I was wondering today what the Audi Q5 average MPG is – recently it’s on-board computer has been showing figures as high as 27mpg for my easy drive home from work (a bit lower to work in the morning, when the engine is cold).

So … on 2,305 miles at 111 gallons, the Q5 averages 20.8mpg. Not great, but comfortable!

And seeing I have spreadsheets for my MINIs too (except GBMINI#1), let’s compare:
GBMINI#2: 28,676 miles, 1058 gallons -> 27.1mpg
GBMINI#3: 23,803 miles, 902 gallons -> 26.4mpg (not so much of a hit, really, for an automatic!)
GBMINI#4: 28,599 miles, 1049 gallons -> 27.3mpg (I always claimed GPMINI was more economical, there’s the proof!)
GBMINI#5: 716 miles, 25.2 gallons -> 28.4mpg (Of course an average on so few miles isn’t very indicative, but 4% better than my GP isn’t close to the claimed improvements of the “Prince” engine, and no way justifies the downsides!)
GBMINI#6: 6,747 miles, 256 gallons -> 26.3mpg (not much of a hit for the convertible, either)

I know other MINI owners get much worse mpg (and doubtless some get better) – but these figures are pretty comparable since it’s the same driver doing largely the same driving on the same routes!

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 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 😉 )

Too cold for an R56?

It was 10f when I left for work this morning – and that’s basically where it stayed!
I took GBMINI to Sublime Restorations so I’m driving GBMINI#5 tonight … and when I started the car, she started fine but the clock was gone, and there was no trip information. Curiously the date was correct, while the time had vanished.
Anyway, note the exclamation mark above (the triangle to the left of 000.0 – not very visible in picture, sorry) … calling up “CHECK INFO” gave a display on the NAV screen:

And pressing the joystick (which I didn’t do but apparently GBMINI#5 got fed up while I was taking pictures, and “pressed” it for me) gives a description which very (un)helpfully says “turn off unnecessary electrical consumers … in case of repeat occurrence, have the system checked by your MINI dealer”:

Meanwhile, GPMINI – with it’s smaller than normal weight-saving battery – had no trouble with battery power, during the same cold, also un-driven due to our Florida trip. I hope this issue doesn’t recur …

Something else now … yesterday the R56 stalled three times when initially moving it; I assumed it was because the brakes & tires were frozen from sitting in the cold / wet for a week.
But this morning, it again stalled twice when I tried to go; I had to give it LOADS of revs to have enough power to move without stalling – and this was on a flat driveway with no overnight icing!
Apparently GBMINI#5 has no power when it’s cold; for the first few minutes you could feel that it wasn’t happy to run, sluggish and under-powered.

R56 storage

We all know our MINIs are small, so it’s hard to find places to store things … given that, you wonder why the R56 designers decided to make it HARDER! Maybe they’re hoping to trigger sales of the forthcoming Clubman 😉
So while the cupholders grew in size, the door pockets shrunk dramatically – and are harder to access due to the tiny gap between door panel and armrest/handle; more frustrating is the shrunken glove box – it’s apparently been designed to hold the MINI manuals, and nothing else!


I tried a couple of aftermarket glove box organizer “solutions” – many thanks Peter at MinSpeed – but really there’s no great solution, the R56 glove box simply isn’t suited as well as our favorite R50/53 GBO. Anyway, this is how GBMINI#5’s glovebox looks at present:

This shelf is sturdy and looks practical, but there’s no way to attach it to the glove box – it sits loose, resting on the MINI manuals. Maybe it’s because GBMINI#5 has so many manuals (with navigation, iPod, etc) … or maybe the designers simply forgot that people have stuff, even when they drive a MINI 🙂

R56 NAV/stereo: Sirius satellite radio

To round out my opinions on the stereo system of the R56 with navigation, here’s a quick look at Sirius satellite radio. The factory system is very expensive, especially compared with a sub-$100 standalone receiver that you could connect to the AUX input … but with the factory system it’s fully integrated to the car, there’s no additional antenna on the roof, and you get your first year of service included.

When you access satellite radio, the NAV screen shows a list of all channels – every one has a check mark next to it, assuming you’ve activated the receiver. Seems a bit odd to show that; why not simply omit channels that aren’t available! But anyway, you get a list of channels and you can rotate the joystick to listen to any one – with less than 200 channels, it’s much easier than the iPod! You can call up a “Details” display for the channel you’re listening to, which shows the artist/title info – but nothing else!

I’m sure this would look fine on the non-NAV R56, but it looks a bit empty here. It would have been better to integrate with the channel list, like the iPod interface does.

You can set up a list of 12 presets for your favourite Sirius channels, you can also access the list by Genre if you wish – but personally I find the 12 presets sufficient to cover all I need, making it extremely easy to access the music I want to listen to.

One interesting feature is that the satellite radio seems to be “instant on”; when the car turns on the music is immediately playing – there’s no delay for a couple of seconds while the receiver powers up and syncs to the channel. I’m guessing that the receiver powers up when the car is unlocked, giving it a headstart, but however it’s done, it’s a noticeable improvement over non-factory solutions (and yes, 2 or 3 seconds isn’t much of a delay, but it’s better if the delay is zero!)

R56 NAV/stereo: iPod

GBMINI#5 came with the iPod interface installed – good news because I’m not sure I’d have liked to pay $500+ for it!
In GBMINI#5, the iPod cable is installed into the “secret” storage space above the glovebox – you push the dash trim piece (firmly, in the center!) to open it, and inside is an iPod connection cable; like most iPod interfaces, the iPod goes “dead” when connected, just displaying a graphic and “OK to disconnect” screen (the storage area is rubber lined, and the cable helps to hold the iPod, so it doesn’t rattle around – good):

When you’re planning music, the NAV screen has a quite nice display showing the current track, along with “before & after”; there’s a submenu option to toggle “Details” on and off, which gives you the artist as well as the song title, for the current track, but that’s pretty well where the nice iPod interface ends! For example, here’s what you might think is a nice menu of artists on the iPod:

What’s so bad about that?
Well: notice first that we have “CD2” selected, and above we had “CD1” selected. The iPod interface is implemented by mimicking a CD changer; CD1 gives a menu of music in Playlist order, CD2 is Artists, CD3 is Albums, CD4 is Genres, CD5 is Podcasts and CD6 is All Songs.
So to get to the Artists list, I had to switch from CD1 to CD2; to do this you simply push the joystick up, a couple of times, then rotate, then click. But then comes the really “exciting” part … I had to wait EIGHTY SECONDS for the Artists menu to appear!

When it’s finally ready, it automatically starts to play the first song by the first artist – of course that’s probably not what you want, so simply push up, click, rotate left, and click. Now finally you have a list of Artists, with the first alphabetic artist shown.

OK, so we want to listen to a different artist. How about Supertramp?
There’s no way to quickly jump to a specific letter of the alphabet, or even to move by more than one menu entry – the only choice is to rotate the joystick to go down through the Artists; this of course takes FOREVER (worse still because the display update is slower than the rotation speed!)
Luckily, it doesn’t take quite as long as you’d expect – cleverly, the iPod interface is limited to 255 menu entries! So we actually can’t get to Supertramp anyway; in fact the screen above with Lucero as the last item, is the end of the menus.
Alright then, how do we get to Supertramp?
Well, I could build lots of Playlists to set up different ways to access my music – maybe a Playlist for “A”, “B”, etc … but I saw someone post online that method doesn’t work because the menu gets overloaded and still runs out!
Plus, the menu is only one level deep – for example, here I accessed via CD4 / Genres and called up “Electronica”:

As you can see, what appears is just a list of songs. There’s no sub-menu of Artists or Albums first … it looks like the song list here is in Artist order (it’s displaying tracks by AudioBody), so I guess with enough knowledge of what’s in your iPod you might be able to scroll down the list to get to the song you want. Although I suspect the list of songs might still stop at 255 entries!
In the end, I’ve decided to use Random play which hopefully will give me a random choice from all the songs in the iPod:

Of course you have to be careful what you have selected – counter-intuitively, “Random All” apparently randomly selects from a subset of all music in the iPod, depending what you have selected; it acts more like you’d expect “Random Directory” to work …

Infuriatingly though, when it’s playing in Random mode, the skip previous/next buttons don’t skip to a different random track!
Suppose you have Random play active and it selects an Artist you don’t fancy listening to today. In GPMINI with the Alpine HU I click -> (next track) and get some new random song. But in GBMINI#5, if I click -> I get the next song from the same Artist/Album; exactly what I don’t want!
The only choice is to click the joystick to turn off Random play, then click again and turn it on again.
I really wish the iPod interface was better. It should be much faster (my Alpine/iPod interface is instantaneous when I select by Artist/Album/etc), and there should be no problem with having music collections of more than 255 Artists/Albums.
As it is, I don’t expect MINI to do anything different, and it will be hard for an aftermarket company to develop something – the MINI is becoming more and more proprietary and difficult to change.
I wonder if the non-NAV iPod interface is any better. Maybe it’s slow on the NAV because it has to display more on the bigger screen? I hope one day to try my iPod in a non-NAV R56.
As it stands, I probably would still have to spec this iPod interface in a future R56, since the only other choice is connecting via the AUX plug and using the iPod controls (and honestly, trying to wave your finger around the iPod controls while driving is much worse than using the R56 NAV joystick!)

But much better is out there; why can’t we have it?
(anyone seen that Ford / Microsoft car advert where the driver presses a button an SPEAKS the Artist name to get it to play? sounds wonderful!)
Oh, nearly forgot – one more ludicrous limitation of the R56 iPod interface!
It doesn’t remember where you are in the current playing track, when you turn the car off – well, if you switch off for a short time it does remember, but after a few minutes it will revert back to the beginning of the track when you come back to the car! That’s really annoying when you’re listening to a long track, and never get to the end of it.

R56 navigation

Another large collection of pictures, detailing how the navigation system works in GBMINI#5. Note that you can also talk to the car (!) which might arguably be an easier way to drive the complex navigation system – but for now, let’s push, turn and click the joystick 🙂

When you’re not being guided somewhere, the navigation display will show a map around your current location; the bottom of the screen shows what audio is playing (here, Sirius satellite radion channel 22 “1st Wave”, as well as the time. I think “TI” means that traffic information is available). Top left is highlighted white, indicating it’s the selected control for the joystick. You can rotate the joystick left/right to decrease/increase the map scale (currently “1/4 mls” whatever that means), and you can click the joystick to go back to the navigation menus (as indicated by the left pointing arrow).

So let’s choose a New destination; The display shows recent destinations, which we could select by rotating then clicking the joystick – but we’ll just click now to enter a New destination (which we could select from our address book, or specify step-by-step). An address is specified by State and Town and optionally also by Street and perhaps House number or Intersection.

The last destination is shown – so here, we push down on the joystick to select the last address, then select and click on State to enter a new State; we rotate to the State we want, then click to select it. Next, we move to Town, and click to enter a new Town. We’re given an A…Z list which we can rotate through and click the joystick to choose a letter; as we do this, the list of Towns reduces to match the partial entry we’ve made; once we’ve entered a few letters, we can select the Town by pushing down in to the list and rotating to the Town we want, then clicking to select:

And now, we might want to enter a Street – if so, we proceed in the same way by selecting letters from the A…Z list, homing in on the address we want, but instead, we’ll just choose Start Guidance which will now navigate us to the center of Peabody, MA … it took GBMINI#5 9s to do the calculation, and then the display shows us the map once again, but with the right half showing diagrammed route directions (we also have audio prompts):

This display shows that we need to turn left on to Gee Avenue, then bear left; at the bottom of the display we see our ETA and distance to destination. Again, the top left is selected (highlighted white) so we can spin the joystick to zoom in/out.
We can also push the joystick right, to switch over to the symbolic menu top right of the screen; we can silence audio directions, call up traffic information, and change the map style – the “back of car” symbol is supposed to represent a “perspective” map view – believe it or not, these maps are “perspective” but they’re nothing like as clear/useful as the TomTom maps I used in California last month!
You can click the “back of car” to change the map view; here now we have “north up” which shows a flat map with North at the top (note how the symbolic menu has changed):

Other ways to get guidance include a Route list; I quite like the “Arrow” view mode, which hides the map and simply gives information on the next turn – but this is because I find the “perspective” view so much less useful than what I’m used to on TomTom … Anyway, the Arrow view has a neat “countdown” bar which shows the distance to the next turn as you approach it, shrinking down to zero as you reach the turn:


Other navigation features include planning the route in a different way – for example avoiding toll roads. The “Dynamic route” choice means that the route will be automatically altered if necessary, in response to traffic information. Otherwise, the navigation is supposed to prompt you at the last exit before the traffic problem (I don’t have much traffic driving home to work, to test this feature!)

We can also manually call up a traffic information list, and read details about it – but this is a rather long-winded / un-intuitive user interface!


Finally, there’s this rather curious display that shows latitude / longitude and altitude; the only way I’ve got this to appear is to start and then cancel guidance, so the right half display changes from showing the next turn to showing this information (and if I go away from this display and then return to it, the information is gone and the map once more fills the whole window!):

In my opinion, the navigation system – like the audio controls – would benefit from a different user interface. The whole business of pushing the joystick left/right/up/down, rotating it, and clicking it, makes for an over-complex interface. Worse, many times you might expect to use the joystick to do something, you can’t – for example when looking at traffic information, you might expect to be able to step from one traffic issue to the next by pushing the joystick, but no (instead you have to push up, click, rotate to the next, click again!)

On the other hand, having navigation fully integrated to the car should give a better product – for example it should be possible for the car to successfully navigate through the “Big Dig” tunnels in Boston (but I haven’t tried it yet). And the traffic information should be helpful on busy routes (with no need for wires, like with TomTom).
Another interesting feature is that it can start giving you route guidance before it’s finished calculating the route – I asked it to plan the route from home to Monterey, CA and it started giving directions long before it was able to give me a route list. But then, it took 40s before it could offer it’s initial directions, so I guess that feature is necessary (or I’d have perhaps been waiting minutes!)

I’ve hardly used the R56 navigation system at all, but so far my opinion would be to not order it in another MINI, but stay with TomTom – much less expensive, and more user-friendly! But I plan to continue comparing these two systems, in the months ahead …