Last week I had the chance to spend some time with a Mellow Yellow loaner 2007 MCS due to my R53 being in the shop. While my experience generally backed-up my previous positive reviews of the car, there are certainly some things that continue to find fault with. Not that the R53 doesn’t have similar issues (and disappointments). But the worrying thing is that many of the small deficiencies in the R56 weren’t there in the R50 or R53. It seems as if MINI has rectified some, and created others.

I do want to be clear before going much further however. None of these issues would keep me from buying the new MINI. In fact I can verify they haven’t has my order went in a couple weeks ago. However spending a bit more time in the car gave me a chance to wrap my head around some of the changes that have subtly altered the character of the car.

Engine and exhaust note: This is less of an issue with the R56 as the R53 was simply brilliant in this area. The previous MCS oozed character with the supercharger whine and exhaust pop of the ’05 and ’06 MCS models. The R56, while it sounds great being pushed, has a totally different character. Sure it’s faster in every conceivable way. But it lacks the feeling of speed that the R53 had.

For instance the sound at idle – while a normal characteristic of a direct injection car – certainly isn’t what one would call interesting. And just tooling around town, the R56 sounds a little pedestrian. It’s only when you go full bore that the new drive-train really comes into it’s own in terms of visceral sound quality. Contrast that to the R53 where any spot on the tach gave you an impression of speed. It may not have been the most livable or comfortable characteristic in the long-run, but it was fun nonetheless. There are many reasons the new MCS Turbo is a better engine, but that doesn’t mean the old supercharged mill won’t be missed from time to time.

Interior Plastics: Yes there are some welcome improvements in the cabin of the R56. But in too many places it feels like MINI has either regressed or not upped the ante over the previous car. From the center console to the center stack, the plastic is either too thin or textured poorly. The turn signals, the vents and the glove box all share similar issues. Overall I’d say the R50/R53 had more glaring quality problem but you’d expect more from BMW in their second try with the MINI.

Climate Control: This has been talked to death (and I’ve certainly complained about it in the past myself) but it’s worth mentioning here as well. The climate control interface, while visually interesting, magnifies the surrounding plastic and its inherent cheapness. But what makes this worse is the fact that the climate control buttons themselves could have been executed better. This is especially the case with the manual controls and the two dials that control temp and fan.

Radio Interface: Here we see a classic case of form over function. MINI designers didn’t have a lot of space to work with when the decision was made to move the sound system interface to the speedometer on non-Nav cars. And to some degree, the problem I have with the design rests solely on that integration. However the interface itself (the buttons and where they are placed versus what they control) is also a slight disappointment. There are many reasons I could go on about as to why the gigantic knob in the center of the interface was a terrible decision. But I’ll simply say this: it’s confusing at best.

As we’ve said in the past, there’s little question the R56 is a better car in most ways. And yes we at MF believe that the vast number of improvements that have been made both in the drive-train and the design make this a compelling upgrade for any MINI owner. Should issues like those mentioned above give anyone pause who’s considering an R56? My answer would be a resounding no. But that answer is pretty much left up to you how you value these small details and how much you cherish the specific charisma of the R53 (and yes R50 as well).

It’s important to not lose site of the areas that MINI needs to make improvements. Like the previous generation, there is still tweaking to be done and details to be addressed. And while nothing listed above should truly be a deal-breaker, it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement to an already great car.