Following the success of the R50/R52/R53 Mini Cooper relaunch, BMW completely redesigned the Mini lineup beginning in the 2007 model year. The R56 3 door hatch gained a handful of stablemates during this generation, including the R55 Clubman, the R57 Convertible, the R58 Coupe, the R59 Roadster, the R60 Countryman, and R61 Paceman. As with the previous generation Minis, the R5X generation received a facelift for the 2011 model year (August of 2010 production dates and later). For this post, we will focus on the R56 hatchback for the specific changes, but most changes apply to the rest of the R5X generation Minis.
Beginning in 2007, the R56 Cooper S ditched the previous generation’s supercharged setup for a Peugeot/Citroen designed 1.6-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder, designated as the N14. Featuring new technology such as direct injection, on paper this engine was far more advanced than the Chrysler designed W11 it replaced. Being turbocharged from the factory opened a whole new world of aftermarket tuning possibilities for R56 owners. However, the N14’s real world reliability was nothing short of catastrophic. When they are running great, they are fantastic motors. The problem is that those moments seem to be few and far between. The N14 is plagued with issues ranging from ignition coils prematurely failing to carbon deposits in the intake valves due to the direct injected setup. Worst of all is the dreaded “rattle of death”. The timing chain in these engines is guided by a series of plastic pieces that do their best to fail if you so much as look at them the wrong way. Their failure is announced by a distinct rattling sound followed closely by the sound of a tow truck as your beloved Mini’s engine self-destructs. Although monitoring oil levels closely can help keep the timing system intact, in most cases it’s only a matter of time before issues will start to arise. The latest revision of the tensioners and guides seems to help somewhat, but it is far from a permanent fix.
Alas, in 2011 came the N18 engine. An improvement in nearly every way over the outgoing N14, the new Cooper S engine gained an extra 10 horsepower and 14 lb-ft of torque, marking a notable increase in performance. Changes to the internals as well as the engine management software helped the N18 out muscle its predecessor, and those modifications help provide the classic popping or burbling sound that Mini owners tend to love. Additional changes include infinitely variable VANOS valve timing, a computer controlled oil pump, additional cosmetic and heat covers are added, a new piston design, composite camshaft construction, and a different dipstick design (that many would argue is inferior to the previous revision). The turbo oil line is changed from a flexible design to a rigid one, and the “noisemaker” device is deleted entirely. The N18 is usually considered far superior to the N14, and although somewhat problematic, much more reliable than its predecessor. It also benefits from many of the same tuning options as the N14. Interestingly, the N14 engine was continued in the JCW until the 2012 model year.
The power steering system was also revised for the LCI, implementing anti-torque steer programming.
Base Model Cooper
The base model Coopers also acquired an N-series engine for the R56 generation, the N12. The N12 did not have many of the issues that the N14 faced due to the naturally aspirated and non-direct injected configuration. However, the timing chain issue was still present in this engine. In 2011, the N12 was replaced by the N16, which rectified the issue in the same manner as the N18.
2007 Mini Cooper S Front: note the grille and bumper design.
Some very distinct changes take place in the front end of the 2nd generation Minis. Both the base model and Cooper S underwent a redesign of both the front and rear bumpers. Both the hood and the lower bumper grilles are a different shape and design, along with the actual design of the bumper cover itself. S and JCW models added functional vents to the lower grille to cool the front brakes during spirited driving. The hood also changed shape to better comply with crash regulations. The headlights and fog lights kept the same design throughout, but black housings became available for the headlights during 2011. The side scuttles were also redesigned for both the Cooper S and the base models.
2012 Mini Cooper S Front: note the added brake ducts in the lower grille.
In the rear of the car, all Minis changed tail light design. The LCI tail lights feature a lighted ring in the center, and relocate the reverse lights to the rear bumper. The change in location of the reverse lights means a change in the design of the rear bumper, which both the base and S models received.
2007 Mini Cooper S Rear: note the lower bumper grille and tail lights.
2012 Mini Cooper S Rear: note the tail light design and the reverse light relocation.
The interior is another area where major changes occurred. Most noticeably, the center stack and speedometer underwent a change in design. The audio and a/c controls became simplified, and the silver plastic materials changed to a matte black design. The updated interior materials are of better quality than the pre LCI interiors. The standard headliner switched from grey to a light beige. Ambient lighting also was added to the interior, along with improved materials to reduce road and tire noise. The Mini HiFi system was discontinued at the end of the 2010 model year, leaving the Mini Boost and the Harman/Kardon system as the only options.
2007 Mini Cooper Interior: note the speedometer and dials below.
2012 Mini Cooper Interior: the screen below the speedometer and dials are changed.