In the center of the grille there’s a small plastic piece of trim that’s at the center of MINI’s new found Level 2 autonomy features. But unlike recent BMWs it’s hardly notable and is in fact the smallest sensor used to date in any BMW Group product. It’s part of a technology package that powers not only MINI’s autonomy features but everything from its ew augmented reality navigation to pedestrian detection.

Behind the gloss plastic are several ultrasonic sensors positioned on the horizontal strut that work in tandem with a suite of 12 sensors in total. Their goal is to detect the MINIs surroundings painting a much more clear picture of obstacles in a wider array of weather conditions.

MINI’s new Augmented Reality Navigation

With this system MINI has dramatically improved its active cruise that we’re told will be more weather proof and hehe less faults. It also allows MINI’s new Augmented Reality navigation to be incredibly precise in the complex environments.

A quick view of MINI’s autonomous driving features in action.

But the feature we’re most excited about is optional Level 2 autonomy MINI is calling Driving Assistant Professional. With the Driving Assistant Professional, the MINI Cooper and Countryman has partially automated Level 2 driving on highways for the first time. If you’ve been following MotoringFile all year you’ll remember us exclusively reporting on this feature last spring.

The sensor housing is the smallest yet offered by the BMW Group

When engaged, Driving Assistant Professional allows the driver to take their hands off the wheel at speeds of up to 37 mph (60 km/h), as long as they have their eyes on the road (as determined by an eye tracker) and are ready to intervene at any time.

The small grey strips in the wheel light-up to tell you when the system is working or needs your attention.

We’ve used this system in BMW’s extensively and it really does work as advertised – you can take your hands off the wheel entirely as long as your eyes are on the road. The car will stop, go, turn and even change lanes on command using the turn signal. 

The thin grey strip above “set” is one of the two LED lights that lets you know the system is active 

Once you reach 38 MPH the system switches modes and goes into a more simplistic autonomous setting which requires a driver’s hands to rest on the wheel. However the system works identically, following traffic, the curves of the road and will even change lanes based on the driver using the turn signal. However at these speeds the system requires hands-on the wheel or at least pressure of some kind. 

The petrol F66 MINI Cooper has its main array of sensors discretely hidden in the center of the grille.

This feature has been optional on BMWs for years and in our experience is ideal for stop and go traffic. However MINI’s system adds a new wrinkle as it can identify gaps in traffic needed to change lanes to get to an exit. It then brings the vehicle to the optimum speed for assisted lane changes. The system will let you know when it’s successfully engaged via two green lights on the steering wheel.

The petrol U25 MINI Countryman JCW uses a textured pattern to obscure the sensor module in the center of its grille.

When it can’t detect your eyes (in hands-free) or hands (at higher speeds) those green lights being to flash orange. You can see that happen in the second video above as I try to demonstrate that it’s the wheel moving and not my hands.

MINI’s Augmented Reality navigation is enabled by the same array of 12 sensors that powers its autonomous driving features

While MINI is focused on Level 2, hands-free mode intended mostly for traffic jams below 38 mph, it’s the hands-on mode (which works up to 85 mph) that you’ll likely find much more useful. In this mode the system uses a combination of adaptive cruise and steering input to follow well marked highways without intervention. It uses steering the lane guidance assistant, lane keeping, lane change assistant (with active side collision protection) and the emergency stop assistant to create a seamless and safe experience.

We’ve spent 1000s of miles in BMW’s with a similar system and found it to be an excellent feature for anyone who does long stretches highway driving. While it doesn’t take over completely at highway speeds (your hands have to remain on the wheel), it lessens the cognitive load on those long road-trips.

MINI’s Driving Assistant Professional is made up of two options: Driving Assistant (5AS) and the Driving Assistant Plus (5AT). The U25 Countryman and the F66 Cooper will feature this system at launch while the electric J01 MINI Cooper and J05 MINI Aceman will eventually get them.