Do people really hate the new MINIs design? If you look at the 100s of comments on MotoringFile over the last week you would come away with that impression. Yet we’ve seen this play out in identical fashion with every MINI to be released since the classic. Is this time different? Will the brand really die because of the new MINI design approach? We think not. In fact we believe the new J01 MINI Cooper and U25 Countryman are MINI’s most daring and future forward designs since the R50 MINI Cooper.
When the R50 was first shown there was both excitement and a chorus of groans from classic Mini owners. When the R56 first leaked there was unanimous reactions around its new design elements many calling them bulbous and exaggerated. Then is was the F56’s turn which was leaked ten years ago. Immediate reactions were also negative, especially in terms of the front overhang and increase in size.
Yet the common thing that all of these cars had is that they outsold what came before it. In other words, they proved MINI right every time by appealing and in turn selling.
Sensing a trend? Human reaction to a new version of a highly emotional object is often initially negative. Yet once people grow accustom to it, many tend to slowly change opinions.
Design is both personal and subjective which makes it the breeding ground for opinions. In other words design is hard. And in a highly regulated space like automotive and a highly emotional brand like MINI, it’s simply impossible to please everyone. Especially when it comes to owners and fans of the brand.
Our First Take on the new MINI Design Language
Let’s get this out of the way. We love this new direction from MINI Design and Oliver Heimler. While there are aspects of the cars we’ve seen we’re still not sure of (those wheels above for instance), we love the overall design philosophy behind both the J01 and U25. In fact what MINI has done on the U25 in particular is an interesting stretch of the design language we first saw on the J01 Cooper.
While the U25 Countryman has that same, minimal look. MINI has added body forms and other styling elements that speak to the car’s utility and attitude. Instead of adorning it loads of plastic team to speak to ruggedness, MINI has used a more holistic approach starting with the shape and form of the metal. The squared fenders are the most obvious element as you can see below.
Also interesting is the design element sitting on the c-pilar. It will be an element that MINI will change the look of based on model and trim. But how it neatly integrates with both the c-pilar and the curve on the roof (that’s a direct evolution from the F60) is smart in our eyes.
What isn’t so smart to us is the is size of the front overhangs on both these cars. The J01’s has shrunk slightly compared to the F56 but the U25’s is even larger than it’s predecessor the F60.
European pedestrian safety standards not only dictate space between the front of the car and hard-points sun as engines and suspension, but also the shape. Even the curvature of the overhang are dictated by regulation (which is why we’ll never see something like the R50 or R56 again).
But the length of the overhang could theoretically be smaller on a bespoke electric platform like the J01. Since electric engines are so small, we’re genuinely surprised MINI couldn’t have shrunk the overhang even more down to even R56 levels.
What do we love is the honesty here. With this new design language, MINI is being honest about the form or the car based on the function of it. There are no more fake vents and hood-scoops. Gone is the side scuttle which were designed to look like vents. And as we’ll see soon, gone is the bulbous retro styling inside. In its place is minimalistic and above all else digital.
We can debate that removing physical buttons is good or bad (we strongly believe the latter) but what is clear is that the new interior will be a much more zen place to spend time.
This new design language isn’t just about the Cooper or the Countryman that have leaked in the past few weeks. The change we’ve seen will filter into every aspect of the brand. Next will be the F66 ICE MINI Cooper. Although based on the F56, it will appear almost identical to the J01 electric MINI we’ve already seen. Then the Aceman and after that, who knows.
Whatever comes, this new design language is what MINI is moving forward with. Clean and minimal, the new aesthetic moves away from the (at times) gaudy use of trim an is almost entirely functionally driven. Similar to brands like Porsche, styling is based in function and the overarching design is better for it.
And yet seemingly 80% of the early comments are negative. As someone who has seen this through four generations of MINIs, it’s all incredibly predictable. And I can logically understand many of the negative opinions. Some of them are driven by normal psychological reactions of a variation of a loved product. Some of them are credible stylistic issues – some of which I had shared (maybe one or two I still wonder about).
Yet we are incredibly optimistic after seeing these early looks at the new direction of MINI design. A return to functionally driven design was a core ethos of the brand in 1959 that had been lost along the way. This new direction is a return to that ethos while not feeling retro. In short, it’s everything MINI should be.
Now, lets see how they drive.