What am I looking at? Those were the first words that came to mind as I walked into the secret room inside of the secret bunker where the F66 MINI Cooper laid waiting for me. With no phone in my pocket and no way to even take notes, I began walking around the new Cooper studying every new detail. Then it hit me. This is (mostly) what the F56 should have been all along. And perhaps even what its designers had always wanted.

Experiencing a new MINI for the first time is one thing. But seeing a new MINI with head of MINI Design Oliver Heimler next to you is another experience entirely. “What do you think, and be honest” Oliver asked me. My immediate response was one of shock at just how far MINI took the F56 in turning it into the F66.

Walking up to the F66 MINI Cooper S for the first time is like looking at a F56 that has been honed and subtly smoothed like a stone in a river. It’s not just that MINI has taken away the faux scoops and non-functional design elements. Look close and you realize the bumper, hood and even rear fenders have all been reshaped.

I asked Oliver about this and he told me the MINI Design team wanted to push the F56 as far as it could go to not just make it look like the J01. They wanted to make it feel more modern. He didn’t say this but I could sense that these were changes in the F66 that MINI designers had probably thought about for many years and hadn’t been able to execute.

Let’s get over the lack of a manual. There’s no question it’s heartbreaking for many of us question. But let’s celebrate the fact that we are looking at an all new MINI Cooper powered by an internal combustion engine. The last one in fact. It’s a moment to celebrate that this car exists. New styling, updated engines, higher levels of performance and entirely new technology. And there’s so much more. MINI has checked so many boxes. There are finally wider wheels and tires. The ridiculous faux hood scoop and vents adorning the car are gone. In their place is (brace yourself) nothing. Simplicity. The core of the Mini philosophy is everywhere you look uninterrupted by gauche styling elements.

The front overhang is still here. MINI designers have been able to alter its impact through subtle alterations but there’s no material change to the size and that’s disappointing. Oliver confirmed this with a resigned look. But his excitement grew the second we started to talk how much was accomplished with what we had expected was simply a refresh.

And that’s really the big take away here. Yes this is a revised F56 if you think about the chassis underneath and the engines powering the car. But everything else (literally) has been altered. From subtle changes to complete rethinks, the F66 feels new in surprising ways. You’re left feeling that MINI designers and engineers have pulled off the impossible. Revising the F56 into something that feels truly new.

Throughout my walk around Oliver was still asking for feedback. What did I think about this or that? And is there something I wasn’t sure about. I mentioned that the exhaust choice would be hard for some and he nodded with agreement. But he also made it clear that MINI was moving into a new direction with electrification and the brand had to be thoughtful about how it expressed that philosophy even in its ICE cars. I told him that the rear lights would be a challenge for some but I completely understand the logic MINI designer were working with. Then finally it hit me. There was one glaring thing. I’m not a fan of the type face on the rear hatch. I shrugged my shoulders and told him as a designer that has worked with type of years I had to say it. He smiled and said he’d bring that feedback to the team.

And with that I congratulated him and his team for such a shocking and successful transformation.

Leaving the top secret room and walking down the hall is when it hit me. A lot of these designers worked on the F56 and its siblings. Yet if you look at the concepts they’ve been producing since then (the Rocketman and Superleggera being two) its clear that, when left to their own devices, they had a more refined vision of the MINI than we’ve seen with the F56 even through its two LCIs. That vision has finally become reality with the F66 MINI Cooper.

I just wish it had a manual transmission.