If you’re a regular MF reader you’ll know that The upcoming 2018 MINI refresh due next spring will be an important one. The MINI LCI (mid-cycle refresh or life-cycle impulse in BMW speak) will be much more about power and performance than a refresh of style. What will it entail? Let’s get to the details.
What Models Get What and When?
This is easy. The small MINIs will be getting a refresh as they’ve been on the market longest. While technically the convertible will have only been around for two years by the time the refresh hit next spring, MINI is going to likely roll out the alterations to the F56 hatch, F55 four door and F57 convertible.
We had originally expected the LCI to begin production with November 2017 production. We now believe MINI is aiming for March 2018 production. Whether or not these will officially be billed as 2019 model year MINIs is to be determined.
Revised Engines and More Power
Let’s start out by saying that the MINI brand has never been about power. The performance many of us love about the cars revolve around responsiveness and feel. But the horsepower wars among warm and hot hatches is going strong and MINI can’t turn a blind eye any longer. The Focus RS makes 350 HP / 350 lb/ft while the Golf R gets by with 292 HP / 280 lb/ft. MINI’s most powerful cars (the JCW Clubman and Countryman JCW) produce a more modest 228 HP / 258 lb/ft. In other words they’re quick but not fast. And people are noticing.
MINI is aiming to change that without sacrificing quality and comfort. Basing their engine range on BMW’s module platform was smart. That means updates roughly every 3-4 years with constant improvement in both power and efficiency powered by a company that knows how to build world-class engines.
According to BMW sources, the first update will be both evolutionary and revolutionary depending on the model. For the Cooper, Cooper S and standard JCWs we’ll see an important evolution of the engine range that will include more power and torque (both increasing approximately 4%-5%) along with higher levels of efficiency will be on tap. Also of interest, we’ll also see enhanced acoustic properties (i.e. they’ll sound better), smoother operation and (this is key) a reduction in weight.
What do those percentages mean? Here’s an approximate:
– Cooper: 140+
– Cooper S: 195+
– JCW: 240+
– JCW Plus: 280+ (unconfirmed for Clubman and Countryman and likely not until 2019)
The revolutionary part will come in a special edition of the JCW power plant likely destined for the Clubman and Countryman – not part of this LCI. As you can see in the video above, MINI is testing a tune of the 2.0 four cylinder that puts out substantially more power – likely to all four tires. We believe this highest performing engine will be relegated to the Clubman and Countryman due to the AWD system being able to handle the torque more effectively.
The turbocharging system, consisting of a turbocharger integrated into the exhaust manifold that enables the flow dynamics of the recirculated exhaust gases to be utilised to particularly positive effect, has undergone further development as part of the engine family’s overhaul. The exhaust manifold and turbocharger are now housed together in the cylinder head. The turbocharger casing for the three- cylinder engines is made from either aluminium or steel depending on the output variant, while the four-cylinder units all feature steel casings.
The more advanced cooling system fitted in the new generation of engines likewise serves to optimise the combustion process with the aim of reducing both CO2 output and other pollutant emissions. The new coolant pump now has separate outlets for the flow of coolant to the cylinder head and engine block, which results in far more effective thermal management.
Revised balancer shafts iron out the vibrations that occur when power is transmitted to the crankshaft. Three-cylinder engines feature a new balancer shaft complete with a modified drive mechanism that results in a weight saving, improved excitation and further enhanced acoustic properties.
One of the ways that MINI has optimized 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.
What it all means is more refinement, more power and more efficiency.
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? 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
In other words the 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.
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. Look for the inside of the lights to be darker and reflect some of the Design we saw in the recent JCW GP and MINI Electric concepts. We also expect some tweaks to the rear lights – namely a Union Jack design similar to the above show cars.
What about those front bumpers? Surprisingly none of the LCI prototypes have worn any cladding on the front and rear trim. This would indicate one of two things – MINI is spending its LCI money elsewhere or they’re being way more secret than normal. We’d guess the former but we’d certainly welcome the latter as the Cooper S in particular could use a new front valance.
Wireless CarPlay will extend to the rest of the range with this LCI as will the multi-touch screen. We had expected some improvements to the adaptive cruise but MINI will likely wait for the electric MINI in 2019 for those upgrades.
Should You Buy One?
Perhaps the better question is – should you wait to buy if your about to? Yes and no. If you can wait then do. These changes aren’t revolutionary but they’re a strong evolution to what counts – under the hood and how it drives. One thing we have no info about is the suspension setup. But given MINIs position in the market and Catherine ability to raid the BMW parts bin, we’d be surprised if MINI didn’t make revisions that netted out with more responsiveness and immediacy.
This is the first MINI LCI that will fully benefit from BMW’s engineering prowess thanks to the UKL platform. Because of that, this refresh might be worth waiting for.