Steering Feel: F56 Cooper S vs R56 Cooper S

After a few weeks living with our F56 Cooper S we had a moment to step back into an R56 Cooper recently. While there’s plenty to compare and contrast, the single biggest difference is in your hands. Put plainly the F56 is a big step forward over the R5X platform for steering feel and response. With the R56 (and even the R53 at times) there could be a knife’s edge between satisfying feedback and a car that was working against you when you pushed them hard. With the new F56 generation of MINIs, we have a driving experience that feels both more communicative, more balanced and more forgiving at the same time. Why is this? Read on.

MINI Cooper Fest 2013

BMW describes the system as a ‘single pinion’ set-up, because the electric motor assistance servo acts directly on the steering gear rather than via a secondary gearset. This reduces both weight and friction in the system and enhances the response time and directional accuracy.

The result is noticeably more feel in the hands with the F56 as compared with the R56. It’s a relief that after years of us complaining about how MINI’s steering feel has gotten worse, we can finally drive a MINI with better steering than it had before. The immediacy of the turn-in, the improved grip (assisted by a new generation of Pirelli P-Zero run flats), and the increase in road feel has produced an experience that doesn’t feel as far removed from the first generation new MINI. I don’t make that statement lightly and intend it as a huge compliment to the new car.

While the steering isn’t as telepathic as the R50/R53, there’s plenty of trust to be built in both the consistency and quality of feedback in our long-term Cooper S. However it’s worth noting that our F56 is let down by the small 16″ wheels and tires which dull some of the sharpness of the system.

  • Sub_R



    I have to agree- the F56 steering feel and handling is much better than the R56. While still not quite back to the R50/53 chassis, it is fun and direct with good feedback. I also second the need for bigger wheels on the F56 for initial bite, having driven a few different wheel sizes on the F56 now.

    I really like the F55 and can’t wait to see and drive the F54 Clubman.

    • Eric

      I feel the same things

  • Jgh548

    My experience of the Cooper S F56 I drove was the opposite – quite a firm feel to the steering but no road feel whatsoever. It felt totally numb to me – just more weighty than your average car.

    The Cooper F56 I borrowed recently was totally disconnected.

    • mrGP2

      I felt the same too. It was no doubt quick in response, but it lacked feel. I found myself understeering a lot, even on the PZeros. The back-end just didnt want to rotate for some reason.

      • There is less lift-off oversteer in the F56 because how the suspension is set-up in the rear. The other thing you may be feeling is the extra weight that the US spec F56 has for crash protection (the Euro spec F56 is actually lighter than the R56).

        BMW spent enormous amount of time designing and engineering the steering itself to deliver more feedback then the previous system. They justified the cost because the system it shared across all UKL based BMWs and MINIs. The results (at least IMO and those in the press) speak for themselves.

    • Kev50027

      I had the same experience. Even in sport mode, the steering was so light and devoid of feel that it felt like it wasn’t connected to anything. My R56 doesn’t have perfect steering feel, but when not in sport mode, I do get a good feel of the road and what the tires are doing. None of that was present in the F56 I test drove.

      • Jgh548

        The F56 struck me as extremely competent but uninvolving. The other factor is the increased size of the bodywork – it just doesn’t feel like a little chuckable go-cart any more. You feel the extra bulk on the road.

        Plus with things like auto rev-matching, a light clutch pedal, longer gears etc. the car feels very “digital”, something it has in common with many modern cars, sadly.

        The problem with the R56 is that the steering occasionally lacks feedback at the limit, something that was noticeable after the R50.

        • Eric

          I feel the F56 S much more involving …maybe that’s because of its sport suspension, that really deserves its name (in contrary of the R56 sport suspension)

  • hemisedan

    Gabe, when are you going to swap out the 16″ wheels and tires? I expect you to go with 18’s as that’s what you originally ordered, but I also realize that you want to give the 16″era a chance first. Maybe I answered my own question.

    • Waiting on MINI USA to be honest. I would have done it the second I saw the car if I could. But it’s been good to spend some time with the exact opposite set-up that I had ordered… as weird as that sounds. I can definitely tell you they should be considered “comfort spec”.

      • Jim

        Hey Gabe, when you have time how about a quick update on the steering feel/handling changes you’re experiencing now on the F56S with 18″ wheels and the Conti ExtremeContact DWs? Thanks.

        • In short perfect combo for my needs. Compliant with plenty of feel.

  • The Meal

    I had an ’07 R56 (Sport suspension, 16″ wheels) and have about 1300 miles on my F56 (variable suspension), 300 on 17″ all-season and the last 1000mi on 16″ snows. I’d echo the piece written above. The F56 VDC with 16″ is very much a comfort setting, but on the 17″ (even sans performance rubber) she’s responsive (despite her bigger girth). I’d agree with the MF crew that the sport suspension is the way to go with the F56 car, but I was optimistic that the VDC would be something that grew on me. Maybe when summer rolls around and I get performance rubber on the 17″ wheels…

  • Stephen Curry

    That was my single biggest gripe after two second-generation minis that had me considering leaving the brand.

    If I can get good road feel AND Apple CarPlay, they just might get me back.

  • I might be the only one and this would sound weird.

    I’ve owned an r53 and recently bought an justa r56. I felt that the steering on the R56 is lighter, but more communicative and it has a better sense of the road. It could be the R56 has a quicker rack? or also it could be other things (tires etc.)

  • Jon.s

    last week I changed from my 2012 r56 cooper Ray to a new f56 cooper… wow, I loved my last mini, but the new f56 is far ahead in handling, performance and comfort… so worth the upgrade…

    go home haters, you don’t know jack…