With the introduction of the digital cluster in the Cooper SE this March, MINI has begun the phase out of analogue garages in the cockpits of its cars. Of course analogue is a bit of a misnomer since the system behind them has been digital since the R56. But lets not dwell on the details – this is a massive change for many of us. So lets take a look at the change and how well MINI has executed it.
The biggest revision to the interior of a MINI since 2014 is launching in just a few months. The MINI digital gauge cluster will debut with the all electric Cooper SE before being available on all MINI production from fall 2020 onward. What is the digital gauge cluster and why does it matter? Let’s dissect.
For years MINI had planned to introduce a digital gauge later in the life-cycle of the F56. Sources have told us that original prototypes (some of which were all screen) had been around since just after the launch of the F56 in 2014. The driving force behind the change was three fold. First was an increasing need to offer drivers more data about the car in an easier to read layout. Secondly MINI needed to introduce something that served a full electric car better.
Finally MINI is introducing this gauge as a pre-cursor to the more functionally driven interior design coming on the fourth generation MINI in 2023.
Comparing the original gauge cluster and the new digital one you immediately recognize this is as the big benefit. There’s more information and it’s much easier to read and digest quickly. For instance you can now see a large representation of speed along with range, outside temp, odometer, date and time. Additionally the two gauges (tach and fuel) are now easier to read and offer more specificity.
The photos we managed to grab at Pebble Beach were directly in the sun which gives you a clear view of what is digital and what is not. However in most light it’s much harder to tell and thus the entire enclosure looks almost seamlessly digital.
On the all electric MINI Cooper SE there are a few key changes given the drivetrain. The tach has changed to power percentage and the fuel to range.
What the Rest of the Automotive Industry is Doing
The short answer is a lot. Everyone from Porsche to General Motors is moving to a fully digital cluster. While there have been plenty of hybrid solutions, it’s clear everyone is going to a full digital experience. The benefits are many. You can endlessly customize and easily offer different layouts and functionality depending on the driver and situations. For companies like Porsche and McLaren that means clear differences in sport mode and extended information brought to the driver’s line-of-sight.
Given the global demographic that MINI has as customers, it’s clear the brand needs to be towards the more progressive end of the spectrum here; however, this is progress that many current owners will likely question at first. Seeing it in person and experiencing it on the road should alleviate most of these concerns. But that doesn’t mean the gauge cluster is perfect. For one an entirely digital display would have been a good move for a brand that aligns themselves with the premium side of the marketplace. As it is there’s just a 5” LCD rectangle in the center flanked by two analog gauges.
While a full LCD might have been overkill it could have allowed for MINI to offer an alternative view of navigation (turn by turn for instance) in front of the driver. It could have also opened up the design a bit more for more variability between models. Imagine a GP version that feels as if came straight from a race car for instance.
That aside this is a change that MINI needed to make and serves the driver and the overall aesthetic well in our opinion. While it will likely be polarizing for some, we have no doubts most buyers will ultimately prefer it.