The end of GBMINI

It’s been more than fifteen years since I purchased my first (BMW designed) MINI; my original reasons were because of the beautiful design of the R50 with it’s many nods to the class Mini (which I’d owned for a while in the 1980s), along with handling and steering response providing for an incredible fun driving experience!

Over the years I’ve owned 8 different MINIs – I’ve upgraded to gain better performance, better interior technology, or better comfort …


What’s clear though is that those last two cars are not really from the same family as the earlier ones! For sure GPMINI was the most amazing fun of all those cars; it’s handling and performance beat all other MINIs, the Thunder Blue looks incredible, but it was noisy and a harsh ride for sure! Since then, MINI has tried to appeal to more people; my Clubman is by far the most comfortable of all – but it’s also $40,000 compared with the about $25,000 of my early MINIs (even GPMINI was only about $31,000).

In the past too, MINIs kept their value well; I think I’d lose about a third of their value after a few years ownership, meaning that driving a MINI cost me perhaps $3,000-$5,000 per year. But I’ve found recently that my two year old under 10K miles Clubman has lost more than half it’s value, meaning it’s cost me more than $10,000 per year! OK, I chose a very well equipped vehicle so the price started high, but to crash so far / so fast is just horrible!

So for that reason, my Clubman is my last MINI. At the price of a well equipped MINI, there’s many other choices – and when I factor the poor resale value of these cars, it makes choosing something else even more sensible.

The other thing that makes owning a MINI a fun experience is the community; here too that experience has reduced over the years – in central Florida there’s very few events other than the annual Mickey & MINI but my MINI owning friends are still friends even if I don’t own a MINI. I don’t think they’ll mind too much about my next choice (well, one of them might but that’s ok) …



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 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 😉 )

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.