Welcome inside the next MINI. The photo above (courtesy of AutoExpress) gives us a very rough look at what MINI is planning for the R56 (in optional Nav. trim at least). But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves yet. AutoExpress doesn’t have the market cornered on MINI scoops. We’ve been working on one of our own lately and this article represents the first portion of what we’ve got coming in the next few days. So sit back, grab a cold beverage (or a hot one), and read on…

If there was one area that MINI definitely needed improvement (except maybe that iron block and single cam under the hood), it’s the interior. Specifically, I’m referring to the quality of materials and the general use of space within the cabin. Our sources indicate that MINI designers have responded with a thoroughly rethought interior. What they’ve done is keep the overall layout the same, but alter (at times radically) some proportions of various pieces. That means the general design language will stay vaguely the same. However, designers have had free reign to solve a few of the current interior’s shortcomings.

First off, the speedometer will grow in size to house a few other gauges and a larger digital display. On cars without the Navigation option (not shown in the above photo), that display will be a larger, two line version of what you see on your radio head-unit today. The speedometer in the non-navigation equipped MINI will continue to have a silver backer, the same as in the current car. In contrast, MINIs equipped with the navigation option (As shown above) will sport a large LCD screen located within the center speedometer. Speaking of that navigation system, don’t be surprised to see the new and improved version of iDrive bundled with the nav option on the next MINI (again similar to the 1 and 3 series BMWs).

The center stack will be slightly narrower and tapered (from back to front) for added knee and legroom. Below that larger speedometer will be the standard array of components, including a CD drive and controls (with no display as it will be within the speedo), heating and cooling controls with a high quality finish and a simplified toggle switch area. Where the current car is black, look for the new MINI to feature a silver finish. We can expect the climate control and stereo components to function a bit more like they do in the new 1 series and 3 series. As seen in the photo above, the auto climate controls will retain some of the current, old-school Mini logo inspired design.

Toggle switches will remain in the new car, but will change somewhat in functionality. They will also slightly grow in size. A few toggle switches may also move up near the rearview mirror. Directly under the lower toggle switches are the familiar cup holders. Only this time we are told they have been designed to fit more than a can of soda.

For all those concerned about the placement of the tachometer, don’t worry. It will stay in its current location just behind the steering wheel on all versions of the car.

In another sign of BMW influence, the next MINI may feature an ignition system similar to the new 1 and 3 series BMWs. These are essentially push-button systems that rely on a “key-fob” as opposed to a typical metal key.

On the wireless technology front, the Next MINI will also feature much better bluetooth integration that will come installed from the factory. The display will most likely be integrated into the multi-purpose display within the speedometer.

The steering wheel (not shown in the photo) is a two-spoke design that is actually more similar in shape to the version on the 2002-03 MINI than the current 3-spoke wheel. It does, however, share a similar center horn area to what is in the current 2005 MINI.

The side mirror controls will move from their current location to something a bit more typical on the driver side door. And speaking of those doors, the overall design will become a bit more stylized and, from the looks of the photos we’ve seen, less useful in terms of storage.

Look for more BMW-like seat controls, including a more intuitive mechanism to move the seat forward for rear access (similar to the 3 series coupe).

While back seat space will grow by a few millimeters, the overall look will remain largely unchanged. Improved plastics in the rear of the car will give rear occupants a much nicer environment however.

The boot will be very similar in size to the current car’s, but will add a few small but useful features. Since the battery will be moving near the engine (where it is currently on the Cooper), there will be a shallow storage area under the floor (potentially similar to what is found in the current 3 series wagon). Further, the boot lid itself may feature a small amount of storage for umbrellas and the like.

In the end, I think many people will be a bit shocked at the amount of change MINI was willing to make to the interior of the car. While they kept much of the general shape the same, many elements have changed drastically. Personally, my initial thoughts were of surprise. Although I have to say that I’m quickly warming up to many of the changes (and hoping others still have time to be massaged a bit).

It’s my guess, however, that many people will initially respond negatively to some of these changes. To that I say it’s important to keep in mind that there may still be a few alterations here and there before production. Also, keep in mind that there was initially quite a bit of negative reaction to the current MINI when it was first shown in the late 90’s. We all know how that turned out!

I had originally planned on releasing this information as part of a large article on the next MINI this weekend. However, with the release of the AutoExpress story on the new MINI’s interior I felt I had to post at least this portion today. Expect a full report on the next MINI, including exterior styling and engine range information, in the next several days.