Mini Returns To Simplicity In Design

Mini’s new cabin and digital interface are a refreshing throwback to the brand’s roots.

By Chris D'Alessandro Wheels.ca

Jul 27, 2023 4 min. read

Article was updated 2 months ago

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Modern cars throw a lot of information and interaction points at you. Every cabin is festooned with screens, buttons, knobs, ports, paddles, switches, gauges — and remember don’t take your eyes off the road and… wait, I just want to turn the volume up on the radio — do I use the knob or the touch screen or the buttons on the steering wheel which are never where I left them because it’s a wheel?

Can you blame manufacturers? Most customers readily expect their new car to have more modern tech than a space shuttle. We live in a marketplace where content and features are king.

This is a problem if you’re Mini, a brand mostly associated with accessibility, simplicity and a sort of lightness — even, a sense of humor. How do you meet the expectations of a modern car while maintaining that identity?

A total rethink of the cabin and driver interface isn’t a bad place to start and the original Mini Cooper isn’t a bad place to end.

New Mini Interaction Unit

The Mini team sought to re-create the simplicity of the original Cooper’s interior by containing primary design elements to three key shapes: the steering wheel, the climate control stack, and one big circular info screen in the middle of the dash.

First-hand impressions from the unveiling in Munich, Germany? It’s nice. Refreshing even. You’re reminded how much more pleasant cars used to be when they weren’t overloading your stimuli like every other device in your life.

There are some additional touches inside which enhance the charisma. Canvas straps in place of handles and even a steering wheel spoke are irresistibly charming, even as gimmicky as they may be.

But the elephant in the room is undoubtedly the digital info screen. The need-to-know follows.

One big circle

Yes, it’s a totally circular screen. The “MINI Interaction Unit” is the first circular OLED display in automotive. It runs on MINI Operating System 9 and is optimized for touch control. The OS is an in-house development by the BMW Group, but is based for the first time on an Android Open Source Project (AOSP) software stack. The system supports High-Speed connectivity and optional 5G capability.

It’s actually pretty trick to use in real-time. All the expected apps like Spotify, Car Play, and Android Auto are optimized for the circular display, so it’s not just a weird aspect ratio or a cropped version of the standard app.

New Mini Interaction Unit

New Mini Interaction Unit

Over-the-air updates.

MINI vehicles also now receive regular free quality improvements via remote software updates. According to the press release, “Depending on the country, vehicle model, equipment, and vehicle condition, you may even receive additional new functions or functional improvements free of charge.”

Split personality.

Up to eight “Mini Experience Modes” will customize the driving experience through light, user interface, drive settings, and sound.

The content on the screen of the MINI Interaction Unit changes according to the mode. However, an optional light projector on the back of the MINI Interaction Unit can bathe the whole dashboard in colors and patterns to match the Experience Mode selected.

“Timeless” mode sets the display to mimic the classic Mini gauge. “Go-Kart” mode cloaks the display and the interior as a whole in anthracite and red lighting. The MINI Interaction Unit adopts a sporty speedometer and throttle response is enhanced to match. “Vivid” mode will change the interior lighting to match any media on screen. “Personal” mode is perhaps the most interesting addition, which allows drivers to use their own photos for the display. As in “Vivid” mode, the lighting will adapt accordingly.

Little buddy

The “MINI Intelligent Personal Assistant” is activated by the spoken command “Hey MINI” and allows customers to control important functions or ask travel-related questions by voice command. However, drivers can also select between “MINI” or “Spike” — optional visual avatars for the Personal Assistant. Something for the kids, I suppose.

New Mini Interaction Unit

A new nav

The new MINI Navigation system is now cloud-based and “provides particularly fast and precise route calculation,” according to Mini as map data is streamed live into the vehicle. For EV drivers, charging-optimized route planning allows for longer journey planning with peace of mind. Though perhaps most intriguing is the “Augmented View” option which offers drivers a live video stream in the MINI Interaction Unit, with extra information added for optimum orientation for navigating. Drivers can choose from various map designs and view buildings in 3D.

The verdict.

All in all this is a refresh for Mini which feels genuinely refreshing. In meeting the demands of the modern consumer, Mini has somehow managed to make its brand much more unique — both in its offerings and identity than it has been in years. The charm and the simplicity are back.

But that doesn’t mean the content is missing. It’s just being presented in a way that isn’t overwhelming. And better yet it has that sense of humour and play about it that feels right for the brand. Yeah, it’s all a little gimmicky. But Mini is a gimmick. So why not just lean in?


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