If you don’t love it …

… then it’s just a rather expensive, small car!

No doubt, there will be MINI owners – R56 owners especially – that are shocked by this post. You have been warned 😉

Ever since I first saw a MINI back in 2002, and certainly ever since I first drove one, it’s been a love-love relationship with MINIs. Everyone agrees that they are not perfect cars: the rear seats are hardly practical, the ride over rough roads is shocking, and I’m sure that more can be added to that list. But, there’s something about driving them, for me at least, that is simply pure pleasure. The connectedness I think – you feel so in control of the car, the road; you get feedback from steering, from the engine, from the clutch and gears, everything. Which is why I’ve been driving nothing else from mid 2002 till now.

I bought GBMINI#5 to get experience with the new engine and functionality of an R56, so that in a years time I’ll be able to order a new-design convertible knowing exactly what features I do and don’t want. In the meantime, I’d have some fun driving an R56.
Well, the evaluation is over and I know now exactly what new-design convertible I’d order: NONE!

For me, the R56 has lost it’s “MINI genes”; I simply don’t love driving it.
It’s a fine car … but it’s not a MINI. And if I’m going to drive something that’s not a MINI, there’s loads of other choices out there …
But I’m not ready to not drive a MINI; I still love MINIs. I just don’t love R56’s. I don’t feel “connected” to GBMINI#5 like I did with my other MINIs.

One of the worst things about the R56 is the clutch; apparently they removed it 😦
It’s hard to describe exactly what’s wrong, but whether it’s the feel of the clutch pedal, the clutch plate itself, or the lack of engine sound to give feedback – whatever it is, it’s not a thrill to deal with it.
Curiously, when I spoke to someone on Friday about this same issue – and she has recently switched from an R52 to an R56 – one of the first things she said was “I can’t get used to the clutch”. So it’s not just me 😉

The engine sound is a step back for me, too. I’m sure new-to-MINI owners prefer it, but I “grew up” with the supercharger whine and it’s a huge thing to lose.
The steering, also, seems to be a step backwards. The default (non-Sports) mode is very light and easy, but it’s not what I’m used to. And turning on Sports mode doesn’t really improve it much, it simply makes it heavier (presumably it reduces the level of assist, but it can’t change the physical connection between steering wheel and road).

The default gas pedal responsiveness is also odd – although here the Sports mode does significantly improve it. But still, the engine response is too different from the R50/53/52 engine; maybe it doesn’t have turbo lag as they claim, but it still behaves curiously like it needs a bit of time to get going sometimes.
I’ll freely admit that the R56 engine has masses of power once you find it, and it can accelerate quite impressively. But even then, it doesn’t give me the “love” that I want from a MINI.
Power isn’t everything – not to me, at least.

So, something has to be done … sorry, something has been done. At they say, “watch this space”.

I forgot to mention – the stereo in the R56 is appalling too! and since it’s so heavily integrated to the car, you can’t replace it. The previous generation is much more amenable to stereo upgrades.

(and yes, I’m probably mad, so there’s no need to point it out in the comments 😉 )

36 thoughts on “If you don’t love it …

  1. Nice to see you stick to your guns Ian. I was always surprised to see you had bought an R56. It doesn’t seem to suit you from what you seem to like in your cars.

    Surprised to hear so much made of the clutch issue though. While there is a difference, I haven’t really ever given a second thought in any that I’ve driven – especially considering how much of an improvement the transmission feel is.

    Have fun picking out what’s next!

  2. Ian, it must’ve been very disappointing when you realized that the R56 wasn’t going to work out for you. It probably also means that your GBMINI journey may not continue into any future offerings from MINI. Well, you still have time to order a new R52.

  3. Thanks, guys, for the supportive comments 🙂
    I was concerned I’d get negativity – I should have realized what a great place our community is!

  4. And I thought I was crazy… Recently I had my 03 Cooper in the shop at the dealer for DPSM troubles. To my surprise I was given a brand new 07 fully loaded Cooper as my loaner car. I had the car for 13 days I loved the Nav, and some of the “features” but terribly disliked the lack of connection I had with the car.

    I just could not get used to the clutch in that car for the life of me! I am so glad to be back in my Cooper.

    Seemed almost like Ian says the clutch is missing, almost as though you could just shift the gears without even depressing the clutch.

    Glad I’m not the only one who dislikes the new design, I’ll be keeping my 03, and probably buy a used 05-06.

  5. I have been following along with the various reviews and I am starting to get nervous. Did I make a mistake by not ordering an ’06 space blue (my favorite color)?? My plan is to order my R56 in April… I guess I have more test driving to do. Thanks for sharing your impressions!

  6. All of that and you didn’t even get to mentioning all the software annoyances. I certainly understand every bit of complaint, and I still can’t get over the front-end redesign. The question is how much the upgrades and new features balance out all these negative changes (and that answer will be different for everyone).
    On a smaller scale, this is why I rushed to order an 04 when I saw the changes announced for 05s.

  7. Ha, I knew it! Itsa turkey. As I have said here I really appreciate your straight to the belly assessment.

    I told my wife I don’t see Ian owning this car too long. I’m still guessing maybe a Classic Special edition like maybe George, Mr Cooper, has.

    Booyah, Ian.

  8. Ian,
    I agree with you but find for me the GP pkg has ruined me. The R56s I’ve driven have not moved me to get one. I was quite happy driving Jaynes ’04 R53 S when I was MINI-less but after GP I could not tolerate it. Everything seemed wrong with it. I had a similar experience when I got the Euro 850CSi, could hardly tolerate driving my regular 850 let along a US Spec 850CSi.

    Would you compare GBMINI1-3 in similar light?

    I think you’d be pleased with the 1 series.

    Is your GP back from hospital?

  9. A little disappointing to read your comments, but I understand your feelings. There are so many who’ve driven both that prefer the R53, it would be foolish to admit there isn’t a difference. I’ve never driven any MINI except the R56 and it’s everything I was hoping for. I think it’s great that you at least gave it a chance, something others never did.

  10. Wow. That really is a shocker!

    My GP is in the shop and I’ve been driving an R56 Cooper for 2 weeks now.

    I love it for what it is. Very refined, great ergonomics, updated electronics, excellent handling around corners (much better than I expected), and most of all – the clutch!

    The reason I love the clutch is because I do a lot of stop/start driving in congested traffic. The clutch and transmission feel great – not too light and vague like a Toyota Corolla, but with just the right amount of notchiness in the transmission and an easy clutch.

    The other thing I love is the excellent fuel consumption.

    Would I buy one? Personally – no. I have the GP for fun. I bought a Toyota Yaris for daily driving – it gives me most of what I like in the R56 (bar the transmission and handling, but that is hardly required for in-town driving), and is half the price.

    If money was not a consideration, would I buy it then? Still , no, because I could get a used R53 for the same price as a new R56 Cooper.

    Who then would buy the R56 new and love it? Maybe young urbanites looking for a premium hatch. Because face it, the car is expensive when compared against rivals with similar offerings (on paper at least).

    The R56 Cooper S is a different story IMO. This car has a lot to offer. It is very different from the R53, but still addresses a very defined niche. That said, it is not the “new” R53, but a totally different car in all aspects.

    Some folks just won’t like it (Ian being a case in point), while others will make a contented shift from the R53 to the R56. Others, being newly introduced to MINI, will love it like we love our R50/53. IMO MINI brand values, coolness factor, and a unique community can only go from strength to strength.

  11. The R56 will always be the car that some MINI love to hate. All this means is that the value of the R50/52/53’s will remain high for cars of thier age because certain people will value them.
    Personally I love my R56 just as much as my R50 but if someone else doesn’t it’s no skin off my nose.

    Good luck with that ever GBMINI 6 is, I look forward to seeing it.

  12. Ian, I think you have summarized the R56 ownership experience quite well.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said….

    “For me, the R56 has lost it’s “MINI genes”; I simply don’t love driving it.
    It’s a fine car … but it’s not a MINI. And if I’m going to drive something that’s not a MINI, there’s loads of other choices out there …”

    Indeed, the R56 is a BMW chassis with a MINI body bolted on top of it. Hence, this is the paradox with the car… It isn’t quite a Bimmer but it doesn’t feel 100% like a MINI either, so then what is it? A VW GTI wanna be? Another “refined” euro hot hatch?

    I have said this before… The MINI by nature is a car that has had and will always have rough edges and quirky elements that make it stand tall from other offerings. I think BMW made a huge mistake by sanitizing the car a little too much. But it is evident that BMW took the risk in aliniating some of their initial MINI customer base in order to make the new car more patable to the masses, the same masses that bemoaned the apparent “roughness” of the previous car.

    In my view, here is the biggest sin of BMW as of late and not just with MINI product offerings…. They have a damn obsession with putting a new BMW or MINI on every freaking driveway in America! BMWs are focused products in terms of performance, handling and engineering. The minute you start to waterdown the product so it becomes more widely accepted in the market you are simply betraying the core principles that have made your products so appealing and sought after in the first place.

    It is fine and dandy that the controlling Quandt family wants to make BMW as profitable as possible. But they need to go back to focus in building cars that captivate the imagination and the senses of driving enthusiasts and stop designing and building for the lowest common denominator. Let the quest of putting cars on everybody’s driveways to GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford, et al. That should never be BMW core business objective, ever.

    Another excellent quote from your post:

    “I’ll freely admit that the R56 engine has masses of power once you find it, and it can accelerate quite impressively. But even then, it doesn’t give me the “love” that I want from a MINI.
    Power isn’t everything – not to me, at least.”

    Dead right you are, Ian! Power isn’t everything! Speed demons and horsepower freaks should consider other cars before a MINI. If straight line acceleration is your thing, then get a Mustang GT, stuffed with a V8, and you’ll be golden!

    So I gather GBMINI #6 will either be an used R53 hardtop, or a brand new R52 Cooper S Convertible?

    How did you do with the R56 in terms of trade in value? You must have taken a hit to unload this one, didn’t you?

  13. What, not a Cooper?! Gad. You said you missed the supercharger whine so now I’m totally confused as you now state it won’t be an R53 or Cabriolet. It Couldn’t be a Clubman because that’s a bigger pig than the R56.

    Note: you said this “At they say, watch this space” ?

  14. The Clubman is not bigger. Just longer. Height and width between the R56 and the Clubman is the same.

  15. Ian – I’m surprised to see how much of a response this post has generated!!!! People really have strong feelings about the R56!!! I’m glad you were able to get out for an “even trade” on the R56. Now you can cruise around in the summer with the Top down, even if you are not in your wifes car 🙂 Congrats on the new wheels.


  16. Hi. I found this post via NAM. I’m one of those new-to-MINI (still waiting on mine to be delivered) R56 people. I’ve only spent a short time in both the R56 (during a test drive) and R53 (while a friend let me drive theirs). I’m a skinny guy and for some reason, between the width of the center stack and how narrow the seats are, I just couldn’t get comfortable in the R53. I did like the sound of the supercharger however. 🙂

    I see where you are coming from with growing up in the R53. I have owned 2 Toyota trucks (an ’84 and an ’03). All the way from ’84 to ’03, they kept the interior really simple – no frills. Then in ’05, they changed the truck (including interior) entirely and made it much more modern. I don’t like it at all – not one bit!

    I guess it all comes down to what you are used to. Good luck with your next MINI. Hopefully you’ll be able to keep your R53s in good shape so you can keep driving them for a while after they’ve stopped making them.

  17. Oh my Gawd! Ian saying: “It’s a fine car … but it’s not a MINI.” Comparing 2nd generation MINI to 1st generation MINI leads my memory back to the year 2000 when Longbridge Mini guys like me (yes, I admit it.) were saying that comparing the MINI to the Mini. But, I do see where you are coming from Ian. And someday, I DO see you owning a classic Mini like George’s – if I can fit in one and drive it to Stowe, you can too. (hint to the XL sizes in shirts)

    We just traded in our 2006 MCS with the CVT on a 2005 PT Cruiser Turbo convertible. That makes three PT’s in the family now, and three classic Minis also. My thought is to wait until the 2009 comvertible comes out and get one of those. After reading your “review” of the R56, I would say that a long test drive would be in order on the 2009 MINI convertible before purchase.

    I’d love MINI to offer the option of getting a Cooper S with a regular Cooper bonnet. I hate the fake scoop. Also, I don’t like the R56 Meat Platter speedo and the impossible to replace radio system. A simpler, more BMWish dash arrangement would be nicer. The original Mini was popular just because it lacked advanced interior engineering. It was actually more comfortable to drive the British Open Classic Mini to Stowe for five hours than sit in the stock seats of the 2007 MC-CVT for the same period. I suppose that the upgraded sport leather seats would be better. Here’s hoping that the buyer feedback will help MINI become a simpler, better car, with “Mini” characteristics in handling and thriftyness. A wolf in sheeps clothing, and with a hood scoop that actually works again. Cheers mates! See y’all at the MOP Clubman unveiling!

    Dave Newman
    PS: Readers – Come to Mini Meet East 2008, see http://www.nemomini.org Our New England Mini Owners club is sponsoring it this year in Bethel, Maine. Thanks for featuring it on the MOT site, Ian. DAve

  18. Dave, your 2006 R53 Cooper S did not have a CVT transmission. The CVT was exclusive to the Cooper. Instead, your car had a Japanese made AISIN 6-speed automatic slushbox, which is currently used in both versions (MC and MCS) of the R56. The old CVT was made in Belgium by transmission manufacturer ZF and it was a totally different beast from the autobox found in the R52 and R53 Cooper S.

  19. my bad typing, sorry
    What I traded was a 2006 MC with CVT, not a MCS. I look forward to driving the new 2009 Convertible MC and MCS version when it arrives. Gotta give Hrach another customer to satisfy…
    Dave Newman

  20. Well, I’m late to the party (been at a conference) but I have to say I’m not surprised…
    Thank you Ian for saving me some money..! 😉 I’d pretty much convinced myself that I wouldn’t trade my ’02 MCS for an ’08 but having never driven one, I thought maybe the driving experience would help me get past all the things I don’t like about the new car. Having read all your experiences, I think I’d come to the same conclusion as you.
    It’s a shame because (having been a classic Mini owner) I knew I wanted one of the modern MINIs as soon as I saw one – especially after seeing what might have been with some of the prototypes..! I test drove one in England before they were available over here and had to work to give the dealer my deposit for the Cooper. Nothing about the facelifted car or the gen 2 car has made me do the same. For me, there’s nothing out there at the moment that really captures my attention like the R52/53 MINI did. If my car was written off tomorrow I don’t know what I’d replace it with. If money were no object (i.e. if I were Ian..! 😉 ) there’s plenty I’d look at, but if I had to be able to afford it for around what I’d pay for a MINI with my current car’s spec today, I really don’t know where I’d end up…

  21. I was talking about alternatives tonight at HC MINI when I picked up the convertible … realistically there’s not much for me at any price.
    Margarets BMW doesn’t “thrill me” like MINI does; maybe the Z4 is better?
    I guess Porsche likely might offer the driving experience, but most of them don’t appeal to me looks wise.
    And almost all the “power cars” are rear wheel drive and huge tires, which might make them undriveable in the winter.

    I’m pleased to have found a near perfect low mileage R52 🙂

  22. Thanks for your insights into the inner working of the R56.

    I had test driven one not long after they arrived and I felt the same loss in the steering and throttle. The sport switch did help the throttle but not the steering. Unfortunately the one I tested did not have the Sport suspension, as it was not available at the time.

    The ride did not please me at all. Vague, disconnected, spongy were the words that came to mind.

    Just glad that I bought a 2006. Hopefully it will last for a long time, or until they fix the MINI and give it back it’s MINIness.

  23. Wow! I missed this news!

    I had an ’07 MCS as a loaner for a few days and, while it was a nice enough car, it gave me none of the joy that my ’06 MCS does on even a wet, nasty day. Compared to the R53, the new model was spongy and sloppy.

    I’ll be the first to admit that it probably wasn’t a fair comparison… my modded MCS with sticky, low-profile tires and a well set-up suspension against a stock ’07 MCS with runflats, but it just didn’t give me that connected confidence that I’ve come to expect.

    If something happened to my R53 today, I’d be sprinting to the MINI dealership to order a Cabrio before they switch over.

  24. Only just caught up with this thread and posts as I tend to hang around on Ian’s GP site. I’d have to agree with the comments by many, and not just about R56 but BMW in general, a lot of the cars have become dumbed down and volumised recently. The R56 lost its “go kart” ride and punchy feel. 3 er and 5 er models got fat and comfy, discounts and hard selling meant that everyone had one on their drive. Hopefully with a new sales head on the board and the 135 showing the way, the other models in the stable will follow suit and get back to what BMW and MINI should be about.

  25. hi folks, all this negativity over the new r56. well having now completed 40k in one i have to disagree. it has its faults, but what hasn’t. new gearbox and steering column early on, various sensors replaced air con pump and the list carries on… but im sorry the car is better than my 55 plate. it just works so much better. the clutch’s only last 20k and cost £850 to replace, the stereo is poo but im sorry the car is built better rattles less and doesnt break my back with over hard suspension. the engine does use too much oil, a litre over 1500 miles is not favourite part of the car! stero’s speakers need an update, just like most cars! but the go kart handling is still there, ask the mini that i left behind yesterday and when we got to the bends he was miles behind as he kept bouncing over the lovely “smooth” uk roads. he has now been for a test drive and is saving up! i know as he was at the dealer when i called there in the afternoon!!

  26. Ian, I just read your story and I have to say that I join you in the deception of the R56. I have been driving a Mini Cooper 2005 and I was amazed by everything soon I started to drive it. After been hit and got my Mini total by the insurance even if it was fixable 😦 .I was not sure what to choose between the R56 or an Audi A3. I choose the R56 as I was really missing my MiniToy. I was heart broken. However after a week driving the R56, I am realizing like you describe it so well, R56 in not a Mini anymore but a BMW. I don’t like the breaking response where the electronic take the control over the driver, I hate the run-flat tires that give a poor performance at 10deg Celsius, I don’t want to imaging the result with temperatures below 0deg celcius like we have in Canada. The worst remain the quality of the Sound System which can’t even be replaced. Finally the level of quality really went down all over. It is really sad to see that the big guys (BMW) are not able to keep Mini a car with passion but transform it as a marketing product now at the same level than every other cars.
    The reliability of my new MiniToy will be what will decide me to keep driving it or finally move to Audi A3. It looks like Audi is the preferred brand for a lot of Mini Fans filled of deception with BMW.

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