This time they focus not on performance but on the character of the car and how it relates to what came before it. In fact this review will sound familiar to anyone who read my recent piece on Dissecting the R56’s Character Flaws. Autoweek writer Kevin Wilson loves the way the car performs but laments the loss of some of the engine’s character and the potentially confusing interior interfaces.
>The new 1.6-liter engine with BMW’s VANOS variable valve timing and a turbo replaces the original supercharged engine, and with a 7-hp gain, it comes across as a more refined and flexible powerplant. The whine that sometimes came from the belt-driven supercharger is gone, and though BMW is to be commended for the sporty exhaust tuning, the note is less sharp, an inevitable result of putting a turbo into the system. From a pure power-delivery standpoint, it’s better. From a character point of view, it feels more like a small front-drive BMW than an entity unto itself.
>Such judgments are subjective, of course. We wrote of the first Mini that it was more a fun car than a fast one, but this one comes across as a car that’s serious about being fast. That’s not a problem for many enthusiasts and surely a necessity for a driver’s car in a market that also includes VW’s GTI and the like.
And anyone who’s spend only a few minutes in the new MINI will be nodding their heads to this paragraph:
>Similarly, for no evident reason other than pure appearance, the audio system controls are oddly arrayed; such simple matters as changing radio bands or selecting a station are needlessly complex. Worse, the volume-control knob is an island entire unto itself, planted below the speedo in what is otherwise a no man’s land between the audio and climate controls. There’s enough vacant space around it that designers clearly could have distributed things differently. Even after you’ve figured it out, you find yourself changing stations instead of adjusting volume, because that knob-by the radio face in the speedometer-looks so much more appropriately located. Such things should be intuitive, and they aren’t. They call attention to themselves as neat tricks rather than serving the driver. It is software engineering run amok, saying to the driver, “Look what I can do!” instead of asking, “What do you want?”
Of course it’s worth mentioning that the excellent optional navigation system rectifies almost all of these issues.
As I pointed out (and Mr. Wilson seems to agree), the small annoyances won’t and shouldn’t dissuade people from buying the new car. Taken as a whole, the R56 is a leap in many ways over what preceded it. However it doesn’t change the fact that (like the previous generation) there are tweaks left to be done throughout the model cycle.