MINI vs. MINI

MTTS Day 3 - MiamiYou might have heard me talk about this on the show or read it in a comment or two, but I did get the chance to drive every MINI currently available while at MTTS Miami and Boston.

Including spending a fair amount of time with the automatic transmission and getting to drive an R56 back-to-back with an R52 MCS (Cabrio).

MINIUSA gave us a car to drive. It was an Astro Black R56 with automatic. Yes, it also had a black roof. We also found that to be quite funny.

To start, I can totally see how you love love love the R53. I can also totally see how you can love love love the R56. I got to drive them both, and while they are both excellent cars, they are both also excellent in different ways.

The R53’s power comes on now! Like right-now-no-waiting-put-you-back-in-your-seat-now. And it carries that power through the curves in a very predictable, if not slightly addicting way. But, you still have to keep on this car to make sure it behaves the way you want with judicious use of brakes, throttle and shifting. It makes for a very exciting experience.

The R56 is completely different. The power comes on more like holy-crap-when-did-that-happen without any drama at all. And through the curves it begs for a limited slip differential. But, at the same time, I found it to be much more composed no matter how it was driven. Where the R53 is the playground bully, the R56 is the nice kid that always says please and thank you.

Both are great cars. Both handle exceptionally well. I wouldn’t hestiate in a second to have either of these (within reason for the R53) in my driveway.

I also got to spend some time with the auto transmission. And, I’m torn.

On the autocross course, in full auto mode (R56 and R55) it was absolutely horrible. Made worse with the DSC on. I can honestly say this was not a fun experience and, if I only had done that, I would steer anyone that asked away from the automatic.

Then I moved the lever into sport mode.

Really? That car was an automatic? I hate to say this, but honestly, it wasn’t bad. The power was always right there, ready to use, no hesitation, no nothing. Total point and shoot driving. It was quite fun.

But then it was back on the street with our R56, in auto mode. I must confess that our MINI was throwing codes about 1/2 way through the trip, so it might have had an affect on how the car drove. But, here again, I was less than impressed. You know what it’s like to ride in a car with someone that is either learning to or just learned to drive a stick? It was almost that bad. Lots of hesitation, lots of slow starts and wondering where the power is. Again, this might have been a problem with the car we had, but I’m not sure.

I don’t know how, but I’m going to try to get a week in an R56 or R55 with the auto trans, just to see how it is day-to-day. The way it performed on the AutoX course really has me thinking.

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5 Comments

  1. DB,
    I enjoyed all of your MTTS coverage.
    So you got to drive all of the new MINI models back to back. Which one is your favorite, and why?

  2. They are all my favorite!

    But, really, the Clubman S with 6-speed gets my vote. I really liked the way it drove and the handling with the extra length was fantastic!

  3. My only problem with automatics is my left foot and leg get bored easily after what is way to many years with a clutch.

  4. I totally agree with your comments on the auto – it was terrible on the cone track, but massively better in sports auto … simply a matter of holding higher revs, I guess.

  5. The AISIN 6-speed slushbox behaves massively different when put into sport mode and/or using the steering wheel paddles. In one word, this tranny is the next best thing to a real DSG. The programming in the Clubman S makes for a fast shifting, yet precise shifting sequence and the power is just there. Normal mode is mostly OK for street driving. But if you want to experience the car, use the sport button, plus sport mode for the automatic.

    I love my R53 S manual and concur with DB’s comments on power delivery. Don’t forget about the lovely supercharger/exhaust sounds when you drop the hammer on it.

    The R56/R55 are fantastic car. But for MINIs they are a little too smooth and refined. Nothing wrong with that per se, but when you drive the R53 S you realize how much fun a MINI can really be, warts and all.

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