After years of waiting we finally got hands-on with both the electric J01 and the petrol F66 MINI Coopers. Two cars with striking similarities on the surface and seismic differences lurking beneath. One that’s reinventing the entire concept of a MINI being driven by one key stat. The other, an older car thoroughly reengineered to carry the internal combustion torch to the end. Which is more impressive in person and are they really as visually identical as MINI tells us? Let’s find out.

The J01 MINI Cooper and a ground-up EV which means it’s all new and designed with a skateboard chassis as a starting point. This has allowed the J01 to have subtle yet at times substantial differences in shape. At first glance it looks relatively similar to the F56 (and its successor the F66) in shape. Yet getting these two next to each other makes it clear just how much MINI has rethought the Cooper with the J01. That rethink is partially about moving into a new design direction MINI calls this charismatic simplicity. But perhaps an even bigger reason was that MINI was after a dramatic improvement in one key stat – drag co-efficient. 

The first thing that starring us in the face was the altered geometry of the J01. The cowl (where the windshield meets the bonnet) is further forward allowing the windshield to be more angled. This was critical in allowing the J01 to have a dramatic increase in aero efficiency. This was a big part of how MINI was able to reduce the drag co-effecient from 0.34 on the F56 down to only 0.26. For an upright small car that number is rather astounding. 

The more you look the more you see changes driven by the wind. If you could look from directly above the J01 you’d also notice a more tapered rear of the car where the F66 is much more square. This is especially evident if you stand just off the rear taillights looking towards the front of the car. 

The clamshell bonnet is gone thanks to pedestrian safety standards and the plastic wheel arches have been eliminated due to drag. The windshield wipers are now entirely hidden in the cowl as the result of both safety and aero. 

Looking at the F66, MINI has taken incredible steps to mirror these changes but couldn’t fundamentally change the shape. Luckily those changes satisfied the brief as MINI didn’t necessarily need to decrease drag on the petrol car. Instead the focus was creating a MINI that looked (to the average consumer) nearly identical to the electric model. The idea is that MINI wants consumers to have “the power of choice” as they say. That allows potential buyers to simply focus on the choice of petrol or electric and not styling or functionality. 

Inside we found the design and functionality of MINI’s new circular display and MINI OS9 to be identical. One area that was not however was the center console and seats. The F66 takes all of that from the new Countryman including the much larger center armrest.

Our Take

Having spend a fair amount of time with both cars we had a pretty good handle on the differences. So we thought. Few people in the world (outside of BMW employees) likely had a better grasp on these two cars than we did. Yet seeing both together was fascinating. The F66 looked startlingly new when we first saw it. Seeing it next to the J01 gave it away as F56 based pretty quickly. The J01 gave it immediate context we didn’t have before. 

The biggest difference is the shape of both cars. There are some fundamental changes that MINI made to its classic Cooper formula that are hiding in plane sight. Sure we understood them before. The short bonnet, higher belt-line and tapered rear. But with the F66 a few feet away you could better appreciate just how but o a departure the J01 is from the F56 and F66. Subsequently you can better understand just what MINI has done and how far they’ve taken the Cooper in an effort to cheat the wind and create more efficiency.

But you be the judge. Check out the video above and tell us what you think.