A month ago we walked you through what we knew (and what we could tell you) about the next generation MINI’s interior. Called “a huge step forward” by sources familiar with the new car, the interior will boast higher-end materials and a more straight-forward approach to interfacing with the car and it’s entertainment options. And speaking of those options, the window into that world is about to get much larger. As we’ve reported the next MINI will adopt a BMW sized wide screen for displaying content. Seen for the first time today via MotoringAuthority.com. But it’s what that screen will display and what MINI positions around it that’s interesting to us.

Read on for a details view of MINI’s new system and how it will radically improve the in-car navigation and infotainment experience we currently know.

Enter the Real iDrive

The test mule in these photos has the final spec screen but still has several components that are works in progress. Notably, the iDrive is a direct carry over from BMW prototypes we’ve seen around Munich. Will MINI adopt the BMW input system (known as iDrive) seen here or continue with the more familiar joy-stick we know today? We believe that MINI will adopt a BMW-like system which will be a dramatic improvement over the current system. The new input will likely offer short-cut keys and a new generation of input device with touch control and hand-writing recognition on the top of the knob. Sources familiar with the technology tell us that it dramatically improves interaction with system lists and the navigation map. You can see a prototype of this in action over at BimmerFile where our colleagues detailed the technology earlier this Spring.

The system will likely include BMW’s revised graphics with 3D elements within the individual menus. Expect at least a 1.3 GHz processor and dedicated 3D graphics card to create smoother and quicker transitions.

Along with the menu presentation, the navigation displays will also be heavily revised and enhanced. The map displays and guidance information will be depicted with even greater brilliance and sharpness than seen in current MINIs. Like BMW’s revised system, look for more functionality without having to leave the map view allowing for real-time traffic and weather.

Information on the Highway

How is MINI getting this data? Unlike the R56 generation, the F56 will have an onboard cell connection. But unlike current BMWs that make due with an archaic EDGE connection, sources tell us that BMW will debut it’s new LTE onboard connection allowing for a flow of data to and from the car almost unthinkable ten years ago (With 3G backwards compatibility). In fact, this speed could eventually allow cloud processing to help calculate enormous amounts of data without taxing the in-car systems.

Because the screen will be so wide, the F56 will also make use of more split-screen displays. This could allow the process of entering a destination to be done while seeing a corresponding map displayed. The zoom function can then be used to verify whether the destination shown in the relevant section of the map is the intended one. Anyone familiar with the current system likely knows how big a deal that will be.

There will also be enhanced high-level guidance feature that is automatically activated when the driver reaches a certain point ahead of the next navigation instruction. At this point the arrow display turns into a schematic, perspective view of the surroundings. This gives the driver even better orientation thanks to an enhanced depiction of the location and precise lane guidance. For an optimal picture, the perspective view changes in stages to a top view of the junction or intersection as the vehicle approaches it, while a dynamic vehicle indicator pinpoints the car’s current position.

And then things get really cool. If MINI follows BMW’s lead (and we believe they will), the F56 will be equipped with a new 3D city model view offering a highly realistic depiction of the surrounding streets and buildings.

New technology and New Options

The F56 MINI will usher in a new era of technology to the MINI family thanks to being more closely aligned with BMW. The next generation MINIs will offer (some options, some standard) the following features

– Lane Departure Warning
– Traffic Sign Recognition (Not all markets)
– Adaptive Headlights (offering a wider angle of adjustment then the current system)
– Advanced Emergency Call (Known as BMW Assist in the US market)
– Connected Nav with Google Services
– Rear view camera
– Park Assist
– ECO Pro mode (this will be marketed under a new name for MINI)
– Auto Start/Stop (yes this is coming to the US as it is in all new BMW models)
– 8 or 9 speed automatic transmission

What Else is New?

We love pictures like the one above because it often allows us to spill a few things we’ve been told to not mention. But once it’s out in the open, it’s public knowledge right? One of the biggest misconceptions is quickly disproved by these photos. No, MINI is not losing the toggle switches. In fact, turning the engine on and off will now be controlled via a centrally located large red toggle. However, what is changing are the location of the window switches. Yes, they are indeed moving to the doors where almost all consumers expect them to be. It’s a logical move for MINI, especially given ten years of negative feedback. But it’s also a logical move because people expect a window to be controlled by a switch in the same general proximity.

As you can see in the photo above, even though the center speedometer is dead in the F56, MINI clearly had plans for that circular area. The infotainment system will likely be available in two sizes depending on markets and options. The full navigation equipped MINIs will have a 8.8″ monitor which will likely display 1280×480 pixels. If MINI follows BMW’s trend, it’ll also offer a 800×400 6.5″ display as a lower cost option that comes only with MINI Connected functionality or other features. MINI may ultimately make the latter standard in some markets or offer it at a lower cost than the current MINI Connection only option. BMW is including a basic iDrive system with a smaller screen and no nav as standard in the US on recently introduced models (similar to MINI connected), it’s a possibility MINI USA will do the same.

Finally there are those seats we see in the MotoringAuthority photos. Seats that offer one thing that we’ve been clamoring for since 2001 – thigh bolstering. Long a hallmark of BMW’s optional sport seats, it would appear that MINI will finally be getting the option thanks to parts sharing. And that’s not all. The seats shown also have more aggressive side bolstering and look to feature alcantara as well. What is still not final is if the MINI will receive the adjustable bolsters BMW’s do or just fixed position bolstering for those sport seats.

Thank you BMW

Very little of this technology would have been available without BMW deciding create a MINI derived front wheel drive BMW (which won’t be available in the US). This has allowed MINI to finally and fully take advantage of their parent company. A company that is known as the most design and engineering focused car company in the world. A company that pushes boundaries with technology, performance and efficiency while remaining independent and family owned. All of that has allowed them to take a huge gamble with MINI over the years. And the 3rd generation MINI is perhaps the biggest of them all. BMW is completely changing the way they design, engineer and manufacture to properly support the MINI brand. They knew that MINI alone would not get the scale of production needed to afford the technology above. So they’ve risked a great deal by bringing a car (the front wheel drive BMW) to market that is at odds with the brand’s history and core beliefs. All to make sure MINI has a future.

Thanks to that decision, it looks bright to us.

The F56 will debut digitally next summer and in person at the Frankfurt Motor Show next Fall. Look for it to hit showrooms in late 2013. The five door F55 will likely debut the following spring in 2014.

Look for more information on both cars – specifically performance – soon.

Image credit: MotoringAuthority.com