Tomorrow Gabe will have his full review of the R56, but today I wanted to take a bit of a look back myself on this past weekend at the U.S. Press Launch of the new MINI.  The one area that stood out as being the most significant improvement over the R50/R53 to me was the interior (the suspension was a close second).

Seating

The seat comfort has been dramatically improved.  While I had already formed this impression while in the R56, it became clear just how far the seats in the R56 had come when I drove my own MINI home to Los Angeles from Arizona.  What makes the new seats so good?  There are areas toward the front of the seat cushion that are almost pillow soft.  In addition, the side bolsters of the seats have been improved to as well, and it seemed as though the bolsters were ever so slightly closer together to hold the occupants a little more snugly. 

Of the various upholstery options we saw, the Lounge Leather stood out as more than justifying the cost over the regular leather.  It was comfortable, and really helped to class up the interior.  If I were spec’ing an R56 currently, I wouldn’t hesitate to order it on my own MINI (particularly the Red Lounge Leather).

Dash Surfaces

The dash surfaces have been improved too.  The wood dash, was real wood.  The brushed aluminum dash, was real brushed aluminum and was everything I had hoped “alloy patina” would have been back in 2002.  

Doors: Armrest and storage

The design of the door panels has changed significantly.  The door armrests now actually have space on which to rest your arm (gasp).  The one downside of this though is that access to the storage pockets in the doors is restricted a bit, but that’s not much of a problem since there is even less useful storage space in the R56 doors than the doors of the R50/R53.

Cargo Position

Moving to the rear of the car, one interesting update which has not been commented on so far, is the addition of the new “cargo position” for the rear seats.  The cargo position enables owners to lock the rear seat backs into a purely vertical orientation.  The beauty of the cargo position is that with the seat backs locked, larger items that would have otherwise necessitated folding down the rear seats, are now restrained from rolling around in the passenger compartment. 

  

To configure the seats into the cargo position, each seat back has to be angled forward a bit, then the metal tab that the seat backs clip into can be rotated about 90 degrees to reveal a previously concealed extension tab and the seats can be locked into place roughly 5 inches forward of where they normally would have been.

Note: even though it would still be possible to have someone crawl in the back seats with the seat backs in this configuration, it would not be advised (check your owners manual, my suspicion is that MINI probably has specific admonishments about putting people in the rear seats if the cargo position is in use).