I recall something similar on BF with the ATS when it launched then poof that was it.


        • asdf2342

          because the concept of any other car progressing your precious mini is such a foreign concept to you. take a hint: this website is still read buy thousands of people who love DRIVING, regardless of what they currently drive. the mk7 is the superior car to the f56, if we’re comparing apples to apples. if you consider the performance package that isnt even available yet in the states, it’s an obvious no brainer. do some research before you become bewildered.

        • Thank God you’re here to tell everyone what to think. Even those of is who have driven both and come away with different observations and conclusions really appreciate being enlightened with your opinions. They’re clearly opinions we all must believe in to be at the same level of knowledge and intelligence as you.

          Although it is strange that someone so sure of him or herself doesn’t post as a person or even include a real email address. It’s also odd that most if not all of the VW centric comments on this site seem to be coming from one geographical location. Maybe that’s where all the world’s truth and knowledge is based?

          On Tuesday, June 24, 2014, Disqus <

        • lawrothegreat

          It is funny. It’s great if people come on here to share their experiences even if they’re not pro-F56, it makes it a fun and interesting place to be. However there are lots of hot hatches out there all with strengths and weaknesses so it is rather odd that every second or third post is yet another different name claiming that the Golf GTi mk7 is faster than a supercar and more comfortable than a Rolls Royce……

        • Cut through the BS

          It’s true what he said. You would label a turd with a mini/BMW logo a success.

        • There it is. The inevitable ad hominem + bias argument. Everybody take a drink.

        • BimmerFile_Michael

          I live in Germany- I drive lots of cars… I am well aware of how large the MK7 GTI is. I have had several different VAG products over the years, GTIs, A4s, an A3 etc and they are totally different experiences from the BMW Group product line. Thanks for the enlightenment.

        • anonymousvwemployee

          how large the gti is??

          let’s use some facts here

          f56 – 150 inches long… 12.5 feet mk7 gti – 167.5 in … 13.9 feet

          you’re talking about a difference of 1 and a half feet….

        • AMS

          Are you really pretending that 1 1/2 feet is a SMALL difference in automotive terms? That’s more than the difference in length between the midsize and fullsize sedan offerings of every manufacturer I could be bothered to check just now.

          I’m not making nay other statement about the relative merits of the vehicles in question, as I haven’t driven either, but c’mon. 1.4 feet is a HUGE difference in car sizes.

        • BMW<VAG

          The NEW lineup of BMW products SUCKS. It can’t compare with the last generation. Every new “F” product is a shell of its predeccessor. They are uglier, cheaper looking, more expensive to buy, don’t handle as well, can’t put as big of a smile on your face, and they have abandoned the things that made them successful in the first place. Nobody bought BMW’s in the 70’s or 80’s because they were beautiful – they bought them for their steering, suspension, and engines. The new cars don’t look good, or drive good. Just purchased by idiots that care more for the badge on their car than the product they are spending their years salary on.

        • Jason

          As opposed to VW’s offerings, bought by scene kids and hipsters, which have none of the style of BMW’s and none of the fun either.

      • lavardera

        really, I have to wonder if VW is paying these trolls

        • i wish vw paid me

          nah. the mk6 and new mk7 (i prefer mk6) is just that good. i had a 06 r53 for 8 years.. traded for 2013 gti. i actually was forced to buy a new car, because the mini was dying, and i wish i had traded it in sooner. 9000 miles into my 2013 gti… what an enjoyable ride. seriously. i only drive 150 miles a week but those are very fun miles. i wish vw paid me to post this! i come here because i like to revel in nostalgia, i had good times with my cooper s… but vw won this generation of buyers, imo.

        • lavardera


      • Bahahaidiot

        You like big fish mouths instead? And inferior performance?

    • RakSiam

      Of course most people don’t drive their cars on a race track. IMHO the Golf/GTI is ugly. That’s why I wouldn’t buy one. Now if VW ever got their act together and brought the Scirocco over here….

      • Hemisedan

        You hit the nail for me on your post here. Also, the Polo GTI, maybe even the R series, now then VW would have something. VW GTI’s are trio big, to blah, the interior use to be very nice, now it’s one generation behind almost everyone. Then of course, Olga my wife, won’t even look at a VW as she says, talk about a really ugly plain car. That, coming from someone that was born and raised in the land of Lada.

    • darex

      So, what’s your mileage on that new GTI? Are you even cracking the 30s?

      Keep your stripped-out Golf. The F56 is as customizable as anyone could want, and drives like a dream. I recently got 46 mpg on a 500-mile highway trip (500 each way). The seats were awesome. The iDrive was awesome. The quietness of the cabin was awesome, and pretty much everything else, too. The reviewer in the article above is bang-on accurate, so I know that he’s completely legit, having actually driven the F56, just as he says he did. Once I saw the packaging that VW N.A. was offering for the Golf and GTI (e.g. what was missing compared with the offerings in Europe), plus the lack of available manual on upper-trimmed Golfs), I lost all interest. Then, I further read about how crappy the infotainment system is on our Golfs/GTIs. No thanks. Choice is good, VW.

      Love my F56, and have ZERO regrets about having avoided the new Golf/GTI.

  • Ken Valley

    My one word review of my F56 base Cooper:


    And if one does not get the Easy Door Access and Storage Compartment in the trunk then one is cuckoo.

    *owned a R53 and R56 base coopers as well so that is what I am comparing it to.

    • Agree – especially with keyless go standard it’s particularly frustrating to have to get the fob out (or find it) and push a button to open doors.

      • Kevin Bartlett

        After owning a car where you never use the key I completely agree……and at the same time I feel saddened by how lazy I feel now, I mean really is pushing a button on a fob such an inconvenience.

        • I know. I hated even writing that 🙂

        • fishbert

          Hell, I can’t be bothered to reach up and flick the rearview mirror when someone’s got their brights on behind me… or even turn my own headlights on/off anymore. Completely spoiled (and loving it).

  • Jason

    This article pretty much perfectly relays my own F56 Cooper experience after a few thousand miles. It is so much better than previous Justas in every measurable way.

  • Brian D

    I love mini… Just not the price…. Its crazy how a tiny two box car can cost up to 30K. Oh well. I guess I’ll dream of owning a mini but end up owning something more cost conscious like an FiST.

    • Jason

      They certainly don’t have to cost that much. They start at $19k, hardly breaking the bank compared to their peers.

  • Rob Mx

    “as we take delivery of another version late this week.” … Can you give us quick infor on the incoming version? equipment? options? engine? 😀

  • fishbert

    Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to test drive the new model. But alas, those “superb” sport seats just plain don’t work for fat people.

    The car got bigger, but the seat got smaller. It’s like a bad joke played on the North American customer base.

    • JeffH

      Agreed. I am under 180 pounds, and those were really tight on me. I would opt for the normal seats.

      • Chilly

        I was wondering the same – 6 ft, 200lbs – trouble is the non-sport seats don’t have a cloth option. Hopefully that will change with the next model year. Actually, on MINIUSA they show a really nice cloth standard seat in the gallery but it’s nowhere to be found in the configurator. 🙁

        • 6’2″ 180 and they fit me perfectly (FWIW)

        • JeffH

          You are tall and lean. I am about 5’8″. Those seats would be great for racing, but not for daily driving I think.

        • fishbert

          … nor for passengers whose arms want to rest at their sides (instead of up holding a steering wheel).

          Come on, MINI… at least give us a box to tick to option them away.

        • BimmerFile_Michael

          I think they are just fine… and I am dead on average size wise.

        • Rob Mtz

          In my country “sport seats” are standard, what does MF think of the “sensatec” trim? we have very hot weather so leather option does not seem very attractive.

        • Good. More durable than cloth but hotter in the summer.

        • fishbert

          What’s your pant size, Gabe? Average in the US is supposed to be around 34″ in the waist for men, and I can’t imagine you’re any beyond that.

          If you’re “average” and those seats fit you perfectly, then they’ll probably start getting tight for anyone larger than that (by definition about half the male market). That seems like a significant pool of potential customers MINI is ignoring.

        • This is getting personal … but I’m a 33/34 in most jeans etc.

        • Sal

          The cloth option is currently only available in the $500 JCW interior trim package which adds red stitching to the wheel and shift boot and an anthracite headliner. When I ordered my MCS in late January, it wasn’t on the option list. I ordered the $750 cloth leather combo as I couldn’t see spending $750 on the recycled cloth/ vinyl even though they look and are said to be great. I would definitely spend the $500 for the JCW interior trim next time, if they don’t change it before then. As to the size question, I’m one of those typical overweight Americans and while the seats are narrower with the new bolsters, they are still very comfortable. Getting in, I sometimes notice that I’m sitting on the seat bolsters rather than in-between them but they do sort of mold themselves to you as you are driving.

        • Chilly

          Yes, but the seats in the JCW interior trim package aren’t the standard seats either. The cloth one I was referring to is under the gallery for the Hardtop; they’re standard seats with a cloth insert.

        • fishbert
        • Chilly

          I wish they were available in the configurator!

      • robble

        at 5’7″ 160lbs the seats fit me great. I can easily see how a 200+lb person could find them tight. Hard to please everyone though – the seats in the last two generations were way too wide for me.

        Maybe it’s time for MINI to offer adjustable bolsters.

        • Sal

          I agree on those adjustable side bolsters, I’m one of those average overweight Americans but the seats seem to mold them selves to you once you get going.

    • Hemisedan

      Hey, lots of people wanted, and paid an extra $2500 for Recaros, and loved them. I sat in the new F56 and loved the seats. And yes, they are as close to Recaros that you can get, I believe, without actually paying that extra $2500 premium. As for VW’s again, their sport seats have just about the same feel in the back to me. There’s also another thought too, lose weight. Sorry for that comment.

      • fishbert

        a) you’re not at all sorry for that comment. b) for me it’s a weight/size thing, but for some others (like my girlfriend) it’s not. “lose weight” is not a solution.

        When MINI is so obviously trying to make the F56 appeal to a wider audience, it’s strange that such aggressive bolsters are suddenly being forced upon everyone. In a JCW or GP, sure, Recaro-like seats make sense … but a more mainstream Cooper S? No; make it optional (or at the very least make an alternative optional).

  • robble

    Gabe, while I know it is blasphemous, have you spent any significant time driving the cooper with the automatic? I am a stick person myself but having driven both stick and auto quite a bit I can say that the automatic is quicker than the stick. I don’t know the exact reason but it is very noticeable. Sadly, it’s true in the S model also.

    • I haven’t drive the Cooper but I have driven the MCS in auto. We have no plans on driving the Cooper auto in the near future.

      Yes the auto is quicker. Buying a manual should be able experience these days.

    • Dr Obnxs

      This is getting more and more true across the board. The autos shift faster than a manual, and if programmed right, they allow the engine to run at a higher torque RPM because of slippage in the torque converter. (This depends on transmission specifics and lock-up programming). Truth is that even the modern “slush box” transmission is giving better performance than manuals, and often better economy too. The manual can be less expensive to make, but oddly more expensive to own (because of clutch replacements). Pretty much the only reason to get one is resistance to change, love of the heel-toe downshift, and just that’s the way one prefers to drive…..

      Me, I’m torn… I do like shifting myself, but I’ve grown to also like having two hands on the wheel at all times even through rough transitions with lots of breaking and shifting, like going through the corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca… Different strokes I guess…..

      As far as all the VW GTI stuff, it’s a GREAT car, with easy to approach limits that inspire confidence. But it’s a very different drive than a MINI. Buy what you want and have fun. I guess the bench racing vitriol will never die, but it sucks to see it when it rears it’s ugly head….

      Truth be told, a really good driver in a beat Yugo will smoke pretty much all of us in any car…… Early in my track days, I had a car with more than a 100 hp more than this little 57 Alfa, and I couldn’t pass him at Infineon! After I realized what a great driver he was, I just followed and learned his line, brake points and the like. Later in the day, I was the underpowered car passing the 427 Cobra that was driven by someone who didn’t know how to put the power down, and he just slid on every corner exit……

      We all like to say it’s the cars specs that make the difference, but the truth is that it’s the driver, and just buying a faster car doesn’t do anything to change the nut behind the wheel.

  • Chilly

    Love everything you have to say about your experience driving the Cooper with one possible exception. You mentioned how the throttle mapping may be disappointing for those coming from an (R53) MCS, but how does it compare to the R56 Cooper? I would hope there’s an improvement there.

    I believe you said your test car has 17 inch wheels, how would you say the ride with those compares to an R56 Cooper with 16 inch wheels? I prefer the extra sidewall in the R56 but if the F56 is decent with 17 inch wheels I may consider switching with my next car.

    Finally, could you comment on how you perceive the quality of the 3 cylinder engine from a reliability and longevity perspective? I realize we won’t know for sure until they’ve been in production for a while but I hope they’ll be as good as the new 4 cylinder in the MCS. As a point of reference, I reached 175k miles with my R53 before trading in for an R56.

    Many thanks!

  • CJ

    Gabe, I hope your tester has Sport suspension. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. I just took delivery of the base cooper you wrote about and did get the Sport suspension with 16″ wheels. I felt the base and adaptive suspensions were too soft with too much roll, pitch and after owning 4 MINIs was not about to buy one. But then decided to take the chance and order the MINI base with sport suspension. After 500 miles of driving I am really liking it!!!! It is actually very compliant and doesn’t seem as jarring as Sport suspensions of past. It is certainly firmer than the other offered suspension setups but not to the point of sacrificing everyday comfort. It actually could be firmer for my taste. It is unfortunate that dealerships and MINI don’t spec Minis coming in with SS, I am sure it would help some in the suspension decision and easily tick that Sport Suspension box, so to speak.

    The Growl of the engine is great, but that exhaust note you talk about is certainly whisper quiet.

    It is certainly not an R53. Which is the best car I have ever owned for the money!!