Exclusive: MINI’s 2018 Refresh (LCI)

MINI Vision Concept from 2013 was meant to be a preview to the F56.

The 2018 model year will be a big one for MINI’s three and five door MINI hatch and likely the MINI Convertible. New navigation system, engines and a revised design are all on tap as MINI looks to inject new life into the brand’s core models. What will they look like and when is it happening? Read on.

MINI (and BMW) have a seven year model cycle with a refresh typically 3-4 years into that so this is a long expected nip and tuck. In BMW speak this typer of refresh is called an LCI which stands for (awkwardly) life cycle impulse. LCIs can range from light (the 2015 R60 Countryman) to expansive (the 2005 R50/R53). We believe that MINI’s refresh will fall somewhere in the middle. Here’s what we know.

BMW TwinPower Turbo 4-Zylinder Benzinmotor

BMW TwinPower Turbo 4-Zylinder Benzinmotor



Engines

MINI is thoroughly refreshing it’s range of three and four cylinder engines with updates throughout the drivetrain. The result will be more power and torque along with higher levels of efficiency. But beyond that we’ll also see enhanced acoustic properties (i.e. they’ll sound better), smoother operation and (this is key) and a reduction in weight

A revised turbocharging system will be a major part of the drivetrain overhaul. For instance the exhaust manifold and turbocharger will housed together in the cylinder head rather than separate. The turbocharger casing for the three- cylinder engine will switch to aluminum on the Cooper model, while the four-cylinder units will all feature steel casings.

The new engines will also feature a more advanced cooling system that serves to optimize the combustion process with the aim of reducing both CO2 output and other pollutant emissions. The new coolant pump will have separate outlets for the flow of coolant to the cylinder head and engine block, which should result in a far more effective thermal management.

The new engine will also feature revised balancer shafts ensuring smoother operation. These shafts are intended to iron out the vibrations that occur when power is transmitted to the crankshaft. Three-cylinder engines will in future benefit from a new balancer shaft complete with a modified drive mechanism that results in a weight saving, improved excitation and further enhanced acoustic properties.

Another way that MINI has optimized the acoustics is to fit the cars with a single-piece timing chain drive and a new L-shaped belt arrangement driving the alternator, water pump, torsional vibration damper and air conditioning compressor. This should help the engine sound noticeably smoother – especially on cold starts.

BMW TwinPower Turbo 4-Zylinder Benzinmotor

BMW TwinPower Turbo 4-Zylinder Benzinmotor

What does this mean for power? We know that BMW has the ability to tune both the three and four cylinder engines up in power pretty dramatically if it wanted. The 227 hp three cylinder in the BMW i8 for instance is essentially same engine in the Mini Cooper. Similar the 255 hp four cylinder in the 7 Series hybrid is the same 2.0L that is in the Cooper S and JCW.

But numbers like that aren’t going to happen for MINIs mainstream models. What we will see are horsepower gains in the 3-5% range with even greater torque improvements. In the Cooper S we believe this will manifest itself in a output of around 196 hp and potentially as torque figure as high as 220 ft lbs. The side benefit of not going quite as high with the power figures is that we could see a further cut in fuel consumption and emissions of up to 5% across models.

We believe that MINI will not revise the JCW powerplant for 2017 but may do so later.

F56_JCW_2026



Transmissions

Thanks to sources familiar with the brand’s upcoming plans, we can confirm that MINI intends to offer dual clutch automatic transmissions as part of this refresh. While we don’t yet know details of what models they’ll be found in, it’s a safe bet we’ll see the DCT option in the Cooper S and JCW models (if not more).

Moving from a torque converter automatic to a DCT is an interesting change of direction for BMW – a company that has thus far eschewed the use of dual clutch transmissions outside of M models and a few rare series models. The reason is that costs for dual clutch transmissions are typically higher given the complexity in design and manufacturing. The only way VW has been able to do it in mass is the sheer volume they can leverage. What appears to have happened is that BMW and MINI found a willing partner ready to bring costs down in order to battle the increasingly popular 8 and 9 speed automatics from ZF and Aisin.

This change will also have the benefit of further differentiating the smaller MINI offerings from the larger four door products that will continue to use the (very good) 8 speed torque converter automatic form Aisin.

What’s a dual clutch transmission and why should you care? Lets head to wikipedia for the formal description:

A dual-clutch transmission, (DCT) (sometimes referred to as a twin-clutch transmission or double-clutch transmission), is a type of automatic transmission or automated automotive transmission. It uses two separate clutches for odd and even gear sets. It can fundamentally be described as two separate manual transmissions (with their respective clutches) contained within one housing, and working as one unit. They are usually operated in a fully automatic mode, and many also have the ability to allow the driver to manually shift gears in semi-automatic mode, albeit still carried out by the transmission’s electro-hydraulics

Ok that’s a bit dry. What it’s really saying is that dual clutch transmissions use two clutches to allow for much more responsive, crisp gear changes. DCTs (as they’re known) shift quicker, and yet are nearly as seamless as the new breed of 8-9 speed torque converter automatics. They also offer similar MPG figures to the best automatics out there. In other words they offer more the performance without too much of a downside.

MINI Vision Concept. Note the integrated Air Curtain

MINI Vision Concept. Note the integrated Air Curtain



Styling Changes

What you see above and below isn’t necessarily what we expect the refreshed cars to look like. But we believe it offers a few clues. For instance we know that MINI will focus changes to the front and rear bumpers along with slightly revised lights. We also have heard that MINI will revise the front bumper on the Cooper S given the negative reaction to the “chin” of the current model.

Lighting will be a focus with the headlights featuring new LED day-time lights that look more cohesive (and less like a series of small lights) than the current version. We also expect some tweaks to the rear lights with the possibility of MINI moving over to LEDs for some elements.

MINI Vision Concept from 2013 was meant to be a preview to the F56.

MINI Vision Concept from 2013 was meant to be a preview to the F56.

MINI’s original plans were to add the two-part front air curtain to the F56 and F55 LCI but it remains to be seen if we’ll see that kind of re-engineering go into the cars at this stage of their life-cycle.

In addition to styling tweaks we expect MINI to introduce 2-3 new colors and at least two new wheel designs across the range.

Inside MINI will swap out several interior trim and leather options as well as introduce more mood lighting as we’ve seen on the new Clubman and Countryman.



Technology – Touch Screens and CarPlay is Here

One of the biggest stories for the 2018 LCI will be technology. The new iDrive system is nothing short of a revelation. MINI has added much more than just touch control with this update. It’s an entirely new system and an evolved design and interactions that make it all much more intuitive and faster. Perhaps more important to many of you, MINI will introduce wireless CarPlay with this refresh. Look for Android Auto to be supported sometime in 2017 or 2018.

F54 JCW Clubman



What Models are Getting Refreshed?

According to sources MINI will be refreshing it’s entire small car line-up including the MINI Convertible. Given that this includes the F56 three door and F55 five door hatch which represent not just the soul of the brand but the majority of sales, it’s a critical refresh.

What about the other models? We believe the engine refresh will likely be rolled into production for the Clubman and Countryman sometime in 2018 with a true refresh to those vehicles happening in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

  • Kevin Bartlett

    So, the B48 engine (the Cooper S engine if I have the designation right) is also used by BMW in the 330 models among other models will these changes be migrating to those models as well. They have just gotten these motors so it seems strange for them to make changes to these models as well. Or maybe the BMW motors got these changes….With so many variants and tunes and configurations (FWD based, RWD based etc) it’s getting very confusing as the brands mix.

    • They’re all getting these updates eventually. This isn’t a new engine architecture but a ser es of new components that increase efficiency, performance and likely reduce production complexity.

      • Kevin Bartlett

        It just seems odd from a production standpoint that they would build engines without the improvements next to engines with the improvements. I would expect them to transition and switch over all production especially with some of the improvements you outlined.

        Not sure what I’d prefer though; last to get the old engine or first to get the revised one. I know a shop that is of the opinion we never see engines as reliable as they could be because they keep revising but never implement all the fixes needed to complete an engine. My R56 is from the 4th model year and suffered problems that seemingly should’ve been solved long before that point (I still have it despite its problems). Though I have slightly more confidence in the F series motors as they are used throughout BMW’s entire lineup.

        • Nick Dawson

          Your final paragraph hits the nail on the head. Consumer confidence is vital, and that’s what MINI buyers worldwide have by the bucket load, safe in the knowledge that F-Series MINIs are underpinned by BMW. The only exception being North America, where it appears to have had the opposite effect.

        • WANDERLUST srt

          Its not the engine, its falling fuel prices for the last 3 years in the USA leading to a resurgence in large vehicles. Also the mini large vehicle equivalents have a very competitive small SUV space in the USA that they are compared too.

        • Nick Dawson

          You are right that low fuel prices are having an impact on the sales of small cars in NA, but the same applies in all of MINI’s 100+ markets around the world and yet despite this, sales of MINIs have actually increased year on year over the past three years.

          ANNUAL MINI GLOBAL SALES vs ANNUAL MINI USA SALES

          2014: 302,183 vs 56,112 = 18.57% 2015: 338,466 vs 58,514 = 17.29% 2016: 360,233 vs 52,030 = 14.44%

        • Our country and our spaces are made for large vehicles here… thus there’s an underlining belief that bigger is better. And for many it is (if there is almost no downside in cost).

        • Nick Dawson

          I couldn’t agree more.

  • heat_fan1

    Anyone else find the headline to be grossly misleading? “Revealed?” More like, “Reported.”

    Anyway, assigned from the mechanical changes, I’d expect the design changes to be relatively subtle, with a focus on bringing the interior quality up to par with the improvements made in the Clubman and Countryman.

  • ulrichd

    I would love to see the Mini Vision tail lights in place of the current design. Probably not likely since it would involve changes in the rear fender openings.

    • You’re right in your assumption but we’re told that there will be some subtle tweaks to the “graphic” as the designers call it.

  • ulrichd

    The vision concept doesn’t seen to suffer from the long nose of the production model. Do we know if it was based on the 1-series platform? Maybe the windshield was moved forward.

    • It’s on the same platform. Just didn’t have the realities of meeting meeting pedestrian impact standards as it was a concept.

  • Chilly

    Any chance we’ll see a cloth option with the standard seats?

  • Ryan Cooley

    i really hope they knock the two door design out of the park this go around! The regular minis make me a bit car sick from the suspension (vertigo) so a clubman and countryman are my main choices. But if they make them look even better I may have to live with a two or 5 door mini! Please bring back a brown mini!!

    • ulrichd

      Design wise this will likely be just the usual mid-cycle nip/tuck of plastic bits. The main design updates are on a 7 year cycle.

  • Giovanni Esposito

    I can’t understand how it’s possible for the turbocharger “to be housed togheter with the exhaust manifold in the cylinder head”. The new exhaust manifold is integrated in the engine head, like some other new engine (ford 1.0 3 cyl for instance) while the turbocharger is now separate (unlike in the previous B48) and can be unbolted, as you can see here: http://s3.motoringfile.com.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/P90228214-petrol_engine.jpg

  • blackadder_de

    I want the mid Dash speedo back. A nice analogue one like in the 1st gen BMW Mini. At least as an Option. And the Mini MINI is more than overdue.

  • fishbert

    Nothing about an increased fuel tank capacity?

  • Kieron Hegde

    Gabe, any intel about whether the Clubman LCI will be hooked up with the hybrid system from the Countryman E? You’ve suggested previously that it was a possibility, and depended on development costs etc. It’s the drivetrain-bodystyle combo I’ve been waiting for…

    • Initially I believe that was on the table. But since then I’ve seen no evidence of that happening in his product cycle.

  • Ben Gruber

    When are the 2018’s supposed to hit the US market?

    • TheMotoringAdvisor

      We typically don’t see production starting on the next model year (in this case, the 2018’s) until July production. They are usually hitting dealerships by September.

  • R.O.

    Here’s what I would like to see on refresh across the MINI line: 1. Upgrade/replace the cheep quality/looking fuel gauge. Replace it with a 1/3 moon size display similar to the Tach.

    1. Move the Outside Temp and Clock to the new 1/3 moon display and have the odometer & trip meter displayed as permanent where clock & outside temp currently are.

    2. Put the Engine Temp bar/meter inside the 1/3 moon display

    3. Have a digital analog style clock located in the infotainment screen

    4. Move the Headlight controls up higher or at better angle.

    5. Slightly larger preset buttons on the infotainment system housing

    6. The rear window heat/defrost button as a toggle switch

    7. The rear window fluid nozzle go back to R50/53 where it followed path of rear wiper. Now it just sprays fluid straight up instead of following wiper.

    8. Add a second USB port next to current single port.

    A few other things I would like changed are the turn signal lever not be auto return to center position. I just don’t like the return to center feature. I could also live without the automatic climate control. Make it an option, I’m fine with manual control. It would save some money too. Instead have a blind spot tech a standard feature. Also have the “Active Driving Assistant” be a standalone option (instead of the current requirement to also have to get the Fully Loaded Package).

  • hemisedan

    Will the idiotic speedometer/tach be changed? This is one of the main reasons I went away from MINI last year. They and the front grille design. Granted, I went over to BMW, the m235i, but it’s just not me. A good LCI should get me back when this lease runs out. The DCI would help too.