As those who listened to yesterday’s MF podcast yesterday found out, BMW doesn’t intent on releasing the 3rd generation MINI until well into 2013. Unlike the R50 and R53, BMW is planning on producing the R56 for a full seven year cycle typical to BMW cars. Given that the R56 was released in late 2006 that would mean a 2013 launch for the next generation MINI, code named the F56.

However what’s perhaps most alarming to MINI enthusiasts is what will come first.

As we’ve reported, BMW plans to co-develop the next generation of the MINI hardtop with a front wheel drive BMW built on the same chassis platform and using the same engines. It’s this BMW, marketed as a 1 Series, that will debut first. Underpinning it will be the next generation MINI’s platform and 1.5L three cylinder engine first.

Because of this BMW is pushing the F56 debut back to fall of 2013 to debut the new 1 Series BMW with the full marketing power of BMW group earlier in the year. Once launched, BMW will focus on MINI and the F56.

So is MINI and the F56 getting the shaft? We’ve talked to the engineers, the designers and the strategists behind the next generation MINI and we get the feeling that that’s not the case at all. In fact, the platform sharing with BMW only means good things for MINI. Better technology, more group support and a healthier financial future for MINI going forward.

However, the more pressing question in the minds of most MINI fans is probably this: is there enough difference between the new BMW 1 Series and the F56? Do the cars share so much that the soul of MINI is lost in the cost savings of sharing platforms with the Bimmer? Is the new MINI just a badge change? No! We’ve spoken with sources inside MINI and BMW who’ve seen both new designs — the MINI and the BMW. They’ve been in the room with both of the prototypes. The takeaway? You’d never guess the same chassis platform was underpinning both cars. The MINI is still a MINI — definitely a descendant of the cars that came before it, but make no mistake, it’s a significant evolution. In fact, our sources are telling us that the F56 will be the most aggressively different new MINI yet. The F56 is one of the last MINIs overseen by former MINI design head Gert Hildebrand, and is set to move the MINI design language dramatically forward both inside and out. “Modern” is what it’s being called by those who’ve seen it, with a more aggressive look and feel promised.

But perhaps more important to MINI fans is how the new car will drive and feel on the road. The steering will be an improved version of the electric system currently on the R56, and will be mated to a similar suspension set-up. However, the power plant is where the most exciting new tech is found. The 1.5l three cylinder will likely be a sequential turbo set-up with 120+ and 180+ hp for both the Cooper and the Cooper S. The Cooper should see above 45 mpg on the highway and the Cooper S around 40 – and that’s US gallons. What’s really interesting about the 1.5L is that it too is built on a modular platform designed to scale as a two, three and four cylinder family. That means that MINI could have an even more power for JCW or Countryman duty in the form of a 2.0L four cylinder powerplant.

After 2013 and the launch of the new platform, things move rapidly. MINI will be quickly introducing the next generation Clubman, Convertible and Countryman with new engines, in that order. By 2017 we expect MINI’s entire line-up to be switched over to new platforms.

So the future may be a few years off but it’s looks more interesting than ever.

Note: First image is a sketch of the Rocketman concept vehicle which has been rumored to point towards the 3rd generation MINI.