Autoblog is sharing some spy shots of what at first glance appears to simply be a regular R56 driving around on the snow in Sweden. Looking closer, there’s a tell-tale sign that this is indeed a hybrid electric MINI prototype. It’s literally a yellow sign on the window that reads “HYBRID”. Autoblog is also reporting that the system being tested is actually an AWD system where the front wheels are driven normally using stock drivetrain and electric motors drive the rear wheels for power assist. This approach is not dissimilar to the BMW Efficient Dynamics hybrid system seen in the photo above. If this is the case, it holds some key engineering advantages.

Firstly, it allows the system to complement any existing power plant in the MINI range without modifying the engines. The hybrid system would in essence just be a retrofit. Beyond that, added traction possibilities from AWD are intriguing, as it could mean an electric version of All4 for the smaller cars in the MINI lineup. Lastly, with the main wheels driving the car through conventional power train, the rear wheel motors should be able to easily feature regenerative braking or even use in-motion charging to top off the car’s batteries. No word yet on specs or plug-in functionality, but seeing this system on the hatch (rather than just the Countryman) is certainly interesting. Chances are we won’t see this system until the 2013 hatch refresh. Then again, that’s not really that far away. Have a look at the whole set of underwhelming photos over at Autoblog.