Last week I spent several days talking MINI technology at the public unveiling of the BMW Environmental Test Center. While we have specific stories coming on the ETC we also wanted to touch on some of those fleeting moments when we caught a glimpse of something or heard something interesting about either MINI or BMW.

In fact one of the most interesting parts of the week was being inside BMWs new testing center where pretty much every upcoming MINI and BMW product we see in spyshots was casually sitting in the car park (Of course we were asked to not take photos). So with that said here’s a list of the highlights:

– Saw a 2011 refreshed R55 MINI with red roof and mirrors. Had the JCW wheels and brakes but nothing else out of the ordinary. The interior was covered but I did get a good look at the tail lamps and can confirm that they are LED.
– The front brake ducts of the R55 are just that – brake ducts. They are on the Cooper S and JCW only and are meant to give greater sporting character to both cars over the One and Cooper
– Had a chance to stand next to a camflauged (next generation) BMW F20 1 series. First impressions are that it’s quite a bit wider and slightly longer (further differentiating it from the MINI.
– The interior of the F20 1er is particularly impressive. I couldn’t see the whole thing but I caught a clear glimpse of the center stack and computer control system (nav unit). It’s much like the new 5 Series in design but the screen is not as inset.
– Saw several BMW X3s almost entirely uncamoflauged. It’s more angular than the X1 and retains some of the previous X3’s signature front end design. The shape is also similar but with much of the X5’s design language integrated.
– The BMW X1 is actually less attractive in person while the new X3 looks to be the best looking traditional crossover (not counting the X6) BMW has ever made.
– BMW cappuccinos are consistently good throughout the world. Thank God as jet lag is also fairly consistent.
– The engineers who run the EDC and carry out all the various tests on new cars are incredibly passionate about things like making sure your 5 Series starts in -30c temps while on the side of a mountain. Pretty reassuring stuff.

– The BMW F11 5 Series wagon is gorgeous and will be missed in the US market.
– The next generation BMW 6 Series was in attendance looking bigger than ever.
– I got a good glimpse of the BMW X6 refresh parked (I’m sure with no intended relationship) next to a Lexus RX with the badges removed or stickered over.

As you can imagine my first reaction was to grab my D90 and start snapping away. However it was truly an honor to be invited to such an exclusive event (only a handful of American journalists were invited and they all were from monthly magazines) and the last thing I wanted to do was dishonor my hosts by going against their wishes. We’ll have more on the MINI refresh in the next few days.