The MINI key (or key fob) has always been a unique aspect of the car. Since the R56 there’s been a whimsical design added to it to distinguish it from other cars. However, for its new generation, there’s a completely new key fob design. So we went in-depth to see how it works even what’s inside. We found some surprises along with a few reasons why your phone may be all you need.

MINI’s new key fob is less unique than its last two generations and is similar to MINI’s approach with the R50. For the R50 MINI leveraged an existing Rover-designed key and added MINI styling elements to it. With the new generation of models, MINI has injected its design aesthetic into the current BMW fob design and functionality. That means the lock button and optional remote engine start are on the front. For the first time, MINI has moved the unlock button away from the lock and placed it on the side like BMW.

The European spec fob with a different button design

Why the move? It’s likely due to feedback that unlocking the car could happen too easily at times. MINI has carefully designed the buttons on the side, subtly raising the outside buttons and keeping the trunk open button flush. However, this nuance is not present on the current US-spec key fobs we’ve seen.

Similarly, the diamond button in the fob above seems to be present in only certain markets and is likely programmable to several different functions. In the US and other markets that’s a dedicated horn button that helps you locate your MINI quickly.

Tearing Down the New MINI Key Fob

There’s a small button that you depress to take off the end of the fob which then lets you easily take off the back. But there you won’t find much other than the housing for the replaceable battery. In the photos above you can see how it’s a simple clockwise twist to take off the battery housing. Also of note – you can clearly see how the US key lacks the subtle raised design of the two outermost buttons present on the European fobs we’ve encountered.

But at this point, we were a bit confused as to how to actually get to the physical emergency key which we could clearly see from the back. So we turned it over and attempted the very tried and true scientific approach of pulling it apart. And just like that the front of the key snapped off and revealed the rest of its secrets.

Most importantly it’s here that you can find the emergency key for getting into your MINI if the fob is dead or unusable. As you can see there are even clear instructions on how to remove the key in case of emergency. Ironically MINI makes it much more clear at this point in the process than they do in actually getting to the emergency key itself.

New MINI Key Fob Initial Impressions

In our time with the new key fob, we found it generally intuitive. However, like all MINI key fobs, it’s not what we could call a perfected design. For one, it’s very un-MINI-like in its size. This is the largest MINI key fob ever. Second, while the buttons on the side are there for a reason, we found them harder to operate than the previous layouts where they were all front facing.

Finally (and this is really nit-picking), the icon for opening the trunk or boot is clearly not a MINI. Yes, this is a small thing but MINI has a very proud and unique heritage that should be celebrated as much as possible. And sometimes it’s in the smallest moments where the brand needs to sweat the details. Unfortunately for one reason or another, they’ve missed this opportunity.

One other important note. In most markets MINI will only be including one key fob with its new models and will supplant this with a key card. The card will work with keyless entry allowing you to simply carry it in your wallet and use the keyless entry to unlock and lock the car as well as start it.

MINI’s Digital Key and Why It May Be All You’ll Ever Need

The alternative is that you don’t need to use the fob at all. With MINI now fully supporting the Car Connectivity Consortium they’re offering something they call Digital Key Plus. This allows you to now use your smartphone for all the functionality that the key fob has traditionally offered. But this is much different from the previous execution where the phone would send the request to a server and then it would be relayed to the car.

New MINIs will come with one or two fobs depending on the market and a key card that works in conjunction with keyless entry.

This new technology communicates directly with the car for instantaneous response to any command. There are a couple of ways to use Digital Key Plus but the real game changer is to set it so the MINI simply unlocks when you walk up and locks when you walk away.

The option also allows you to store the key in your phone’s wallet as well. On an iPhone, this can be accessed by a double click on your power button. Then simply hold your phone to the MINI’s door handle to unlock or lock. Both work via ultra-wideband (UWB) technology in the same way as a traditional key fob but with even more security in the way it communicates with the car.

Using this method also allows you to share (permanently or temporarily) a digital key for others to use as well via something as simple as a text message.

Oh, and it will even work in most cases when your phone is dead (provided you have an iPhone). This is called Express Mode and if it’s enabled, it allows a user to lock/unlock and start the vehicle for up to 5 hours after the iPhone battery has run out.

The MINI Key Fob – Initial Impressions

Yes, it’s too big. But if you look at how MINI packed in the emergency key it’s easy to see why. Other than that we’d love to see slightly more MINI-specific design elements and those tactile raised buttons standard throughout the world. But what we’re really impressed with is the optional Digital Key Plus. It’s a game changer in the way it lets you simply forget about the fob entirely and just go on with your life.