A convertible for the weekend

The unplanned extended stay of GPMINI at MINI of Orlando has left me, thanks to Bryan, with the chance to drive a brand new MINI Cooper S convertible for the weekend! I must say, it’s much nicer than driving around in some no-name rental …ย This convertible is quite nicely equipped with “punch leather” (perforated) seats, Harman Kardon stereo, and automatic transmission with paddle shifters; the top is interesting too, in “denim blue” (though I wonder if the texture helps hide roof creases!):


Sadly, I would not be “MINI thrilled” to own this car – though I’m not sure if the experience is this specific car or the newer R56 MINIs in general.
First, the engine is quite noisy (it sounded terrible inside the garage), but the car solves this about one start in three by just stalling at start! A bit annoying. Also, the car seems to always run it’s cooling fan after even short drives – it’s funny that GPMINI is staying at MINI of Orlando for this same reason, while this brand new car does it as habit.

I tried out the new Harman Kardon stereo system, playing all my standard “demo CD” reference tracks. Of course I first tried just plugging the iPhone in to the equipped USB jack, but that had no effect at all. I had to copy all the music over to a USB memory stick which then did play (though it took about a minute first to load in the directories – or maybe search through all the photos on the stick, to find just the music!)
The Harman Kardon sound is MUCH better than my previous R56, I’d say it is as good as the original R50/R53 system, except it seems to be missing the “modes” (Spatial, Festival, etc). However, the sound is nowhere close to my GP, or my Q5.
There’s a general lack of mid-clarity in the sound, so that vocals are not as focused as I am used to. There’s some bass but not what I’m used to – and turning up the bass adjustment past +3 just muddies the low end.
But I had most trouble with the treble. Listening to radio on the drive from the dealership, there was too much treble coming from the windshield speaker directly in front of me, detracting from any stereo effect – but then on some of my well known test tracks, I found that I had to turn up the treble to pull the female vocals out of the music.
I settled with bass +3 and treble +2, but I know that for different tracks I’d constantly have to turn the bass or treble down; it’s as if the bass/treble adjustments aren’t at the correct frequencies to best enhance the car.

Of course the big problem with MINI now is that you have no choice; there’s no simple way to install an aftermarket stereo. This would be a HUGE concern for me, if I was to consider replacing my Q5 with a Countryman, if that sound system is as poor as this car.

All said, the car is nice to drive – it corners well, looks good, and drops/raises it’s top fast and sweet. There’s just one thing that would stop me ever considering owning this car:
$35,000! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Driving an R56 MINI Cooper Convertible

Thanks to Brig, Joel, and all at MINI of Peabody, I got to enjoy today’s fun MINI rally in beautiful weather in this 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible with only 4,300 miles on it!ย It looked really nice inside, especially the Piano Black dash:

During the rally, it was very nice to drive, easy to shift gears – but noticeably lacking in power, at least compared to my GP and Q5! On the other hand, I still think it’s somewhat of a positive to have to shift gears more to keep the car performing well – it makes for a more interactive MINI experience, than with an S!
The ride was particularly good, even on the equipped 17″ wheels, and it wasn’t very windy or noisy on the highway either.
Of course, I know from experience how cold the MINI convertible is in New England winters, so it’s not the car for me … but it’d be fabulous a bit further South ๐Ÿ™‚

Coming soon? on MotoringFile

My first stop for MINI news is still GoMotoring, which very clearly aggregates loads of MINI website feeds (including mine!); visiting just now I saw the following feeds for MotoringFile:

The interesting one for me is R56 MCS Engine’s Cold Start Issue Exposed, but clicking it takes you to a dead page of MotoringFile:

Presumably it just means the story has been written, but then date-edited to appear in a day or two … exciting ๐Ÿ˜‰

It’ll be interesting to read about the issue – I did not have any “cold start” related issues while I owned GBMINI#5, but then I didn’t own it for long! GPMINI has always been fine starting at any temperature, but GBMINI#6 exhibits the same “cold start” issues that I’d previously experienced on my other MCS’s – and like those MINIs, switching to a lower octane gasoline apparently sorts the issue for me.
It’ll also be interesting to read the MotoringFile presentation of the issue – some people expect MotoringFile to be “good news only” regarding MINI …


While on the subject of the R56, I do have a couple of final positive thoughts about that car!ย In case I wasn’t clear previously, the R56 claimed MPG improvements are obviously true – GBMINI#5 got between 28 and 29 mpg (real, not OBC) while I owned it. Both GPMINI and GBMINI#6 are getting between 23 and 24 over the same drives, time of year, etc.
In the summer, when we don’t have winter formulation gasoline, and when I do longer drives for MINI events, I’ll get 30+ in GPMINI – so with the R56 I might expect to get as much as 35! Pretty good, I’d say.

The other thing is that the R56 automatic air-conditioning is improved over that in GBMINI#6 (the first auto-a/c MINI I’ve owned since my first, way back in 2002). The non-R56 auto-a/c in GBMINI#6 works much better than it did back in 2002, but the R56 system was quieter and a little smarter too … for example, on cold days I like to blow the air on my hands for a while to warm them up (gloves? me! no …) so in GBMINI#6 I’ll press the hands and feet buttons (using the hands button only is too noisy, so send to feet also to reduce the noise), then after a while press the buttons again to revert to auto.
But in the R56, I noticed that after a while, when the air is warm, it would automatically direct a subtle amount of warm air to my hands, while still blowing to windshield and feet (something the older systems can’t do!) … almost not enough air to notice, but enough to warm my fingers. Nice touch ๐Ÿ™‚
(but no, it’s not enough to make me warm to the R56!)

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

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.ย 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰
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 ๐Ÿ™‚

R56 NAV/stereo: that’s not a British accent!

I recently found something curious – initially I thought GBMINI#5 had a German accent, but now I’m not quite so sure what accent it is!

Most of the NAV voice prompts are pre-recorded, but recently I heard the car announce the track number that was playing on my iPod – and it’s an accented computer generated voice:

So, what do you think? German? Something else?