I’m in an undisclosed location just outside of Munich and I can’t believe my eyes. In front of me is nothing less than the future of MINI – the very cars we’ve been looking at spy shots of for years. And yet, I can’t tell you about it. Except for the thing I’m sitting in.
As I write this I’m sitting inside the all new J01 MINI Cooper SE with my the seat all the way back, my MacBook Pro on my lap and its screen resting on the steering wheel. It’s all a bit surreal as I look around at what we’ve only seen spy photos of and speculated on for years. If the outside of this all new MINI looks like an evolution, the interior is nothing short than revolution.
MINI has opened this secret facility to MotoringFile to show off the future. And the first part of that future we can discuss is that all new interior of the MINI. And while I’m sitting in the J01 MINI Cooper electric, much what we see here will spread throughout the products range. The entire MINI family will have consistent elements such as the physical controls, materials and design themes you see here.
the 2024 Electric MINI Cooper SE – A Revolution Inside
The interior revolution starts with eliminating much of what we’ve come to expect inside of a car. Gone is leather, polyurethane dashboards and even that familiar rectangular screen in the center. In their places are more environmentally friendly materials and simpler forms that feel more connected to the classic 1959 Mini than the 2023 MINI this car replaces.
In fact if you look at that original Mini interior and the J01 you’ll see a striking similarity in overall design and focus on simplicity. That’s no accident. MINI designers actually started not with a clean sheet but a single photograph. An press photo of the original Mini interior in all its simplistic glory. But how in an age of screens, technical complexity and countless safety regulations could they achieve a design that followed that same ethos?
It started by taking things away. The original Mini didn’t have leather, it had fabric. It also didn’t have a classic instrument cluster but instead had only a central collection of gauges. And the overall design was focused comfort, storage and ease of production.
Today MINI has many more things to consider. That central gauge is now a screen and while ease of production still matters, so does the circular economy and the ability to recycle 95% of everything you see here.
Dissecting The New MINI Interior
The Return of the Rail
Sitting in the new J01 electric MINI Cooper you can’t help but notice the openness compared to the current F56. There’s also been a focus on simplicity driven by the original Mini’s interior. For instance gone is the center console and shifter. In its place is an open space that allows for movable cupholders and storage bins. Want more cupholders? You can add them just like you can add larger storage units as well. If that sounds familiar it’s because this new system is inspired by the original Countryman’s center rail, this new system allows for an almost infinite number of configurations with MINI’s upcoming accessory plans. But what makes this different than the rail system is that it’s functional storage with no accessories at all.
Minimal Armrest Design
Another big change is the armrest which has become much more minimal. In an effort to simplify the center console area further MINI has designed the armrest into the driver’s seat itself. It’s much smaller than before but in practice feels comfortable and seems perfectly placed for the job.
The seats themselves are a completely new design. Again with a focus on simplicity MINI has eliminated the thigh bolster from the latest generation of sport seats and designed a bottom cushion that extends further outward reducing the need for additional support. I’m 6’2″ and I have relied on that thigh bolster in every MINI and BMW that offers it. And yet I see how MINI has shaped this new seat to limit the need. No it’s not as supportive but it’s noticeably better than the R50 for R56 seats which also didn’t offer a thigh-bolster.
Heating and Cooling – a Mix of Digital & Physical Controls
The heating and cooling controls have been moved into the center screen as MINI has gone to great lengths to eliminate physical controls. While that is is generally a recipe for disaster for in-car experience, we get a sense in talking to the designers that MINI has learned from the mistakes of brands like VW and even parent company BMW. But we’ll have more on that next week.
But MINI’s rethink of heating and cooling doesn’t end there. Even the vents have been radically simplified with a design that is both minimal and blends them into the dash. In fact the center venting system is almost completely hidden just below the circular OLED display. But crucially the controls for all the vents (even the hidden ones) are intuitive and designed with a very tactile and satisfying feel.
Why Is there Fabric on the Dash?
Yes you’re seeing that correctly, that is fabric on the dash and doors. They both have gone from a polyurethane based foam rubber outer layer to fabric that is both made from recycled fibers and itself is easily recyclable. It’s also crucially designed to keep the car cooler as well and reportedly won’t fade in the sun.
As you can expect MINI will offer a variety of designs including one or two options of single color dashes for those who wish to keep things a bit more low-key.
How does it feel? Very robust and clearly designed for a very long life-span. However my first thought was, how do I clean it? I asked folks from MINI that question and the answer was pretty simple – a damp cloth.
Oh and that light you see on both sides of the dash? We can’t go into details on that yet but come back next Thursday and we’ll have answers.
MINI Goes Modern With a New Door Panel Design
Also new is the entire interior door panel design which has moved away from the design themes we’ve seen since the R50 and to something that feels more modern and minimal. The grab handle is now cleanly integrated into the design that then flows directly into the speakers (in this example with the optional H/K speakers).
The handle itself is much lower than any modern MINI and yet feels more intuitive and better placed. It’s also a cleaner, simpler design that feels more intuitive from the first moment you slip your hand from the wheel to the handle.
the new Vegan Friendly Steering Wheel That’s Secretly a Two-Spoke
The new MINI steering wheel, like most elements here will spread across the entire MINI family as more models are introduced. As the center part of the driving experience MINI has clearly done to great lengths to hone the look and (crucially) the feel. In hand it feels fantastic with excellent material quality and great feel in hand.Normally this wouldn’t be big news but this is MINI’s first fully vegan friendly model.
That means there is no leather to be found on wheel or anywhere in the car. We were skeptical that they could create something that felt as sumptuous as the current MINI Yours steering wheel yet, to our hands, that’s exactly what this feels like. Soft and supple with good grip, it’s shocking that this isn’t leather.
One other interesting design note – it may not look it, but MINI has brought back the two-spoke steering wheel is the new MINI family. The center spoke is actually just a piece of fabric that visually connects the rim to the center of the wheel.
New Gear Lever and Engine Start/Stop – Inspired by the 1959 Mini
The new gear lever is a major departure as it both moves from the center console to the dash and sees a radical redesign. Sitting in the car the change makes a lot of sense. This is an electric car that will never have a manual so why not rethink the placement and design?
Placement is surprisingly good as it’s both right next to the engine start switch (more on that in a second) and the steering wheel. That means it’s a very intuitive series of movements to start the car, pull the lever down to “D” and grab the wheel. It’s made even better by the quality of the materials. I never felt the F56 was particularly bad when it came to the chromed finished on the plastic toggles but this experience is a clear step-up.
To the left of the new gear lever is the electric parking brake button. Simple and relatively out of the way (unless you need it), again it feels very intuitive in its placement.
To the right of the gear lever is the new start/stop switch. As you can see it’s been designed to mimic the original Mini key from 1959. While the placement is identical to the F56, twisting the “key” is a cool nod to the past that feels very satisfying.
The New MINI Experiences
To the right of the start/stop switch is the “Experiences” toggle. While we don’t have final verification we do know from previous reporting that this allows you to change both the in-cabin experience and driving experience. We will see things like Green, Core and Go-Kart to name a few. But this isn’t just about different lighting, weighted steering and sharpening throttle response. With the Go-Kart setting for instance, the all electric J01 MINI Cooper SE will not only be quicker off the line but will adjust settings allowing for oversteer in corners. There’s much more we’ll have on MINI’s new Experiences next Thursday.
The volume and audio on/off will remain a physical knob and is placed to the right side of the new control bank.
Just below we have a short-cuts to; driving assistant features, exterior cameras, front defrost and rear defrost.
Interior Size – How Does it Compare to the F56?
While we don’t have data from MINI yet, I’m sitting here with my seat all the back and even though I’m 6’2″ my feet can just touch the pedals. If anything it feels slightly larger inside than the current car. That’s perception of openness is certainly helped by the reduction in elements on the dash and in the center console. But more importantly MINI has increased the wheelbase by over an inch with does seem to translate into slightly more cabin space.
|R56 MINI Cooper||F56 MINI Cooper||J01 2025 Electric MINI Cooper|
|Length||3698 mm / 145.6 in||3850 mm / 151.57 in||3860 mm / 151.91 in|
|Height||1407 mm / 55.4 in||1414 mm / 55.67 in||1435 mm / 56.49 in|
|Wheelbase||2467 mm / 97.1 in||2495 mm / 98.23 in||2525 mm / 99.40|
The rear passenger seats are very similar to the current ones found in the F56. Sitting behind myself on the back is still a challenge but then again it feels very similar if not identical to the current MINI Cooper experience.
The New MINI Interior – Our Initial Take
As you can see MINI has relentlessly modernized the design elements throughout the interior. The mantra of form follows function is played out (almost) everywhere inside the cabin. Save for the faux black strap on the dash (which serves no purpose and is both stitched and glued down) there’s very little in the way of design elements that are directly tied to function or user-centered interactions.
Of course actually being in the all new MINI interior helps bring it all to life. Photos can go a long way but it starts to make sense the more your hands move around the cabin, grab the wheel, open the doors, adjust the vents and hit start. It all feels right from the cold touch of the shift lever to the surprisingly supple vegan steering wheel. The physical interactions feel better thought through than any previous new MINI and additions like the fabric on doors and dash seems like a peek into the future.
2024 MINI Electric & 2024 Countryman Debut and Release Timing
The new J01 MINI Cooper electric and U25 MINI Countryman (electric & ICE) will debut at the Munich Motor Show this September. While MINI hasn’t confirmed production timing, our sources have confirmed that the J01 will go into production this fall in China and will be sold in Europe, Asia and South America initially. Plans for North America are still being finalized.
|J01 MINI Cooper (BEV) / China||Start of Production|
|J01 MINI Cooper E||11/2023|
|J01 MINI Cooper SE||11/2023|
|J01 MINI Cooper JCW||11/2024*|
Similarly our sources have confirmed that we will see the all new U25 MINI Countryman begin production in Leipzig Germany in November with global exports happening in the months following.
|U25 / Leipzig, Germany||Start of Production|
|U25 ICE Countryman||11/2023|
|U25 ICE Countryman S||11/2023*|
|U25 ICE Countryman JCW||11/2023*|
|U25 BEV Countryman E||03/2024|
|U25 BEV Countryman SE||03/2024*|
|U25 BEV Countryman JCW||TBD*|
The Rest of the New MINI Family
There’s much coming of course. The forthcoming ICE powered F66 MINI Cooper will be a massive seller in the US and the electric J05 MINI Aceman (effectively a Clubman replacement) will follow in the footsteps of the J01 about a year later. If you want the details you’ll not find anywhere else on any of the new MINI’s head to our 4th Generation MINI Section.