It’s been six months and 10,000 miles since we took delivery of our British Racing Green 2015 MINI Cooper S. While we ended up losing more than a few options within the ordering process, our MCS was heavily optioned and (crucially) manually equipped. All told not a bad MINI to spend a year getting to know.
Our first few months saw us soldiering through a midwest winter on 16” 195mm summer tires. Not our plans and certainly not something we’d recommend. However the fact that the summers were relatively skinny and I’ve had many years of snow experience meant we were never properly stuck. However pulse-rates were relatively high more than once traveling through winter storms.
Enter spring and the NM Engineering 18” RS12s. After looking wistfully at other 17” and 18” shod MINIs rolling around the hood we finally decided to plunk down for something big and light. After some research (and the help of Aaron at Outmotoring) we came across the NM Engineering 18” RS12s.
As much as our MCS was transformed in appearance with the RS12s, performance was also affected. The result is a 18″ wheel that only weighs a hair over 18 lbs. That in turn reduces unsprung weight (the best possible weight on your car to reduce). It’s had immediate affect on our F56 allowing for more lively turn-in, steering that is more communicative and grip limits that are increased. Ride has been affected (as you’d expect) but not as much as you’d expect thanks to going from run flats to standard tires.
Inside our F56 has held up well with the only obvious wear being seen on the off-white lounge leather seats. Yeah probably to be expected. But here’s the thing. They look nothing less than stellar when clean and the process of cleaning takes nothing more than a damp cloth and a good scrub game. While they don’t necessarily look as crisp as new, they look plenty luxurious agains the darker tones of the interior.
Among the many options that got left off our car was MINI’s comfort access. After six months we can comfortably say that there are few non-performance options I’d look at as mandatory more than comfort access. But first let’s back up. With keyless go standard on the new MINI not only is there no key but there no place to even put the fob. And with the optional comfort access the process to unlock and start the car is as seamless as possible. Simply walk-up, get in and start the engine. However without the optional comfort access the process goes from seamless to aggravating.
The issue is that you get used to not needing the key to start the car. It’s touch-less, buttonless and frankly invisible. Without comfort access you need to dig into your pocket, find the appropriate button (that’s impossible to find without looking), wait for the unlock and then slide into the seat. Sure it’s easy. But experiencing a system that doesn’t require buttons and keys makes you realize what an unnecessary chore it is to have to physically hit a button to unlock the trunk or open a door.
In our eye this makes comfort access nothing less that a must have optional alongside sport suspension, rear fogs and navigation.
One area of curiosity we had with the F56 was the off-white leather lounge seats. They looked too good to pass up but could they hold up? After six months the answer is mixed. Due to the light color they show daily smudges and dirt readily. The upside is that they’ve been a snap to keep clean with nothing but a damp cloth.
Speaking of that navigation we found MINI’s substantially upgraded system to be a huge leap forward as compared to the R5X generation. Traffic data has gotten better (it now uses peer to peer data from other MINIs and BMWs to create a more clear picture) and routing is smarter. Yet it’s still not as fast or smart as Google Maps (or Apple Maps for that matter).
My solution is to combine both. I typically use Google Maps for traffic data and a quick gut check on the best way to tackle long Chicago commutes. Then I put the phone away before slotting into 1st. However when I’m going somewhere I’m not familiar with or on long trips I will almost always use the built in nav as it’s the safer option when it comes to distracted driving.
Of course navigation isn’t the only thing that happens on that large screen. And that’s really the other critical reason I’d never do without the option. It’s a window into the car and in my mind you always want the largest window. Sure your smartphone will run rings around navigation etc. But you will never regret having the option if you’re someone who likes to constantly fine tune your driving experience or make use of the things like MINI Connected.
RIP Sport Suspension
If you haven’t heard MINI has made the SS an exclusive option on the JCW and taken it off the option list for other MINIs. In its place you can spec variable dampers which on paper allow for the best of all worlds. The problem is that they don’t go quite far enough on the sporty side with spring rates about 20% less stiff.
In our experience the SS combined with the our car’s original 16” wheels and tires gave it a pleasantly aggressive dynamics without a ride that was unbearable. It’s an interesting combination that gave our MCS good body control and confidence at the limit without being unsettled by broken pavement mid-corner. Moving to the 18” NM Engineering wheels and Continental Extreme DW endowed our car with a more harsh ride but still nothing to complain about.
The downside with the small wheels however is the reduction of that knife-edge feel of precious that a set of 17” or 18” wheels and good tires can give you. There’s a sense that the entire set-up is slightly dulled by the larger sideway and narrower 195 mm width.
After a couple weeks with our car we’d recommend the sport suspension for those looking for the ultimate enthusiast choice. But it can only really be paid off with 17” or 18” wheels with wider tires. The combination allows for a feel and a performance that’s more akin to the R56 and even the R53.
But why the sport suspension over the variable dampers? For us it allows a more sporting experience that feels right on a MINI. Truthfully if the variable dampers had the ability to go from -10% all the ay to +30% matching the sport suspension we’d call them the best of all worlds. But they don’t quite have that range and therefore feel a bit more compromised than we’d want.
Lets talk about the most taboo subject an automotive enthusiast could possibly complain about. Here’s the problem with the F56 MINI’s cupholders. 99% of the time cupholders in my cars are used for one thing – my mobile device. The issue is that MINI slightly downsized the cupholders from the R56. This has happened just as consumers have upsized their phones. The result is that my iPhone 6 Plus has no where to go in the F56. It’s too big to stay in my pocket. It doesn’t fit comfortably plugged into the armrest. And the cupholders are now too small.
Thoughts on 10,000 miles
There’s no question that the F56 MINI is the best product the brand has ever produced. It’s little larger than the previous MINI but for that tradeoff you get a car that has much more utility, performance, technology and comfort. The interior is a revelation as compared with the R50 and R56 generations and the quality has been dramatically improved. This is a MINI that you don’t have to make excuses for. In short it’s both a great small car and a fantastic MINI.