MINI IS SET TO dramatically expand its model range and its array of performance derivatives with next year’s launch of the ‘F56’-generation car.
Despite familiar styling, the new car is set to share much of its under-skin architecture with BMW’s forthcoming range of front-drive models.
The F56 will be powered by a range of three- and four- cylinder engines and although most of the emphasis is predictably on sharpening the new cars’ environmental credentials, we’ve been assured by Mini bosses that performance versions are considered a vital part of the mix – including a successor to the freshly launched Works GP hatchback.
Every existing Mini Cooper variant will be replaced, including Coupe and Roadster, but BMW has also approved even more bodystyles, with the next-gen car spawning five-door hatchback and four-door saloon versions.
The Clubman estate will also gain a second rear-hinged door for rear passengers in place of the odd one-sided arrangement of the current car. It’s even likely that we’ll see a fully fledged MPV before the end of the F56 model cycle.
The only real hole in the plan is the ‘mini Mini’ that was apparently previewed by the Rocketman concept a few years ago. We’re told BMW has got cold feet at the prospect of selling a car smaller than the three-door hatchback. ‘We did the business case for it,’ Mini boss Kay Segler told us in a recent interview. ‘Having a smaller car with a lower price but the same substance as a normal Mini hatch just wouldn’t work.’
That’s a shame, but what’s more important is that Segler confirmed that the growth in models will bring an equal increase in emphasis on the faster versions. Most petrol-powered versions of the F56 Mini are set to switch to a radical new 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine, which will match the power range of the existing 1.6-litre four – 120bhp to around 160bhp – but dramatically cut emissions. This will power the mainstream versions of each body variant, including the warm Cooper and the hot Cooper S. But above this, the full-on John Cooper Works versions are likely to use a 2-litre four-cylinder version of the engine, which will also be fitted in BMW’s front-driven 1-series, with a potential power range up to 240bhp.
‘We believe there is space to have more performance in John Cooper Works cars,’ Segler told us. ‘There is market demand for that – and when there is demand then we will try to build the cars to match.’
And at the pinnacle of the F56 range, Segler said that we’re almost certain to see another version of the mad Works GP hatchback – a car that we’ve digitally rendered here. This will be powered by an even higher-output version of the JCW engine and will be a strictly limited edition.
‘The GP is an icon, and it will always be a limited edition,’ Segler told us. ‘Once you do a car like that as a limited edition then I think you pave the way for the future. You need to be consistent in your thinking or customers might get confused.’
Segler is equally adamant that the GP will only ever be a hatchback: ‘Everybody knows what the GP stands for – a car at the end of the life cycle, the cream on the cake. There’s no reason to change that.’
With the current GP having been designed to take the Nurburgring front-wheel-drive lap record, you can guarantee that the mk3 will be even quicker, possibly using a proper limited-slip diff to marshal its efforts. The BMW UKL platform that the F56 sits on also supports all-wheel drive, so it’s even possible that we’ll see a 4wd version of the Mini hatchback.
The existing Countryman and Paceman will continue alongside the F56 Mini for several more years before replacement. But Mini insiders have admitted to us that the current cars don’t offer the sort of dynamic experience that buyers expect from the Mini badge – and especially not the sort of ‘go-kart’ handling that the company’s marketing department loves to bang on about. We’re promised that their replacements will be far closer to that spirit.
Mini has become a massive success in recent years, somewhat to Munich’s surprise. When the first BMW-era Mini emerged a decade ago, the project had been left semidetached by the collapse of the company’s disastrous Rover merger. But now the brand is considered vital to BMW’s plans for world domination.
That’s very good news for the Cowley assembly plant in Oxford, which will be receiving GBP 500 million of investment to ready it for the F56. BMW has also bought the former Nedcar factory at Sittard in the Netherlands, last used to produce Mitsubishi Colts, to act as a satellite for Cowley and to increase capacity still further. Considering that BMW made 240,000 Minis last year, it’s clear that ambitions for the third-gen BMW Mini are even bigger.