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 πŸ™‚

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).Β 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).Β 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 – theΒ “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;Β 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 …

After the storm

I drove home in GBMINI#5 last night … on route 22 in Essex grip was very poor, due to ice under the snow; but back in Gloucester I had no problems driving up quite steep slopes to get home, including passing a stranded pick-up truck. Apparently GBMINI#5s all-season tires are good enough πŸ™‚
Meanwhile, GPMINI stayed at work, part buried in the snow!

And spare a thought for Josh who left the office about 3pm yesterday – and didn’t get home till 10pm! A 1 hour drive turned in to 6 hours (plus stops!) …

R56 NAV/stereo: CDs

For my next “MINI review” of the R56, I wanted to play some CDs and see how they were handled – I was particularly keen to see how the NAV display dealt with a CDR of MP3 tracks in different directories. So I burned a CDR with a selection of MP3 tracks, and took it out to play … but this is what I saw – strange. So then I tried an audio format CDR that had been handed out at a recent MINI drive – but it wouldn’t play that CD either!

Finally, I tried a regular purchased audio CD – and finally I got music out of it. But the display is rather sparse when playing a CD:

The line represents the music on the CD; you can step along the line from track to track using the MFSW buttons, or by turning the joystick. Below the line, the time in the current track is shown. I wonder if the play arrow moves smoothly along the line as the track plays, or just jumps track-by-track? Didn’t think to watch for that when testing, earlier.

You can press the joystick and call up a small menu for options like repeat and random; you can also access “Tone” from here, where you can adjust treble/bass/balance/fader – actually you can get to “Tone” from anywhere by pressing the joystick to call up the menu while listening to something, but there’s no easy way back! It’s not like you selected a sub-menu, instead “Tone” is just a shortcut jump to the Settings/Audio menu.

Curiously, the music I played sounded noticeably better (clearer, more low end) than the same music on my iPod – and there it’s encoded with 256K AAC, which in GPMINI is indistinguishable from the original CD … now I wonder if some of the poor R56 sound quality is due to the iPod interface rather than the car itself!
This morning, GBMINI#5 successfully read and played the same CDR that I’d tried yesterday – possibly it has trouble reading CDRs when it’s cold? But anyway, the CD/MP3 interface is actually pretty good: you can access a list of directories, and sub-directories within that, down to the songs you want to play. Here’s some screenshots indicating the process:


One thing I’ve found particularly odd is that the CD player and the CD changer are treated as one CD-playing device – you can see here that “CD” (the single drive in the center console) and “CD1″/”CD2″/etc are all listed together; the effect is when you use the source button (button immediately left of volume knob in this picture) to step from one input to another, you get: FM(or AM), Sirius (if installed), CD(or CD changer), AUX (whether anything is connected to it or not).
You might expect that “iPod” would be one of the source choices – but since it is (poorly) implemented as a CD changer, it gets grouped with the CD; so what is selected is either the CD or an iPod track depending what you last selected.

I’d prefer to see FM/Sirius/CD/iPod choices – and I’d like the ability to turn off the AUX input if I don’t want to use it. Maybe it’s fine for everyone else, though.

Warning, Will Robinson

(and yes, I know it’s really “Danger”, but this isn’t very dangerous … and if you’re too young to know what I’m referring to, here’s a timely reminder)

This morning, GBMINI#5 reported it’s first warning – it gets quite excited with an audible signal, a graphic on the upper tach display and a text description on the NAV display! These messages clear after a while, but a “warning triangle” remains visible in the lower tach display:

It’s curious how I’ve used up all the washer fluid in just a week – either the R56 tank is incredibly small, or maybe MINI of Peabody didn’t check all fluids before delivering the car!

Key differences #3 (R56 remembers, or forgets?)

If you order “comfort access” for an R56, you get two keys which can be used to open doors and start the engine without needing to press any key button, or insert it into any slot – very nice. A user-replaceable battery inside the key provides power for it to transmit and be detected by the car.

Without “comfort access” you get a key which must be inserted into a slot before you can start the engine – and the key is also recharged while in that slot, eliminating the need for a battery (and sealing the key since the owner doesn’t need to open it). OK so far, just like the 2005/6 MINI keys which also have no battery (and unlike the original 2002/3/4 keys, which do have a battery inside).

Little problem – how do you keep the key charged … answer: you have to use the key!
I have a habit of swapping between GPMINIs two keys about once a month, that way the spare key will always be charged in case it’s needed.

So today I swapped R56 keys – I sort of expected the result that I got, but even so … the R56 has this “clever” feature where the car’s settings/presets/etc are associated with the key being used. So guess what happens when I use the other key:

Yes – no settings or presets!
First clue was that the car only unlocked my door, not the passengers side. Then, as you see in the picture above, the radio presets are all gone. Similarly, no satellite radio presets, and no doubt the tone/fader settings were at default, etc, etc.
I suppose I could have spent time re-configuring everything, storing presets, etc – but even then, any changes I make to one key won’t be reflected when I swap keys.

Presumably this “associated memory” feature is useful if two drivers use the car regularly; each person has their own settings. But when only one person drives the car, it’s just an annoyance! There should be a way to disable the feature, if you don’t want it.
As it is, my spare R56 key will not get regularly charged … hope I never need it!

R56 NAV/stereo: FM radio

To summarize, the stereo system on the NAV equipped R56 is a big let-down! Most important is the poor sound quality – it’s been a long while since I’ve heard a stock R50/53 MINI stereo, and of course comparing most systems to GPMINI is unfair, but I’m really underwhelmed by the R56 sound.
There’s close to no bass; if you turn the bass level up it doesn’t have a lot of effect (except distortion if you turn it up too much) – worse still, there’s just not much clarity to the sound. Coincidentally, I just came across this post on NorthAmericanMotoring which discusses replacing the speakers, which says “ALL are 4 ohm speakers and are as cheap as can be. NO tweeters anywhere. All drivers appear to be treated paper and sound like they have screw drivers stuck in them”; I’m not going to disagree with that πŸ™‚

Having the NAV system moves the radio displays on to “the big screen”, which offers some small benefits – to begin with, here is FM radio in “manual” mode with the curved line representing the FM spectrum from 88MHz to 108MHz; you tune up and down by rotating the joystick (you can also use the MFSW buttons, or two tiny hard-to-reach buttons to the right of the volume knob on the center console – see this pic).
More practically, you can select “all channels” mode – now the line straightens out, and shows only received stations:

The line will “scroll” left and right as you rotate the joystick, so that all received stations can be accessed.
In the pictures above, “RDS” (radio data system) is turned off, and the stations are listed by frequency – but you can click on the joystick to call up a menu, and enable RDS, after which the stations are identified by their RDS station name – but now, the stations are listed in alphabetical station name instead of frequency, which I found a little confusing – especially since some stations don’t appear to broadcast sensible station names; I’ve seen some stations “cheat” their RDS by broadcasting the artist or track name as a station name – this “magically” makes an RDS radio display artist/track information, but I think it messes up this MINI concept of displaying stations by name:


Finally, you can store stations to a preset list, and then access your FM radio by “presets”; once again they display frequency if RDS is disabled, or station name if RDS is enabled (but thankfully they remain in preset order!):

Here you start to see how the NAV display screen is somewhat wasted – lots of screen space showing a list of stations, and just the little space bottom left where the current station information is displayed … on the other hand, there’s not much information to display for an FM station, although the RIVER was trying to wish someone a happy birthday!

More downsides of the NAV / joystick combo include having very few dedicated buttons – as you can see here, there’s an FM/AM button (who uses AM these days?), a button to select the source (radio/CD/AUX), and left/right buttons (which can tune, step through CD tracks, etc). The steering wheel MFSW left/right buttons have the same function, and are easier to reach!
There are no preset select buttons – if you want to choose a preset station, you first have to be in “preset” tuning mode, then you can press left/right to step from one preset to the next; not as easy as just pressing the “5” button (or whatever one you want).

I’ll have to check out the R56 non-NAV radio, but I suspect it’s more practical than this NAV version, just because it will have dedicated buttons for many of it’s functions.

Key differences #2 (pros and cons of an R56)

After a week driving R56 GBMINI#5, here are some thoughts, and comparisons with GPMINI.
A few important points first: my list tends to focus on the less positive aspects of the R56! Doesn’t mean I don’t like it – but many people have already written at length that the R56 is wonderful. Also, remember that my comparison is against GPMINI, arguably the best R53 out there and with an amazing stereo system πŸ™‚

Oh – a quick “aside” too …
Reminder: GBMINI#5 is “pre-owned” (the previous owner traded it for a GP!) He had spec’ed it well, with the Premium, Cold Weather and Sport packages – so it has auto a/c, sunroof, heated seats, Xenon headlights – he also spec’ed an LSD, dimming rearview mirror, and the navigation system, and he had the iPod adaptor added to it. Mileage was only 3,700, and MINI of Peabody added the MINI Next (CPO) extended warranty to it.
Which brings me to my “aside”: On an in-warranty car, the MINI Next warranty extends the factory warranty by two years to a maximum 100,000 miles. It is NOT an extension of the cars original warranty – for example you won’t be covered it bits of trim fall off, that sort of thing. But what really surprised me is that is DOES NOT cover the cars audio systems! That could be a big deal – especially on a car like this one with the integrated NAV system.
MINI Next are reasonably honest about it: you can read the brochure online and see it listed under accessories in “What’s Left For You”; it still surprised me though.
Anyway, on to the interesting stuff πŸ™‚
First … have you read people online mentioning how the redesigned aerodynamics help to keep the back of the R56 clean? Well:

This is one night, 25 miles of driving in slush/rain. Of course, there’s a marked improvement over GPMINI because the rear wiper can clean off the crud πŸ˜‰

Also poor weather related, I did notice that when the front wipers are in use, less water is pushed on to the side window of the drivers door. I think it’s because the A-pillar trim piece fits less flat, but it’s a good improvement.

Steering wheel control stalks take a little getting used to, but they’re not as bad as I had imagined. R56 indicator and wiper stalks don’t click to their “on” positions, you push them to indicate a selection, and they return to the center.
On the indicators, this really isn’t much of an issue. You click up to turn and they self-cancel. If you need to manually cancel, you push slightly in the other direction. Just like you do on “normal” stalks – except the stalk is always in the neutral position when you reach for it.
The R56 also has a feature where a quick touch of the indicators will do three flashes instead of just one. Initially I turned this off, but quickly decided it was quite a nice feature and turned it on again! It’s useful when lane changing to provide a warning for other drivers (except around Boston, where there’s no point doing it!)

I also noticed that the lighting control has changed slightly – if you exit the car with the lights left turned on, they will fully turn off and there is no “bell” to warn you. Not sure how you leave the parking lights on, if you wish to (maybe I should read the manual!)

The wiper stalk is a bit more strange. You push up once and get intermittent wipers, a second push gives slow and a third push gives fast. To cancel, you now have to push down one, two or three times, rather than the more logical push-down-all-the-way-to-neutral that you’d do in GPMINI.
Thankfully, when the wipers are off, a push down gives the expected single wipe.
I’ve always cursed auto a/c – all based on my experience back in 2002 with GBMINI#1 which would determinedly blow freezing cold air at me in the winter mornings, not bothering to wait for the engine to heat up before trying to warm me. It would blow noisy, and often not where I wanted it. I used to adjust the “auto” controls so often, I’ve always ordered manual controls since then.
The R56 auto a/c is massively improved – and I like it πŸ™‚
It doesn’t blow till the engine is warm enough to provide heat. It doesn’t blow as noisily as GPMINI (even when blowing hard). It seems to successfully warm me up without my needing to adjust controls excessively – my only habit so far is to select the “face” direction in the morning when it starts blowing warm, to warm my hands (if I’m not wearing gloves); and very nicely, when I de-select “face”, it reverts to full auto control.
Of course, I have turned the a/c off! It’s going to be a long time before I test that feature πŸ˜‰

Talking of heat, the heated seats are a little different: they now have three settings. Curiously though, my experience so far is that the three settings are too hot, too hot and too hot!
The R56 seats themselves, are much improved over those of GPMINI (and GPMINIs seats in turn are better than those I had in GBMINI#2); the R56 seats are firmer, yet more comfortable … more supportive I suppose. Of course different shaped people will probably have different opinions (it’ll be interesting to see what Margaret thinks of them).
And now, some thoughts on performance – I bet many readers wanted this information first! But GBMINI#5 was supposed to be a more refined (quieter, more comfortable) ride, so performance was less high on my agenda.
Off the line, I’d say the R56 would definitely beat GPMINI! There really is a lot of torque low down in the rev range … but at higher speeds GPMINI is much better (when passing cars on the highway, for example).
What really surprised me was how noisy the R56 is! At higher revs (4000+) it’s very noisy and sounds unrefined; in no way is the sound as good as GPMINI, there’s no sweet supercharger whine, the engine and exhaust sounds simply noisy with no pleasureable note to it. I don’t know if GPMINI is actually quieter, or if it’s simply that GPMINI makes nicer noises – whatever, GBMINI#5 is not pleasant to listen to when you’re driving hard.

As for the ride, it’s very similar. On a jarring bump or pothole, the R56 is much more comfortable – I often have to check GPMINIs wheels after hitting a pothole, because it sounds like the car must have been damaged! On regular bumpy roads, however, both cars feel very similar, and I have as much confidence taking corners quickly in either car.
Side note: GPMINI has always lost traction on corners due to the stock 18″ runflats; possibly better tires in the spring will change this comparison.

One other thing about performance: it seems that torque steer is much worse in the R56! I do notice torque steer with GPMINI, under very hard acceleration you feel the steering wheel pulling a little – but on the R56 under medium-to-hard acceleration you’ll get sudden unexpected torque steer that pulls away much more, it’s much less predictable than in GPMINI, and worse when it happens.
Finally, a re-visit about the R56 “key”. It’s quite a step backwards, I think.
In GPMINI, I get in the car, push the clutch in while inserting and turning the key – and we go! It’s really one fluid motion to insert the key and start the engine, and it feels very natural. Similarly when parked, you turn the key and pull it out in a single motion. It’s how cars work.
Now with the R56: you get in the car, push the clutch, push the key in to the hole in the dash (of course you have to make sure it’s the right way up, it’s not ambidextrous like a traditional key), then you move your fingers over to the START button and push. I know the button is near the hole, but it’s still two separate actions.
Worse still when you want to stop – you push the button to stop the engine, then you push the key to un-latch it, and finally you pull it out of the hole.

Something else about the key – it’s hard to use in the dark! MINIs previous keys have buttons that are shaped differently for the lock and unlock functions; it’s easy to feel the button you want without seeing it. On the R56 “key”, the buttons are all the same shape. You have to feel for where your finger is in relation to the key – that is, you basically feel where the ring clip is on the other side, then to unlock you feel straight across the key from the ring clip, and press; to lock, you feel across the key and then sort of left a bit, and press.
I think the whole key design has been biased in favour of owners having to buy the convenience opening package, because without it, the key is anything but convenient!

In future exciting installments, I’ll waffle about the R56 stereo, Sirius satellite radio, iPod control and navigation – believe me, they’re not pretty!