The new MINI Cooper features not one but two completely new and totally vegan seat designs. Clad in a synthetic leather called Vescin, the seats have a revised shape and new features including massage. But what you get depends on what version of the Cooper you want.

Let’s start with what’s different about the seats in the two new models. The petrol powered F66 MINI Cooper and the electric J01 Cooper are designed to look identical to the casual observer. But the more you look the more you see differences. One of those key differences are the seats you sit on.

The J01 Cooper has a different design as compared to the F66 including fixed headrests.

Sitting in both back to back it’s clear that MINI has done an extraordinary job of creating consistencies across two fundamentally different cars. They feel almost identical to us and any differences we noticed might simply be in our heads. But inspecting the seats closely reveals some design differences.

Thanks to a bit more interior width, F66 Cooper features the same exact seats found new U25 Countryman. This means we’ll see the same seat geometry. The J01 on the other hand, features an all new design with a shape that’s subtly different to account for the slightly different interior dimensions.

Electric and Massaging Seats in the Cooper for the First Time

MINI has completely rethought the design of their seats to accomplish several goals; save weight, reduce complexity and allow the seats to fit more body types more comfortably. While reducing some of the elements in the seats, they’ve also added a few; massage and ventilation options are now available in the JCW Sport seats. Finally they’ve also made electric seats optional on all models – even the Cooper.

Technically the “Active Seat” option is for a single seat and both seats. That saves weight and cost which makes some sense in a car like a MINI. The massaging function gently moves the spinal column of the person sitting in the driver’s seat to reduce muscular tension and fatigue and prevent lower back pain. The massaging function is tied to a couple of the experience modes and can also be turned on independently with varying intensity. 

The new seats in the Countryman are also optionally ventilated as well. Small fans in the seats cool both the seat cushion and backrest surfaces. The fans do not use refrigerated air so consider this as a way to circulate air creating a evaporative effect that can cool the body.

The F66 base sport seats. Note the slightly different shape and movable headrests compared with the optional JCW seats.

Can Vegan Seats Feel Better Than Leather?

MINI is making a big move to become a more environmentally focused company. That started years ago with more sustainable manufacturing and painting processes and starting with the new generation of MINI, it now extends to the interior with a fully vegan replacement for leather.

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

The Vescin seats available on the U25 Countryman – the same design as in the F66.

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.

The F66’s Vescin & Cloth sport seats

Hands-On With Vescin

What’s it like in person? Over the course of the past 9 months we’ve had a handful of opportunities to experience MINI’s replacement for leather, Vescin. Driving the new Countryman and experiencing it in the J01 electric Cooper and F66 petrol Cooper. Here’s what we’ve found.

Getting into a new MINI with Vescin for the first time it’s clear that Vescin is a step-up from what we’ve known as Leatherette. In the all the handful of new MINIs we’ve experienced it in the seats 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. Not surprising given that MINI’s standard leather is almost a veneer over other materials.

Comparing it with the (formally) optional Lounge Leather things are bit tougher for the Vescin. It can’t quite match the buttery feel – at least on the seats. The Vescin on MINI’s sport steering wheel does approach that suppleness interestingly. Could we see this grade of Vescin eventually show-up on seats as an option?

The JCW Sport Seats with fixed headrests in the U25 MINI Countryman JCW

Sport Seats Vs Regular Seats on

Across all new MINI models there will be two different seats. But unlike the previous MINI seats in the F Series cars, they share almost same overall design. However there are a couple of differences. The standard seats have flatter bolsters on both the lower cushion and seat back. The Sport seats (which are identical to the JCW branded seats) also have an integrated headrests similar to the current F Series JCW seats. However crucially both do not offer extendable thigh-bolsters as previously in the optional sport seats. 

F66 MINI Cooper seat choices for the US market

Our Early Verdict

On paper some of these moves sound like an unfortunate cost cutting that would make the new seats less supportive with cheaper materials. In our brief time we can tell you that doesn’t appear to be the case.

In terms of comfort. The new seat cushion is longer and while doesn’t quite reach the length the extendable bolsters do, they’ll likely be close enough for most. In addition the electric seats we tested have the ability to move the thigh bolster upward which is intended to take the place of the manual extending bolster. And in our testing it all works pretty well. Despite being 6? 2? I was immediately felt comfortable and felt plenty of thigh support. Compare that to the R50 or R56 seats and these are noticeably longer and out of the box more comfortable.

Helping further the comfort level is the new Active Seat option (451). I have always loved both massaging and ventilated seats for road-trips and in my time with MINI’s new Active Seats, I was impressed. While the massaging function didn’t feel as aggressive as the new BMW i7 for instance, they felt on part with the older massaging seats in the recent X5 and X7.

But what about Vescin? The reality is real, full grain leather doesn’t exist in cars unless you’re well into the six figure price range. What we’ve had with MINI’s mid-tier leather is essentially a veneer applied to leatherette on about 80% of seats (the rest is leatherette). And in our experience it can scratch, stain and eventually crack with use. While Lounge Leather is much higher quality, even that will suffer with age unless you like the patina of cracking bolsters or religiously take care of it.

Vescin solves all of those problems with an easy to clean, long lasting product that happens to be much more environmentally friendly to make and is 100% recyclable. Crucially it looks and feels better than the mid-tier leather we’ve come to know in MINIs. And there’s hope for a higher quality version as well given the Vescin on the steering wheel we felt was on par with the best Lounge Leather we’ve even experienced in MINIs. Add in the ability to stay cooler in extreme heat and it seems like a real step forward.

The Vescin on the Sport steering wheel feels like a higher grade.

Yet final verdict will have to come after a few years of living with the new material. While Leatherette has proven to be incredibly durable (more so than leather in our experience), we’ll withhold judgement on that front until we have real data. 

Until then Vescin looks and feels very promising in our initial experience. As much as we love the feel of that optional Lounge Leather in MINIs, we’re ready to move on to something all around better and more affordable.