MotoringFile Review: the 2014 MINI Cooper S at the Track

We’ve driven the new F56 MINI Cooper S plenty since its launch early this year. But so far track time with MINI’s latest has eluded us. With our recent trip to MINIUSA’s Miles Ahead at the Indianapolis Speedway, that finally came to an end.

While typically all of the Cooper S at Miles Ahead are automatics (the best choice for the vast majority – even most enthusiasts) I was lucky enough to be handed the key to the one manual in the fleet. Given my affiliation with MotoringFile and my previous track experience they wanted to give me an extra challenge in the form of a third pedal. It was welcome.

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Pulling out of the garage and into pits for the first time you’re once again struck by the scale of the place. IMS isn’t as large a track like Talledega but due to its design and layout it feels infinitely more impressive and almost majestic.

First up was getting acquainted with the car and the track. My very first session was full course lapping behind current Indycar driver Pippa Mann. My initial focus was of course the reacquaint myself with the car and the track. But the F56 felt so immediately comfortable and confident and moderate track speeds I was able to focus on strictly learning my braking points, shift points and corner angles. From there I shifted focus trying to better understand what I had in my hands and how it compared to the MINIs that came before it as a track tool.

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The verdict? Like all MINIs before it, the F56 makes for a respectable track car right out of the box. And with some tweaking of tires, brake pads and maybe light suspension changes it could be a giant killer.

In stock form grip levels are up thanks to improved tires, redesigned suspension and a stiffer chassis. The extra power and more importantly torque allowed for much more speed coming out of corners not to mention the ability to chirp the tires going into third at times.

One area that’s also improved upon is steering feel and feedback. Again thanks to that stiffer chassis, revised suspension and tires design from the ground for the car, the wheel feels more alive in your hand and connected to the outside world. There’s an eagerness to the car on initial turn-in that stock R56 at times lacked. The result is a MINI that feels utterly engaging and quick witted while not being overly dramatic as the R53 or R56 could be at times.

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At 120 mph on the front stretch of IMS an increase in vehicle stability was also obvious. The extensive aero work done by BMW has clearly paid dividends in a car that feels at home in triple digits. While a MINI will never quite match a 911 or M4 due to its shape, the F56 feels much more confident at 120 mph as compared to the R53 or R56.

Braking from 120 down is another story. Obviously you’d want to swap pads and fluid for any track action. But in stock form there was clear fade by the end of the day and a lack of stopping power that R56 JCW owners are used to.

Having a chance to drive the manual also meant I got to experience the new rev matching feature in some extreme situations. While part of the charm of manual driving has always been blipping the throttle for that perfect gear change, this addition allows for greater concentration at critical moments in and out of corners.

The F56 at the track was everything I hoped it would be. With the new Cooper S MINI has built on its tradition of producing giant killers that are immediately quick and (more importantly) utterly engaging on the edge.

In short if you’re thinking about upgrading to an F56 and plan track time, don’t hesitate. While a few light mods would be welcome for extended track use (like all previous MINIs), the F56 was a fantastic track companion offering up an excellent mix of speed, stability and feedback throughout the day.

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