I’m sitting inside of a nondescript commercial building on the outskirts of Munich staring at the car that so many of us have waited to see. The all new J01 MINI Cooper Electric at first glance seems like it’s only been tweaked here and there to modernize it for electrification. But the more you look the more you realize how MINI has rethought everything in an effort to get back to its roots.

Note: Today MINI is launching its next generation with the new MINI Cooper Electric and MINI Countryman Electric. In anticipation of this release, MINI invited us to experience the new cars in Munich and talk to the people that created them. We’ve taken knowledge and poured it into exclusive in-depth articles, reviews and videos you won’t want to miss.

MINI Cooper EV: Premier | MINI Cooper EV: Hands-On Review | MINI Cooper EV: Video Review

MINI Countryman EV: Premier | MINI Countryman EV: Hands-On Review | MINI Countryman EV: Video Review

New MINI Family: 1st Look Video | MINI Circular Display & MINI OS9 Hands-On Review

To get into this building I had to give up my phone, put tape over my computer’s webcam and there’s a good chance that I’ve signed over my children in the paperwork. But this moment has been years in the making and it might just be worth it.

It may look nearly the same but every millimeter as been rethought and re-designed from the ground-up.

The overall design pays off what the Head of MINI Design Oliver Heimler has been hinting towards for years; minimalism and simplicity that is inspired by the original Mini. MINI’s name for this new approach is known internally as “Charismatic Simplicity.” with this new approach, there’s almost a stark minimalism compared to what we’ve seen over the last decade.

At first glance the Blazing Blue MINI Cooper SE looked evolutionary until the proportions start to register and you notice the details. Once you give it a few seconds you begin to notice the stark simplicity of the front. Gone are the faux vents, scoops and creases. In fact there’s really not a single design element that doesn’t have purpose functionally. That in itself is a massive departure from most modern MINIs save the original R50. With the J01 we have something that feels honed and evolved with a less is more philosophy.

mini Cooper electric review
The new face. The old face but a bit more restrained.

The Simple Face of the MINI Cooper Electric

As the curtains raised our view of the car was the front. In many ways it was immediately reassuring. As we mentioned at first glance it seems very similar to what we’ve known with the F56. But that fades away quickly as you study the details or lack there of.

Like leather, Chrome has been eliminated from MINI’s palette of options due to environmental reasons. But we’re not personally morning its passing. Since the R50/R53 it felt like an after-thought and something MINI felt obligated to offer rather than a core part of the design language. In its place is either the matte Vibrant Silver or gloss Piano Black trim depending on the model. But more telling is that MINI as simply eliminated trim and other embellishments.

The front is particularly striking with smaller, more proportional details than the F56 generation. In the grill the lines are thinner and the shapes are simpler. Where there’s an air intake (the bottom) it’s obviously functional. Where there is no cooling function (the upper part of the bumper) MINI has made it gloss black and used it for various sensors.

Interesting we had assumed the lights were smaller than the F56 because they lack the outer trim. However that’s not entirely true. If you take away the trim from an F56 the new headlights on the J01 are actually a little larger. However without an outer ring of trim they seem simpler and more proportionally correct for the car.

It’s worth noting that, what we see in these photos are the standard lights and not the adaptive LEDs that will be optional. Those will feature a horizontal bar and two different matrix units above and below.

mini Cooper electric review
A proper evolution in design in our eyes.

Upfront the J01 feels a bit more subtle and sophisticated than the F56 when you have the two next to each other. As if the J01 has been eating right, going to the gym and leaning into the fashion philosophy of quiet luxury. Everything is more minimal and yet feels no less expressive.

In fact when you view them next to each other its the J01 (despite having less flair) that feels more aggressive. That’s down to the stance, it’s slightly more upright nature up front and the sculpted fenders.

mini Cooper electric review
At certain angles MINI’s new curves become more obvious.

Sculpted Sides and Simple Shapes

Speaking of those sculpted sides, they’re more visible the longer you look. They’re also accentuated by the inset crease (one of only a few on the car) that helps define them. Together with the 18″ wheels on Cooper S in these photos they help create a muscular vibe despite the elimination of the plastic fender flares.

Yes those plastic fender flares have been removed in an effort to reduce components. While we’ve always loved the concept of them on the R50, R56 and even the F56, here MINI has replied on dimensional sculpting to eliminate the visual need for them.

The side scuttles that have been other car since the R50 are also gone. In their place is absolutely nothing. It was that change more than even the rear that felt odd at first. But the more we took-in the dimensionality of the J01 the more we understood the approach.

mini Cooper electric review
The most controversial part of the car?

Controversial Rear Design

Finally around to the rear, things get a bit controversial. We say that of all the spy shots and leaked photos, it’s the rear that has garners the majority of the negative comments. And its those rear lights are the biggest departure from previous MINI exterior design language.

But if you don’t think that hard about the last few generations of MINIs and just look at the car with fresh eyes, they start to make a lot of sense. Yeah maybe we drank some kool-aid while in Munich but hear us out. The shape has a dynamic quality to it that visually widens the car. It also acts as an end-point for that voluminous rear fender as it wraps to the back of the car. Finally the shape comes to life when you realize they allow for three different lighting signatures. Add in how the brake lights work an the whole thing seems rather brilliant when you see it in person and functioning.

Where we do have a problem with the rear is the stretched typeface and extra space for the “S”. Call us type nerds but it comes across a bit garish given how considered every other element is on this car.

The GoKart Mode interface with the center speedo turned on.

The Interior Revolution

Sitting in the new J01 electric MINI Cooper you can’t help but notice the openness compared to the current F56. Like the exterior there’s a focus on simplicity driven by the original Mini’s interior concept. 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, allowing 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.

Also new is a complete lack of leather. Why? You can read our deep dive on the reasons and MINI’s replacement Vescin here. But no matter how you feel about the lack of leather, the feel of its replacement will likely be impressive. We were shocked at the quality – especially the steering wheel as it felt like Nappa leather found on the optional MINI Yours steering wheel.

mini Cooper electric review

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.

mini Cooper electric review
The fit and finish of the Vescin seats was a step-up from the current offerings. Time will tell if it can match the quality of the Lounge Leather.

Redesigned Seats

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 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.

mini Cooper electric review
The center vents are cleverly identical behind the central toggle switches.

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.

mini Cooper electric review
100% recycled and 100% recyclable, the new textile dash material is a massive departure.

Fabric Replaces Foam

Yes you’re seeing that correctly, that is fabric (or textile) 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 easily recyclable. It’s also crucially designed to keep the car cooler as well and reportedly won’t fade in the sun. 

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.

One thing that is a bit puzzling relating the dash is the vertical piece of fabric just to right of the screen. It would appear it’s a functional strap for holding things. But alas it’s just ornamental and something that feel out of place both philosophically and literally on the new MINI Cooper.

mini Cooper electric review
Worried about the textile surface getting dirty? MINI Claims they’re engineered for easy cleaning and longevity.

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). 

mini Cooper electric review
That fabric strap is a thick, robust piece of textile unlike anything we’ve seen before in a car.

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 gone to great lengths to hone the look and (crucially) the feel. In hand it feels fantastic with excellent material quality and great feel. Normally this wouldn’t be big news but this is MINI’s first fully vegan friendly model.

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. It may sound like a recipe for disaster in terms of wear and tear but this is very thick and robust fabric that we’re told passed all of BMW’s rigorous durability tests perfectly.

The circular OLED display is a game-changer that has allowed MINI to declutter the interior.

The Revolutionary New Digital Experience of MINI OS9

The digital experience wasn’t entirely functional when we had our time with the car but from what we could see and use we were blown away.

Let’s start with the specs. The circular OLED screen is 9.5” (240 mm) wide however, because of the bottom cutout, measures about 9” in height. While it may seem like unusual design given the rectangles we’re all used to, it feels very natural in person thanks to the way MINI has organized the information. The “Charismatic Simplicity” design language (as MINI calls it) is focused on both minimalism and a bit of MINI character. The circular OLED display seamlessly accommodates both static and dynamic elements, with a clear and intuitive hierarchy (despite the shape). 

We predict it won’t be long for F56 owners to begin looking at retrofit options. It’s that good.

The pixel density is so high we couldn’t even see any. But perhaps more important was the responsiveness. While this was a pre-production J01 MINI, the experience was fluid and full of micro-animations that felt immediately more modern than even the latest iDrive system in new BMWs. The experience felt almost at iOS levels of intuitive and the interactions and animations felt natural. 

The one thing that hasn’t been talked about much is the optional light projector behind the screen. It allows the car to extend the Experience Modes with projects light effects on the dash that, in the dark, is very striking. It may sound gimmicky but in real-life it’s a pretty compelling trick. And yes, it can also be turned off.

For a deep dive on the digital experience check out our video review here.

mini Cooper electric review

Final Thoughts

Like any new MINI, negative reactions are par for the course. If time has taught us anything, new MINI designs might challenge a bit at first but eventually become familiar and accepted for most. We believe the J01 will follow on that trend and will quickly make the F56 look a bit dated and perhaps even off proportionally.

More importantly the J01 MINI Cooper is, to our eyes, the best looking MINI since the R50/R53. It’s proportionally better than the F56, more modern and athletic than the R56 and is designed with a restraint that we haven’t seen from MINI is 20 years.

The material quality is good and in most cases better than we’ve seen from MINI to date. The ergonomics and interior design is thoughtful and at times even brilliant in its rethink of expected layout and design.

But above all else this is a MINI. It feels born from the same philosophy as the original classic Mini while being entirely forward looking. The J01 left us buzzing with excitement and left our time in the studio feeling more optimistic about the brand and its products than we have since the original R50 was launched.

mini Cooper electric mini countryman electric

This is Just the Start – An Entire New MINI Family is Coming

The new J01 MINI Cooper electric and U25 MINI Countryman (electric) will publicly debut at the Munich Motor Show next week. That will be followed by the internal combustion U25 Countryman which will be shown later this year. Then we’ll see the heavily revised F56 morph into the F66 internal combustion MINI Cooper. This will be MINI’s answer to all those who want a Cooper but aren’t ready for electric. Finally we’ll see the all electric MINI Aceman crossover which effectively takes the place of the beloved MINI Clubman. The Aceman will be a small crossover roughly the size of the original MINI Countryman and will be released late next year.

The New MINI FamilyDrivetrainPricingStart of Production
J01 MINI Cooper EElectric32,900€ 11/2023
J01 MINI Cooper SE Electric36,900€ 11/2023
U25 MINI Countryman CICE (Petrol)39.900€ 11/2023
U25 MINI Countryman D ICE (Diesel)42.900€ 11/2023
U25 MINI Countryman E Electric43.500€ 03/2024
U25 MINI Countryman S ALL4ICE (Petrol)45.900€ 11/2023*
U25 MINI Countryman SE ALL4Electric49.500€ 03/2024*
U25 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4ICE (Petrol)56.500€ 03/2024*
F66 MINI CooperICE (Petrol)TBD07/2024*
F66 MINI Cooper SICE (Petrol)TBD07/2024*
F66 MINI Cooper JCWICE (Petrol)TBD11/2024*
F65 MINI Cooper 5 DoorICE (Petrol)TBD07/2024*
F65 MINI Cooper S 5 DoorICE (Petrol)TBD07/2024*
F67 MINI Cooper ConvertibleICE (Petrol)TBDTBD*
F67 MINI Cooper S ConvertibleICE (Petrol)TBDTBD*
J05 MINI AcemanElectricTBDTBD
J05 MINI Aceman SElectricTBDTBD
* Available in the US at launch

For more coverage of the new generation MINI released today, check out the following articles and videos.

MINI Cooper EV: Premier | MINI Cooper EV: Hands-On Review | MINI Cooper EV: Video Review

MINI Countryman EV: Premier | MINI Countryman EV: Hands-On Review | MINI Countryman EV: Video Review

New MINI Family: 1st Look Video | MINI Circular Display & MINI OS9 Hands-On Review