The new petrol F66 MINI Cooper is not a simple refresh of its F56 predecessor. It’s an entire rethink of the F56 that just happens to be on the same chassis. But what exactly are those differences and how important are they? We’ve been hands-on with the F66 MINI Cooper several times and have come away some of surprising answers.

Looking below you can immediately see some of the small nuances changes that MINI has made. Every dimension has changed and in some surprising ways. The front and rear overhang has been reduced slightly making the entire car shorter. But the width has grown noticeably and the track (both front and back) has gotten wider as well.

The F56 Cooper has a width of 75.9″ vs the F66 which is wider at 77.6″. That 1.3″ difference may not sound like much but BMW and MINI don’t typically increase the width of a car solely because of aesthetics. And this isn’t just about wider wheels and tires (which have gone from 205 to 215 on the Cooper S). This change is also due to MINI changing the mechanical bits creating a wider track. This has also has an aesthetic benefit of allowing a more concave wheel design – a critique especially of the previous JCW.

Then there are the little things like the boot or trunk. Yes even the boot has been altered – growing in volume slightly. That really underscores just how thorough this redesign was.

Looking at the image above you can also clearly see how MINI has pushed forward and changed the angle of the headlights as well. This works in conjunction with the new hood and simpler face of the car to create a more upright silhouette. We’ve previously talked about this in our first hands-on video review of the F66 but have never had a visual that demonstrates it so clearly.

In fact the only visible parts of the car that have been carried over are the doors, the roof and the glass.

ModelF56 CooperF56 Cooper SF66 Cooper CF66 Cooper S
Length (mm/in)3863mm / 152.8 in3863mm / 152.8 in3876mm / 152.6 in3876mm / 152.6 in
Height (mm/in)1414mm / 55.66 in1414mm / 55.66 in1432mm / 56.4 in1432mm / 56.4 in
Wheelbase (mm/in)2495mm / 98.23 in2495mm / 98.23 in2495mm / 98.23 in2495mm / 98.23 in
Curb weight (lbs)2,769 lbs (US)2,841 lbs (US)2,778 lbs (DIN)2,832 lbs (DIN)
F56 curb weight is taken from the US based cars equipped with an automatic. F66 curb weight are from EU figures as we wait for US specific data.

A Small Weight Change

One of the biggest critiques of modern MINI is that they appear to be getting larger and heavier with every generation. That’s actually not historically true. The R50 (manual) had a DIN weight of 2,535 lbs which then decreased to 2,513 with the R56 Cooper (manual). While that weight finally did go up with the noticeably larger F56, it wasn’t as much as most assumed. The F56’s DIN weight is 2,701 lbs in manual form and 2,756 with the DCT. Given that the F66 will only be available with the DCT, let’s compare those two numbers.

The F56 Cooper DCT weights in at 2,756 lbs. The new F66 Cooper DCT has a curb weight of 2,778 lbs, a 22 lbs difference. Given the added emissions and safety additions (and not to mention the new tech), a 22 lbs increase feels like a win in a world of 6,000 SUVs.

The Interior of the F66 MINI Cooper

While the exterior changes on the F66 may be surprising given its F56 origins, the interior is downright shocking. MINI has turned the F56 into a completely new car with all the design language, materials and technology found in the J01 MINI Cooper. The biggest change is the minimal design and large, circular display that dominates the experience. We’ve details that display, its operating system and its many functions on MotoringFile for months now. In fact you can see our full demo of the new system below.

The new display and its software is a focal point for the entire driving experience housing almost all functionality save for a row of switches, buttons and toggles just below it. 

Stationary the new MINI OS9 interface had felt intuitive in our previous experiences. But as we know, on the road things can be a bit different. In our experience we found a relatively learning curve before we felt fully acclimated with the new system. Within the first hour we had quickly become accustom to the new interaction language and overall placement of functionality. 

But is this better than MINI’s previous system? In our experience with the same system in the new Countryman, absolutely. The augmented navigation in particular was a standout. it overlays mapping graphics on a live video feed in the top of the circular display helping to literally paint directions on the road in front of you. And the data within the mapping app itself felt almost as reliable and quick as Google Maps or Apple Maps.

Leather vs Vescin

When talking about there interior, the headline for many is that this new MINI is completely leather free. Why? There’s a big environmental impact due to the production of leather in the quantities that companies like MINI need. So much so that MINI has made the bold decision to eliminate leather from its coming starting with the all new J01 MINI Cooper electric

What’s wrong with leather? It’s complicated but suffice to say it’s not the most natural and environmentally safe thing to produce. It’s also not aligned with MINI’s brand image of being environmentally conscious and animal friendly. But how do you replace something as iconic as leather seats? In short you find a more environmentally friendly alternative that’s actually better to touch and lasts longer.

BMW and MINI are so confident in products like Vescin (BMW’s version I called Sensafin – an improved version of Sensatec) they they’re already being used in several cars with MSRPs well over $100,000.

What’s it like in person? Getting into the new F66 MINI Cooper, it’s clear that Vescin is a step-up from what we’ve known as Leatherette. The off-white perforated seats in the F66 MINI Cooper we experienced were softer to the touch than leatherette and felt much more supple. But how do they compare with leather? In short very well. Compared with the standard Chesterfield or Cross Punch leather seating, Vescin feels softer and more premium. It’s not on par with the feel and softness of MINI’s Lounge Leather but then again that’s $2500 option on the Signature Trim.

The Electric J01 MINI Cooper vs the Petrol F66 MINI Cooper

To confuse things even more there’s an entirely other new MINI Cooper (the J01) that’s all electric. Why is has MINI created a (relatively) new petrol MINI Cooper when they have an all new electric version? The short answer is that MINI is putting enormous investment in electrifying the product line-up with the J01 MINI Cooper, J05 MINI Aceman and U25 Countryman (available as both ICE and EV). This enormous investment prompted a decision; completely drop the ICE powered Cooper, spend billions creating a new one or thoroughly rework the current F56 adding performance, technology and a new design inside and out. In the end there was only one choice. The F66 is that answer.

You can read and watch our comparison of the two here.

F66 MINI Cooper Launch Details 

The F66 MINI Cooper is now in production and should reach UK and EU dealers in late March. The rest of the world should see cars in mid to late April. The US will likely see an on-sale date in early May as its production will begin in late March and early April.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think of the massive changes between these two cars? Did MINI go far enough inn revising the F56 or did they go too far in trying to follow the all new electric J01 MINI Cooper?